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Studies Suggest Saffron Effective for Depression
Saffron is a flavoring obtained by crushing the stigmas of the saffron flower. Recent studies have indicated that not only is saffron a delicious flavor, but it may also help reverse the signs of depression. Read more about this medicinal plant below.
Saffron is a Mediterranean herb that is best known for how expensive the spice is. Saffron is expensive because it must be harvested by hand and only a small amount of the useable seasoning comes from each flower. Saffron comes from the dried stigma of the Crocus sativus flower. Each flower only has three stigmas. It takes about 75,000 flowers to produce a pound of saffron.
Saffron is used in cooking to provide a yellow color and subtle, earthy flavor. Saffron is also used for medicinal purposes. Common uses for saffron have included relieving coughs, helping digestion, relaxing muscles, calming anxiety, and improving mood. Recent studies suggest that saffron may be most effective in treating depression and may have measurable results in improving mood and mental health. Read more about this curious connection below.
Saffron contains a variety of nutrients like most plants. These nutritional estimations from the USDA are based on a 10-gram serving of saffron, which is about ¼ of a cup. In general, saffron is consumed in tiny amounts, which means that it is unlikely that you would consume 100-grams of saffron at any point.
However, it is helpful to know that the plant can have high concentrations of vitamins and nutrients at medicinal levels. The nutrient estimations are based on the USDA recommended daily intake.
Saffron also contains other beneficial nutrients including picrocrocin, crocin, and safranal. Some of these nutrients are credited with the health benefits of the plant. The Health Benefits of Saffron According to the NYU Langone Medical Center, saffron is used medicinally for several different purposes with varying effectiveness levels. The possible health benefits and studies on saffron are listed below:
Saffron has been shown to contain beneficial nutrients for eye health, including vitamin A. In fact, in 2013, Health Canada approved a supplement containing saffron and other herbs as a treatment option for poor eye health. Australian studies in 2010 found that supplementing with saffron was able to help reverse some of the common side effects of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Some research has suggests that the flavonoids and carotenoid compounds that give saffron its color may inhibit the growth of tumors. Several studies have examined the possible effect of saffron on tumors and cancer- but mainly in laboratory testing. Studies in 1991, 1994, and 1996 in Europe and India were the first studies to suggests that saffron may inhibit the growth of tumors. These studies examined the effects of extracts of saffron on animals.
In one study, researchers fed mice extracts of saffron and the mice were able to prevent the formation of soft-tissue sarcomas. The Indian study in 1991 found that feeding saffron extract to cancerous mice undergoing chemotherapy. The research uncovered that the mice taking saffron were able to live almost three times longer. In 1992, in vitro studies on human malignant cells found that saffron was able to inhibit the synthesis of nucleic acid in cancer cells.
A review of several studies on saffron conducted by the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in 2011 found that in animal studies, saffron was able to help lower cholesterol by as much as 50 percent. Other studies found that saffron was able to maintain healthy blood vessels with antioxidants, and fighting inflammation with the same ingredient (curcumin) that makes turmeric beneficial in fighting inflammation. According to the 2011 review’s study authors, “from saffron's cholesterol lowering benefits to its anti inflammatory properties, saffron may be one of the best supplements for cardiac health.”
Despite the other possible benefits of saffron, so far, the benefit that has been tested and examined the most is how it can benefit depression. Five double-blind studies have been shown that supplementing with 30 mg of saffron daily is more effective than placebo and just as effective as standard treatment for major depression.
In 2013, researchers from Jacksonville University reviewed these studies for their effectiveness. The study reviewers concluded that, “Findings from clinical trials conducted to date indicate that saffron supplementation can improve symptoms of depression in adults with MDD.” However, the researchers stated that since the initial studies were small, larger studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of saffron once and for all.
Researchers are not sure why saffron is effective at fighting depression and mental decline. Saffron does contain many nutrients that individuals with depression are commonly lacking. According to a 2008 scholarly journal published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, individuals with depression and mental disorders are commonly lacking in a variety of nutrients. Individuals are most likely to be lacking in vitamin B2, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, iodine, chromium, lithium, and selenium. Saffron contains nearly all of these nutrients. This could be one reason why saffron is an effective remedy for depression and mental disorders.
According to the NYU Langone Medical Center, saffron is safe to consume for most people. In one study, there were no serious side effects reported when study participants consumed up to 200 mg daily. Other studies have shown that just 30 mg taken twice daily is enough to reverse depression symptoms, which means that dangerous side effects will be extremely rare.
However, there is another form of saffron, called Colchicum autumnale, which is highly toxic and should never be consumed. There is also no data that determines if saffron is safe for breastfeeding women, pregnant women, for young children, or for individuals with liver or kidney problems. One colloquial remedy for saffron was terminating pregnancy, but no studies have confirmed that it had any effect. Nevertheless, pregnant women may want to avoid taking high doses of saffron.
Saffron is expensive, which means that there are a lot of adulterated substitutes on the market. This makes it difficult to purchase saffron in a powdered form. The easiest way to determine if saffron is authentic is to purchase the whole plant rather than a powder form. Look for saffron threads that are dark red with orange tips. Do not purchase saffron with yellow. The best saffron is a deep red with orange tips. The lack of an orange tip could indicate poor-quality saffron. Store saffron in an airtight container in a cool and dry place.
Ideal storage temperature is below 68 degrees in a room with less than 40 percent humidity. Keep saffron wrapped in a dark container. Stored this way, saffron can last for several years. For treating depression, studies show that 30 mg taken twice daily can be effective. 30 mg is an incredibly tiny amount and equal to about 1/100th of a teaspoon. This means that any saffron that you consume will provide benefit in fighting depression.
Make grinding saffron easier by adding a pinch of sugar or salt to a mortar and pestle while you grind. This will create a powdered form of the saffron that is easy to add to dishes and to consume straight. You can also make a liquid form of saffron by adding a few pieces of saffron to a ¼ cup of water. Allow the saffron to infuse into the water for at least 10 minutes. Use the liquid saffron in a recipe or drink a small amount daily (less than ¼ of a teaspoon).
Although saffron has been shown to benefit depression, taking saffron supplements alone is unlikely to be enough to reverse all depression. As the studies above indicate, saffron is likely to be beneficial in fighting depression because it provides the body with the nutrients that is uses to regulate mental state. Taking extra supplements of other nutrients that fight depression will also benefit your mental health. Some of the nutrients that have been shown to be most effective in fighting depression include:
Studies reviewed in the 2008 review found that in many cases, individuals suffering from depression are lacking in B vitamins. The most common culprits are folate (B9), B12, and B6. B6 and B12 are commonly found in seafood. Seafood also contains Omega-3 fatty acids and minerals which also fight depression. Folate is found in dark leafy greens. Minerals The 2008 review found that individuals suffering from depression are also suffering from a lack of minerals. Common deficiencies include iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iodine, chromium, lithium, and selenium. These minerals are found in foods such as dark leafy greens, seafood, unprocessed grains, and root vegetables.
Individuals suffering from depression are also often deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. These acids help regulate chemicals in the brain that fight depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are usually found in fatty fish, but you can also find them in walnuts.
Some studies indicate that a few other herbs are also beneficial in fighting depression. Two of the most effective herbs are St. John’s wort and ginkgo biloba. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, St. John’s wort provides a boost of serotonin in the brain similar to that of common antidepressants. In fact, St. John’s wort is often prescribed as an antidepressant in some European countries.
According to the NCCAM, St. John’s wort should not be taken with regular antidepressants or else the brain may be flooded with too much serotonin, which can be damaging. Ginkgo biloba is also linked with a reduction in depression symptoms. In 2001, researchers from the Psychiatric University Hospital Basle in Switzerland examined the potential of ginkgo biloba in managing insomnia and anxiety related to depression. The study researchers found that when supplementing with ginkgo biloba, study participants slept better and had less anxiety.
Just like many of the other Indian and Mediterranean spices, saffron has powerful healing effects. There is a wealth of evidence that supplementing with saffron combined with other depression-fighting remedies (both natural and traditional) can benefit a person’s mental health. Saffron may be able to boost someone out of the “winter blues” as well as provide stable cognitive functioning that can prevent the development of serious depression symptoms. If you are suffering from depressive symptoms, ask your doctor about the potential benefits of saffron and other vitamins and herbs!
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