Powerful Natural Anti-depressant, called Saffron

Latest Study

Saffron is well known as a rare, brilliant yellow culinary spice but is little known as a natural antidepressant. However, that is a proven fact. Saffron works as well for depression as Prozac by acting on serotonin metabolism.

Saffron appeared to be as effective as the antidepressants fluoxetine and imipramine in reducing symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression in adults, according to a meta-analysis published in Human Psychopharmacology.

“Overall, saffron presents as a promising natural option for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression with initial clinical research supporting its efficacy, at least in the short term,” researchers wrote.

Retailing at up to $11,000 per kilogram, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Derived from the saffron flower Crocus sativus, saffron has demonstrated anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiplatelet effects, as well as a potential for preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease and macular degeneration, researchers reported.

To evaluate its effectiveness as an antidepressant, researchers conducted a clinical review of six studies that included 230 adults (118 women and 112 men) ages 18 to 60 with major depressive disorder of moderate severity. Two of the trials compared the effectiveness of saffron with placebo; the remaining four compared saffron with antidepressants.

In the pair of randomized, double-blind trials that compared 30 mg per day of saffron with a placebo control, saffron demonstrated large treatment effects. Researchers reported a Cohen’s d effect size of 1.51 and 1.76, which they noted was similar to a 1.62 overall effect size calculated in another recent meta-analysis.

In the four randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that compared 30 mg per day of saffron with two antidepressants, saffron was similarly effective (researchers calculated a null effect size) in reducing depressive symptoms compared with 20 mg per day of fluoxetine and 100 mg per day of imipramine, according to the meta-analysis.

In all the studies examined, the 30-mg daily dose of saffron—similar to levels of the spice used in some cuisines—was divided equally among two doses. Saffron is generally considered safe in amounts up to 5 g daily, although investigators warned that people with blood coagulation disorders or who take anticoagulants should exercise caution in using saffron since research is inconsistent on its effect on blood coagulation and platelet aggregation.  

After a week of treatment, saffron produced statistically significant improvements in depressive symptoms, researchers noted. Improvements continued through the length of treatment. However, no study in the meta-analysis lasted longer than eight weeks.

“Future research is required to determine optimal dosages and duration of treatment,” researchers wrote, “and the long-term efficacy and safety of this exotic spice.”

Other Studies

A number of studies indicate that the stigma of the plant (the top of the plant where the pollen is, which is technically called the ‘saffron’) and petal of Crocus sativus plant both have similar mood benefits. Animal studies show the compounds safranal and crocin in the crocus plant may exert anti-depressant effects by keeping balanced levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin (Hosseinzadeh et al., 2004).

Studies in humans show there is benefit to both anxiety and depression. An 8-week double-blind randomized Iranian trial of 40 adult depressed outpatients were randomly assigned to receive either a capsule of petal of the Crocus plant at 15 mg in the morning and evening or Fluoxetine (Prozac) at 10 mg in the morning and evening, for a 8 weeks. At the end of trial, petal the Crocus was found to be as effective as the drug. Fluoxetine (Prozac) had an 85% responder rate with 17 of 20 patients and crocus showed a similar 75% (Basti et al., 2007). In another six week comparison  to imipramine (an older style tricyclic antidepressant drug),  researchers foudn significantly better results when patients were given a Hamilton Depression scale, which is a well-known questionnaire used to assess mood (Akhondzadeh et al., 2005). 

The latest 2014 review of studies analyzed 14 studies which used saffron as an anti-depressant. This review even found saffron to be an agent effective to help Alzheimer’s, showing it more effective than the placebo, and as effective as donepezil (Aricept), which is the main conventional medication for this difficult-to-treat condition of aging. Some studies also showed benefit to help with weight loss (by reducing the need to snack) while others showed help with premenstrual syndrome (Moshiri, 2014). A separate 2013 review which used an even more stringent criteria for including studies also found saffron supplementation effective to significantly reduce depression symptoms compared to the placebo control (Hausenblas, 2013).

Buying Real Thing

When buying a saffron supplement for depression, quality matters. It’s critical that you take a standardized extract of Crocus sativus that comes from a reputable company. If it says only “saffron extract” on the label, it’s almost certainly not the real thing. Due to the high costs, saffron is one of the most common fraudulent foods. The USP Food Fraud Database lists over 100 ingredients that have been used as fake saffron including marigold flowers, turmeric, poppy flowers, and beet fibers and adulterants.

Other Uses

Saffron contains a dark orange, water soluble carotene called crocin, which is responsible for much of saffron's golden color. Crocin has been found to trigger apoptosis [programmed cell death] in a number of different types of human cancer cells, leukemia, ovarian carcinoma, colon adenocarcinoma, and soft tissue sarcoma. Researchers in Mexico who have been studying saffron extract have discovered that saffron and its active components display an ability to inhibit human malignant cells. Not only does the spice inhibit cells that have become cancerous, but it has no such effect on normal cells and actually stimulates their formation and that of lymphocytes [immune cells that help destroy cancer cells].

With different levels of the scientific validity, Saffron is also used for asthma, cough, whooping cough (pertussis), and to loosen phlegm (as an expectorant). It is also used for sleep problems (insomnia), cancer, “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis), intestinal gas (flatulence), depression, Alzheimer’s disease, fright, shock, spitting up blood (hemoptysis), pain, heartburn, and dry skin.

Women use saffron for menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Men use it to prevent early orgasm (premature ejaculation) and infertility.

Saffron is also used for to increase interest in sex (as an aphrodisiac) and to induce sweating. In low libido, saffron aids as a sexual stimulant and can be consumed in a dose of a pinch in a glass of milk at bed time.

Some people apply saffron directly to the scalp for baldness (alopecia).


Due to traditional usage as an abortifacient and (infrequent) reports of irregular vaginal bleeding at higher doses (200-400mg) of saffron, it may be prudent to avoid supplementation during pregnancy.

Chronic usage of saffron (over eight weeks continuous) should be approached cautiously, as double the recommended dose may result in harm to the body. Double the recommended dose is still a relatively small overall amount (60mg) and it is possible usage of saffron as a spice could exceed this

Recommended dosage

For chronic supplementation, take 15mg of saffron, twice a day. This is the advised upper limit for constant supplementation. Preliminary evidence suggests that doubling this dose may have a toxic effect after eight weeks of continuous usage. Acute, single doses of saffron, can be as high as 200mg.

Saffron can be supplemented by taking water extracts of the stigma (the red part of the plant, used as a spice) or by using the dehydrated stigma itself. Some evidence suggests that the petals of saffron may also be effective.

Saffron can be taken twice a day in a supplement form, or at meals as a spice.
Doses above 1,200mg may cause nausea and vomiting.

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