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What Are the Health Benefits of Saffron?

06/15/2022 | 4 min. read

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At more than $5,000 a pound, saffron is the world’s most expensive culinary spice. For serious foodies, it’s worth it because saffron adds a rich golden color and aromatic flavor to paella, rice, and other dishes. 

But saffron is more than a cooking spice. Researchers have discovered that crocin, crocetin, and other compounds in saffron are powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that have a range of therapeutic uses. 

Let’s take a look at the three main categories of supplemental saffron’s benefits for health: eye support, low mood, and stress-related symptoms. 

Saffron Supplements for Eyes

When you think of supplements for eye health, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and vitamins C and E probably come to mind. But saffron also has proven benefits for your eyes. 

Saffron’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties help curb inflammation and oxidative stress, which are major players in age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other eye diseases. 

In addition to overall support, specific benefits of saffron supplements for eyes include:

Visual Acuity 

Visual acuity is a measure of your ability to see clearly at a distance. If you have 20/20 vision, you have normal visual acuity. 

Short- and long-term placebo-controlled clinical trials, ranging from 90 days to 16 months in duration, have revealed that supplemental saffron improved visual acuity and retinal function in patients with macular degeneration.

Eye Pressure 

Glaucoma is characterized by elevated intraocular pressure (IOP), which can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss. 

A pilot study examining the effects of saffron for eye pressure randomly divided participants with glaucoma into two groups and gave them supplements containing either 30 mg of saffron or a placebo to take daily for one month. 

When they were reevaluated, the participants who took saffron had significantly lower IOP measurements compared to those in the placebo group. 

Saffron for Depression & Stress-Related Symptoms 

Saffron is sometimes called the “sunshine spice” not only because of its color but also because of its brightening effects on mood. A growing body of research demonstrates saffron’s ability to boost mood and reduce common stress-related symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and insomnia—with noticeable effects as early as one week after beginning supplementation.

Depression 

Several controlled clinical trials have evaluated the effects of saffron on mild to moderate depression. Some of the studies were placebo-controlled, while others tested supplemental saffron against a prescription antidepressant or as an add-on to drug therapy. 

A 2020 meta-analysis reviewed 12 of these studies and found saffron to be more effective than placebo and as effective as antidepressants. The study concluded, “Saffron could be considered as an alternative to synthetic antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.”

Saffron supplements have also been shown to reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and postpartum depression. 

Stress & Anxiety 

Saffron also reduces anxiety and may help improve resilience to stress. This was demonstrated in a study that included an in-lab multitasking test that was designed to provoke a stress response.

It involved tracking an asterisk on a computer and, at the same time, performing serial subtractions, a common clinical test that requires concentration and memory. These were to be done as quickly as possible and were graded by three impassive “judges.” Talk about performance anxiety! 

Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups and took either 30 mg of saffron extract or a placebo daily for eight weeks. When they were reevaluated, those who had taken saffron had reduced depression scores and improved social relationships. Although both groups had, as expected, a stress response to the multitasking test, the saffron group’s response was reduced, suggesting increased resilience to stress. 

Insomnia 

Poor sleep is one of the most distressing adverse effects of stress, as it can lead to fatigue, lethargy, irritability, and mood disturbances that perpetuate the problem. Saffron can help.

Researchers enrolled men and women, average age 39, in a study to evaluate the effects of various doses of saffron versus a placebo on sleep quality. When they were reevaluated after four weeks, the group taking 28 mg of saffron daily had the most significant improvements in sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), daytime dysfunction, depression, anxiety, and stress. 

More Benefits of Saffron

Ongoing research reveals additional saffron benefits for health. They include:

  • Diabetes: Saffron supplements have been shown to improve fasting blood sugar, A1C, LDL cholesterol, and liver function in individuals with type 2 diabetes
  • SexuaI function: Studies of men and women who were taking antidepressants, which are notorious for dampening sexual desire, support saffron’s reputation as an aphrodisiac. Saffron supplements, 30 mg a day for four weeks, improved erectile function as well as libido in women and men who were on these drugs. 
  • Weight control: Small studies suggest that supplemental saffron reduces appetite, curbs snacking, and can help with weight loss. 

Other potential therapeutic targets of saffron that are being explored include cancer, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease. 

How to Use Saffron

To reap these rewards, you can cook with saffron—though it may eventually break the bank. That’s why supplementation is your best bet. Most studies suggest that 28–30 mg is the most effective daily dosage. 

Saffron supplements are available as standalone products and in combination formulas for eye health and stress-mood management. Buy from a reputable brand to make sure you get pure, unadulterated saffron. 

Dr. Julian Whitaker

Meet Dr. Julian Whitaker

For more than 30 years, Dr. Julian Whitaker has helped people regain their health with a combination of therapeutic lifestyle changes, targeted nutritional support, and other cutting-edge natural therapies. He is widely known for treating diabetes, but also routinely treats heart disease and other degenerative diseases.

More About Dr. Julian Whitaker