Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is a natural substance long used in cooking and in some systems of traditional medicine. Typically consumed as a spice, saffron is also sold in dietary supplement form. Proponents claim that supplements containing saffron extract can help promote weight loss and aid in the treatment of a number of health conditions.
Why Do People Use It?
When used medicinally, saffron is said to help treat or prevent the following health problems:
- Alzheimer's disease
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Benefits of Saffron
To date, scientific support for the health effects of saffron is fairly limited. However, several studies suggest that consuming saffron may provide certain health benefits. Here's a look at some key findings from the available research:
1) Weight Loss
When used as a weight loss aid, saffron supplements are purported to curb appetite and reduce cravings. Some proponents suggest that saffron can help increase brain levels of serotonin (a chemical known to regulate mood) and, in turn, help prevent compulsive overeating and the associated weight gain.
Saffron extract shows promise as a means of controlling compulsive eating, according to a small study published in Nutrition Research in 2010. For the study, 60 healthy, mildly overweight women took either a saffron-containing supplement or a placebo every day for eight weeks (during which the participants' intake of calories was unrestricted).
Study results showed that members of the saffron group experienced a significantly greater decrease in snacking and a significantly greater reduction in body weight (compared to members of the placebo group). The study's authors note that saffron's supposedly mood-enhancing effects could contribute to the decrease in snacking frequency.
Some studies show that saffron may aid in the treatment of depression. For instance, a 2005 study published in Phytotherapy Research found that saffron extract was more effective than placebo in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. The study involved 40 adults with depression, each of whom was treated with either saffron supplements or a placebo every day for six weeks.
In an earlier study (published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2004), 30 adults with depression took either saffron supplements or imipramine (a medication commonly used for depression) every day for six weeks. Results revealed that the substances were similarly effective as a depression treatment.
Saffron extract may help relieve symptoms of PMS, a 2008 study from the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. After taking saffron supplements daily throughout two menstrual cycles, study participants had a significantly greater decrease in PMS symptoms than those who took a placebo for the same time period.
Although saffron is considered safe when consumed as a food, use of saffron supplements may trigger several side effects (including dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness, and headache). What's more, taking saffron in excess amounts may be toxic and lead to vomiting, bleeding, and numbness.
Since saffron may affect mood, people with serious mood disorders (such as bipolar disorder) should avoid the use of saffron.
Where to Find It
Saffron is available in most grocery stores. Widely available for purchase online, saffron supplements can be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.
Agha-Hosseini M, Kashani L, Aleyaseen A, Ghoreishi A, Rahmanpour H, Zarrinara AR, Akhondzadeh S. "Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial." BJOG. 2008 Mar;115(4):515-9.
Akhondzadeh S, Fallah-Pour H, Afkham K, Jamshidi AH, Khalighi-Cigaroudi F. "Comparison of Crocus sativus L. and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a pilot double-blind randomized trial [ISRCTN45683816]." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 Sep 2;4:12.
Akhondzadeh S, Tahmacebi-Pour N, Noorbala AA, Amini H, Fallah-Pour H, Jamshidi AH, Khani M. "Crocus sativus L. in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial." Phytother Res. 2005 Feb;19(2):148-51.
Gout B, Bourges C, Paineau-Dubreuil S. "Satiereal, a Crocus sativus L extract, reduces snacking and increases satiety in a randomized placebo-controlled study of mildly overweight, healthy women." Nutr Res. 2010 May;30(5):305-13.