Saffron has been a part of food preparations, dyes and medicine in Persia and Asia Manor for ages. It has been proven effective by various research, studies and clinical trials for fighting cancer, treating erectile dysfunction, weight loss, cardiovascular diseases, eye-related conditions and many more to date.
Saffron, a unique flavored spice, is procured from a flower known as Crocus Sativus. Saffron originates from the Arabic word ‘zafaran’ meaning ‘yellow’ relating to the yellow color that it imparts when mixed with food preparations. It is thought to have originated in Iran, but the cultivation and harvesting processes date back to early Greece in history.
Crocus Sativus is a purple flower with 3 vivid crimson-colored stigmas that make up saffron. The stigmas are handpicked, dried and processed to retain the flavor. This painstaking process is done by experienced women who pick around 2,00,000 stigmas from 70,000 flowers to make 500 gms of pure saffron which is the reason why saffron has become the world’s costliest spice till date.
Health Benefits of Saffron
Listed here are the most prominent research-backed health benefits that saffron may provide for overall well being.
1. Saffron Has Antioxidant Properties
Saffron possesses a unique set of plant compounds that display powerful antioxidant properties that help protect the body from free radical damage and oxidative stress. The compounds crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal besides being responsible for saffron’s color and aroma, also play a role as antioxidant fighters against damage to cell DNA.
Various studies have shown that saffron with its main bioactive compounds crocin, picrocrocin and safranal possess antioxidant properties to combat damage to the DNA due to various factors such as toxins, stress, smoking, infections, etc. Besides, kaempferol, a flavonol present in saffron flowers, also contains potent antioxidant capabilities to aid from free radical damage.
Summary: Saffron contains compounds such as crocin, picrocrocin, safranal and kaempferol that possess incredible antioxidant properties to fight free radical damage and protect from oxidative stress.
2. Saffron May Help Reduce Anxiety and Improve Mood
In today’s fast-paced living where stress and pressure are a part of everyday life, depression has become a common and global phenomenon. Saffron is nicknamed the ‘sunshine spice’ as it has long been used for enhancing mood. Moreover, recent studies have acknowledged that saffron can be just as effective as modern medications in treating depression.
Numerous studies and clinical trials have shown saffron to be more effective in treating mild-to-moderate depression than placebos and are at-par with antidepressant medications used for such disorders.
Another study showed that saffron can be as effective as the drug Imipramine and side effects such as dry mouth and sedative effect were observed in Imipramine than saffron. Saffron in studies has also shown to reduce anxiety, lift the mood and act as an effective antidepressant.
Summary: Various studies support the fact that saffron has mood-elevating, anxiety-reducing capabilities. It works like modern antidepressant medications and can effectively be used in the treatment of depression with no or rare side-effects.
3. Saffron Helps in Fighting Cancer
Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases of the modern era and is the second leading cause of death globally. Saffron has been researched extensively as a potential remedy for treating cancer owing to its antioxidant properties that help in fighting and eliminating free radicals.
Studies have shown that saffron may evoke a positive response than a placebo, in patients with liver metastasis and undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Research shows that compounds of saffron, especially crocin, may help lower the proliferation of colon cancer cells and can inhibit their growth.
In-depth studies suggest that the phytochemicals of saffron, crocin, and crocetin, have shown remarkable anticancer activity in pancreatic, breast, cervix, skin, and lung cancers too. Even, kaempferol, a saffron flavanol has displayed significant antioxidant capabilities to inhibit cancer cell growth in humans.
Summary: The bioactive compounds present in saffron have shown anticancer and antioxidant capabilities to inhibit the growth of tumor cells in various cancers making it a remarkable alternative in the treatment of cancer.
4. Saffron Can Alleviate PMS Symptoms
A common condition that affects millions of women worldwide is PMS or premenstrual syndrome. It is a condition that occurs before the onset of a menstrual period and is characterized by physical and psychological changes to mind and body. Saffron is believed to provide relief from PMS symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, cramps, pain, etc. effectively.
Various studies suggest that saffron supplementation can reduce the intensity of PMS symptoms in women. It has also proven that the mere odor of saffron can alleviate PMS symptoms and treat menstrual distress effectively. Another specific study has shown that saffron’s distinct smell displayed the capability to reduce cortisol levels and increase estrogen levels in women.
Summary: Saffron has shown efficacy in the symptomatic treatment of PMS not just by ingestion alone but even with its natural odor.
5. Saffron May Aid in Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is a serious problem that can affect men after 40 years of age and have a major impact on their emotional quotient. Various studies on the treatment of ED have also led the focus to saffron, known for its aphrodisiac properties, as a potential medicine.
Studies conducted on saffron supplementation in males with ED revealed that saffron showed a positive effect on the number and duration of erectile events just after 10 days of taking saffron tablets.
Other studies have shown that saffron can improve ED symptoms in patients with major depressive disorder and under fluoxetine medication. Not just men, even women with depression and under fluoxetine medication showed improvement in arousal and lubrication, once they took saffron supplementation for 4 weeks.
Summary: Saffron with its aphrodisiac properties has shown potential in treating ED in males. It has shown promise in treating men and women with sexual dysfunctions that arise due to depressive disorders.
6. Saffron Can Help Fight Obesity
Weight loss is desired by millions of people to look good, to be more active, to encourage fitness and as part of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come easy.
Saffron extracts seem to promote weight loss by controlling the appetite. Saffron supplementation has been known to help achieve a weight loss goal safely.
Saffron, as studies show, exhibits qualities of a naturally potent anti-obesity remedy and can work in different ways. Specific studies show that saffron extracts can help in the inhibition of pancreatic lipase in diabetes thus reducing calorie intake.
According to another study, saffron showed the capability to reduce snacking frequently by enhancing satiety. Saffron has also shown the potential to reduce appetite and weight in patients with Coronary Heart Disease (CAD).
Summary: Saffron, as studies prove, has the potential to fight obesity by reducing appetite, snacking, exerting calorie control and inducing weight loss.
7. Saffron May Help Support Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) refer to conditions where the heart and pertaining blood vessels get affected. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), CVD is ranked as the world’s no.1 cause of death of around 17.9 million lives every year.
Saffron has been scientifically investigated as a potential natural supplement owing to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to treat blood pressure and CVDs effectively. Studies have shown the constituents in saffron can be effective in improving markers for Heat Shock Proteins (HSP) in metabolic syndrome, which is a major risk factor for CVDs.
Saffron also has the capability in preventing and regulating blood pressure, blood glucose and lipid levels all of which happen to be major risk factors for heart diseases. According to studies, the flavonol kaempferol present in saffron flowers has shown to protect against cardiac hypertrophy by regulating oxidative stress.
Summary: Saffron is proven by scientific studies to improve and benefit cardiac health by controlling blood pressure, glucose and lipid levels in the body. Saffron’s constituents and kaempferol have shown efficacy in improving markers in metabolic syndrome and regulating oxidative stress.
8. Saffron May Support Eye Health
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is an eye disorder that can cause blurred vision or vision loss in the retina and affects millions of people. Though there is no said cure, the treatment of AMD can help reduce the severity and prevent loss of vision.
Another study showed that saffron in early AMD helped macular function improvements which were sustained over the long term. Safranal has shown to be effective in inhibiting retinal degeneration in an eye-related condition, retinitis pigmentosa.
Summary: Saffron has been found to promote retinal response, function, health to prevent retinal degeneration in eye conditions such as AMD and retinitis pigmentosa.
9. Saffron Can Support Muscle Strength
Athletes constantly try to improve their muscle strength and endurance through rigorous workouts. Saffron with its many health benefits may help in promoting muscle strength and prevent muscle fatigue in the process.
Studies relating to this aspect have shown evidence that saffron may indeed help in preventing muscle soreness caused by intense bouts of exercise. Saffron exerts performance-enhancing capabilities that can increase muscle strength, show improved reaction times and increase blood flow for better performance.
Summary: Saffron can help enhance muscle strength, increase blood flow and reaction times and reduce muscle soreness for better performance.
10. Saffron May Improve Liver Health
The liver, a vital organ, is responsible for the production of cholesterol, proteins, etc. apart from detoxification of toxins, alcohol, etc. An unhealthy lifestyle and exposure to pollution and chemicals can overwork the liver.
Saffron which possesses antioxidants is shown to fight free radicals and protect from oxidative stress that can help in improving liver health. Studies have shown that saffron’s bioactive compound crocin has a chemopreventive effect in the treatment of liver cancer.
Research also shows that saffron extracts and crocin supplements can protect against non-alcoholic fatty liver and high-fat diet-induced liver damage. Yet another study on the effect of saffron in liver regeneration after partial hepatectomy has revealed that saffron has protective and proliferative effects on the liver.
Summary: Saffron and crocin supplementation may help protect against liver damage in conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and liver cancer and show protective effects after certain liver surgeries.
11. Saffron May Aid in Healthy Immune System
Saffron has been intensively studied and found to deliver antioxidant, antiinflammatory and immunoregulatory benefits to the human body. This exceptional spice with bioactive compounds such as crocin, crocetin, and safranal may hold the potential to boost the body’s immune system.
Studies have shown saffron and its constituents to have effective immunoregulatory benefits in immune disorders. Another random study on saffron revealed that owing to the carotenoid content, saffron may possess beneficial immunomodulatory properties without any adverse effects.
Summary: Saffron’s bioactive compounds and carotenoids are backed by scientific research to possess immunoregulatory properties to boost the immune system effectively.
12. Saffron Enhances Memory Retention
Chronic stress in the modern-day world has become a common and inevitable phenomenon. Chronic stress affects the mind at a rapid pace leading to disruption in learning and memory capabilities.
With age too many individuals experience memory loss and their learning abilities tend to decline rapidly. Saffron, known for its capability to fight oxidative stress has been studied for efficacy in promoting cognitive abilities.
Specific studies have shown that saffron supplementation can improve learning and memory impairment. Studies also demonstrate that saffron can reduce oxidative stress damage that arises out of chronic stress, a primary factor that affects spatial learning and memory capacity. Saffron taken as 30 mg/day supplement was found to show improvement in the cognitive function of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Summary: Saffron has shown potential results in enhancing cognitive abilities to enable better learning and memory retention in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
13. Other Benefits of Saffron
- Saffron may help in treating osteoporosis: Saffron based studies show that the daily supplementation of the compound crocin could help in osteoporosis treatment after menopause in women.
- Saffron may support digestive health: Saffron with its antioxidant effect against free radicals, inhibition of tumor cells proliferation, chemopreventive and anti-inflammatory properties may play a significant role in treating digestive disorders to maintain a therapeutic effect on intestinal health.
- Saffron is safe as a food additive: Chemical food additives such as FD&C yellow no.5 is used to add color to food preparations and readymade products but is capable of triggering intense allergies on consumption as it can contain cancer-causing contaminants. Saffron’s natural properties are beneficial in adding color and flavor to food and food products naturally and safely along with therapeutic properties on human health.
Summary: Saffron, as research indicates, can play a significant role in treating osteoporosis, promoting digestive health besides acting as a safe and therapeutic additive in foods to impart color, flavor, and aroma.
Recommended Dosage of Saffron
Direct use of saffron in food preparations is considered extremely safe for humans. Saffron in pharmacological doses is generally safe with zero or minimal side effects.
But it is always a good idea to check with your health practitioner before starting any supplement. Before buying a saffron supplement, check with the doctor especially if you are pregnant, nursing or under treatment for medical conditions such as heart problems, low blood pressure, or mental disorders.
As a dietary supplement, 30 mg of saffron split as two 15 mg doses per day have been shown by studies to be safe and non-toxic effects for human health. Double or more of this recommended dose for a prolonged period may pose health risks. Saffron supplementation in specific conditions may go as high as 170+ mg for short durations.
Side-Effects and Risks of Saffron
Studies have shown that pregnant women who consume doses of saffron more than 5 mg are at higher risk, as it may stimulate the uterus and cause miscarriages. Saffron can trigger side-effects such as anxiety, dry mouth, headache, nausea, appetite issues in some people.
Individuals who are allergic to certain plant extracts such as Lolium, Olea and Salsola should avoid or exercise caution as saffron can trigger allergies too. Saffron combined with certain supplements containing ingredients such as fish oil, stinging nettle, cat’s claw, etc may result in conditions such as hypotension or low blood pressure.
Adulteration is another big risk with saffron, especially in powder form. Ingredients such as beetroots, safflower can easily be incorporated into saffron powders to cut costs and make it less expensive.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Saffron
1. Why Is Saffron So Costly?
The dark red strands called saffron are actually the stigma or filaments of a flower known as the Crocus Sativus. They are propagated using bulbs as these do not grow from seeds. They flower just once a year and the saffron has to be hand-picked between dawn and 10 am to get the best quality.
As there are no mechanical methods devised to handle the delicate process of saffron harvesting, manual harvesting is a highly labor-intensive process that adds to the cost of the saffron. But what makes it so costly is that a kilogram of saffron requires about 200,000 such handpicked flowers.
2. Is the Saffron Grade Important?
Saffron grades indicate the quality of the saffron being sold. Depending on the part used to make the saffron, the quality of the saffron varies. According to ISO 3632, based on fragrance, color, and taste, saffron is divided into 4 grades.
Grade 1 is the highest quality and these are made from the tips of Crocus Sativus filament which are innately red in color. The lower part of the filament is yellow and this is discarded after removing the 1st-grade saffron. Some sellers use this waste along with the yellow stamens which are also found in the same plant, and add red food color to sell them as premium saffron. Technically these yellow ones are also called saffron, but they lack the aromatic quality and flavor imparted by the first-grade saffron.
3. How Can I Identify If the Saffron is First Grade?
The easiest and most effective way to check the purity of saffron strands is to put a few of them in water. Premium saffron will take some time to change the color of the water to yellow and even then they retain their red color.
Due to the added food coloring, poor quality saffron will quickly turn the water orangish and the strands will turn yellow. If you add low-quality saffron to recipes, you’ll get the expected colors, but not the aroma or flavor.
4. What is Saffron Extract?
The ‘saffron extract’ is the powder made of saffron stigmas which undergoes a stringent extraction process to remove impurities while ensuring the active components in saffron remain intact. To create 100mg of saffron extract, about 400mg of saffron stigmas are required, making this a pure and potent product.
The Final Note
Saffron has long been a part of traditional medicine for more than 2500 years and is still breaking barriers in modern medicine. This unique spice adds aroma, flavor, and color to food preparations along with numerous health benefits naturally.
Numerous studies on saffron demonstrate the fact that saffron, its compounds, and flavonols in saffron flowers promote many health benefits such as fighting cancer, improving mood, supporting women in PMS and osteoporosis, fight obesity and eye disorders, etc. effectively.
Saffron is available in its natural thread form and as supplements to bestow exceptional health benefits. A safety inspection of its origin and process method will help you choose the best quality saffron free of contaminants.
A lot of adulteration occurs in the saffron market. Don’t be fooled by terms like Xinjiang Saffron or American Saffron as these are misnomers and are not real saffron though they look similar. When buying a saffron supplement, ensure that the label mentions that it is a standardized saffron extract with specific Safranal and Crocin contents. Enjoy and benefit from the use of original and natural saffron for excellent overall wellbeing!