Saffron - A powerful Natural Anti-depressant

Several interesting clinical studies have reported the antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties of Saffron, the dried stigmas of Crocus sativus. These studies have demonstrated saffron and its active constituents possess antidepressant properties similar to current antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine, imipramine and citalopram, but with fewer reported side effects.1

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health problems, that also create high social and economic costs. Currently, several treatments are available for patients with depression and anxiety disorders such as psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy and antidepressant pharmaceutical drugs. Due to safety concerns, adverse effects, limited efficacy and low tolerability associated with many of the antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications, the identification of novel agents with less toxicity and more favorable outcomes is warranted.1

Depression is the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide and the leading cause of disease‐related disability among women, with female/male risk ratios roughly 2:1. Saffron has been successfully used as a natural, complimentary therapy in the treatment of female specific depression. (Read more about Saffron in Female Depression, Post Partum Depression)

Over 10% of the NA adult population takes antidepressants, and unfortunately, 90% of those users experience some form of significant side effects, including the further suppression of sexual drive.2

Saffron has also been used to address depression in Disease Induced Depression for a number of conditions. (Read more about Saffron and Disease Induced Depression)

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Saffron and Prescription Anti-depressants

Fluoxetine, (also known by trade names Prozac and Sarafem) and these other antidepressants are referred to as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class drugs, used for the treatment of chemical imbalances in the brain by targeting the serotonin transporter network. They are used as such in the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), bulimia nervosa, panic disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Saffron’s antidepressant effects are also believed primarily due to its’ serotonergic affects which are similar to these selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI class) pharmaceuticals.  Saffron is also reported to provide anti-oxidant, anti‐inflammatory, neuro‐endocrine and neuro-protective effects.

Saffron may exert similar antidepressant effects and represents a potential efficacious and safe treatment for these conditions. Saffron has been used for many years in its’ native lands as a beneficial, well-tolerated natural phytomedicine treatment for people suffering from mild to moderate depression, and a potential efficacious and complimentary safe treatment for these conditions.  Saffron is also documented to improve mood, and increase libido as a natural aphrodisiac, both of which are desired benefits to the major reported sexual side effects reported for pharmaceutical antidepressantsRead More about Saffron, Antidepressants and Sexual Depression Health.

Saffron Clinical Studies - Antidpressant

Recently, US researchers published a meta-analysis of saffron clinical studies. “Due to safety concerns and side effects of many antidepressant medications, herbal psychopharmacology research has increased, and herbal remedies are becoming increasingly popular as alternatives to prescribed medications for the treatment of the major depressive disorder (MDD). Of these, accumulating trials reveal positive effects of the spice saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of depression. A comprehensive and statistical review of the clinical trials examining the effects of saffron for treatment of MDD is warranted.” 3

Based on their strict selection criteria, five randomized controlled studies were included in their review. Their conclusions from clinical trials conducted to date indicate that saffron supplementation can clinically improve symptoms of depression in adults with major depressive disorders (MDD). Saffron supplementation was significantly better vs placebo controls in treating depressive symptoms, and in reducing depression symptoms compared to placebo controls alone.

A “null effect” difference in symptom improvement was also evident between saffron supplementation user groups and pharmaceutical antidepressant (Fluoxetine, Imipramine ) user groups, indicating that both treatments were similarly effective in reducing depression symptoms. Furthermore, no major adverse side effects were reported in the saffron treated user groups; rather, improved mood and other beneficial effects were reported. These conclusions were further affirmed in several other recent comprehensive clinical study reviews. 4,5

In a very recent work from Iran, a nine month double blind clinical study of 40 patients with major depression was conducted with saffron and conventional psychiatric medications. Half took crocin, the major constituent of saffron alongside their medication, while the other half took only the pharmaceutical antidepressant drugs. The subjects who took the combination saffron and drugs showed significantly improved scores for depression relief, anxiety relief and general overall health status compared to the placebo group.7

Throughout the past three decades, over 20 controlled and uncontrolled studies have been published examining saffron’s potential to lower the risk of disease and improve health conditions in human participants. Saffron does appear to provide health benefits especially  in in the treatment of behavioral and psychological conditions such as depressive symptoms and other mood-related disorders. 3,4,5,6

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  1. Trautmann S, Rehm J, Wittchen H. The economic costs of mental disorders: Do our societies react appropriately to the burden of mental disorders? EMBO Reports. 2016;17(9):1245-1249. doi:10.15252/embr.201642951.
  2. Gaynes BN, Gavin N, Meltzer‐Brody S, et al. Perinatal Depression: Prevalence, Screening Accuracy, and Screening Outcomes. Summary, Evidence Report/Technology Assessment: Number 119. AHRQ Publication Number 05‐E006‐1, February 2005. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.
  3. Hausenblas HA, Saha D, Dubyak PJ, Anton SD. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of integrative medicine. 2013;11(6):377-383. doi:10.3736/jintegrmed2013056.
  4. Lopresti A. L., and Drummond P. D. (2014), Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action, Hum. Psychopharmacol Clin Exp, 29, 517–527, doi: 10.1002/hup.2434
  5. Yang X, Chen X, Fu Y, et al. Comparative efficacy and safety of Crocus sativus L. for treating mild to moderate major depressive disorder in adults: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2018;14:1297-1305. doi:10.2147/NDT.S157550.
  6. Hausenblas HA, Heekin K, Mutchie HL, Anton S. A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials Examining the Effectiveness of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on Psychological and Behavioral Outcomes. Journal of integrative medicine. 2015;13(4):231-240. doi:10.1016/S2095-4964(15)60176-5.
  7. Talaei A et al. Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15;174:51-6.

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