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Saffron

Saffron is typically used as a spice. Low dose supplementation appears to confer antidepressive properties.

Our evidence-based analysis on saffron features 62 unique references to scientific papers.

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Summary of Saffron

Primary information, health benefits, side effects, usage, and other important details

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is the world’s most expensive spice. The high labor costs associated with the spice have resulted in a limited supply.

Saffron has traditionally been used to flavor food, though it has occasionally been used medicinally as well. Recent research has examined saffron’s antidepressant properties.

Though there are limited human studies on the subject of saffron and depression, they are of high quality. The studies include trials against placebo and trials against reference drugs, such as the SSRI fluoxetine. These studies show that saffron, at the recommended dose, has antidepressant properties comparable to the reference drugs. These studies were conducted in Iran, which produces 90% of the world’s saffron. While this should not discredit the results of the studies, replication from other researchers would go a long way toward solidifying saffron’s effects.

Saffron’s antidepressant properties are related to serotonin metabolism. Saffron’s side effects, like reduced snacking and an elevated mood, could be the result of increased serotonin action in the body. Further research is needed to determine the exact functioning of this mechanism.

Using saffron in food will provide the same effects as supplementation, since saffron supplements are dehydrated extracts of the spice. Saffron does not have a high margin of safety, so care should be taken during supplementation. The standard daily dose is 30mg, used for up to eight weeks. It is possible that even double the dose could result in harm to the body. Further research is needed to determine the safe level of saffron supplementation. Prudent supplementation is advised until more information is available.

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How to Take

Medical Disclaimer

Recommended dosage, active amounts, other details

For chronic supplementation, take 15mg of saffron, twice a day. This is the advised upper limit for constant supplementation. Preliminary evidence suggests that doubling this dose may have a toxic effect after eight weeks of continuous usage. Acute, single doses of saffron, can be as high as 200mg.

Saffron can be supplemented by taking water extracts of the stigma (the red part of the plant, used as a spice) or by using the dehydrated stigma itself. Some evidence suggests that the petals of saffron may also be effective.

Saffron can be taken twice a day in a supplement form, or at meals as a spice.

Doses above 1,200mg may cause nasea and vomiting.

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Human Effect Matrix

The Human Effect Matrix looks at human studies (it excludes animal and in vitro studies) to tell you what effects saffron has on your body, and how strong these effects are.
Grade Level of Evidence
Robust research conducted with repeated double-blind clinical trials
Multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled
Single double-blind study or multiple cohort studies
Uncontrolled or observational studies only
Level of Evidence
? The amount of high quality evidence. The more evidence, the more we can trust the results.
Outcome Magnitude of effect
? The direction and size of the supplement's impact on each outcome. Some supplements can have an increasing effect, others have a decreasing effect, and others have no effect.
Consistency of research results
? Scientific research does not always agree. HIGH or VERY HIGH means that most of the scientific research agrees.
Notes
grade-a Notable Very High See all 9 studies
30mg saffron daily (both petals and stigma) appear to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms in persons with major depressive disorder, and the potency has been noted to be comparable to reference drugs (fluoxetine and imipramine).
grade-c Notable - See study
One study assessing saffron on PMS symptoms noted that supplementation caused 76% of the participants to have more than a halving of overall symptoms (placebo reaching 8%), suggesting relatively potent effects.
grade-c Minor - See study
The aroma of saffron has once been noted to cause a mild (approximately 10%) reduction in state anxiety following 20 minutes of exposure in otherwise healthy women.
grade-c Minor - See study
High dose (176.5mg) saffron extract appears to be able to reduce snacking and increase self-reported satiety in otherwise healthy overweight women.
grade-c Minor - See study
Basophil count has been noted to mildly decrease following saffron supplementation alongside a reduction in IgM concentrations.
grade-c Minor - See study
A decrease in blood pressure was noted in otherwise healthy (normotensive) men following 26 weeks of saffron supplementation at 60mg daily, although this was thought to possibly be related to chronic toxicity of the higher than normal dose.
grade-c Minor - See study
The aroma of saffron has been noted to reduce cortisol concentrations to a mild degree in otherwise healthy women, and this occurred alongside a reduction in state anxiety.
grade-c Minor - See study
The aroma of saffron appears to cause a mild increase in circulating estrogen concentrations in otherwise healthy women following 20 minutes of exposure.
grade-c Minor - See study
Secondary to reducing snacking (thought to be via increasing satiety from meals) saffron appears to reduce overall food intake.
grade-c Minor - See study
Hemoglobin has been noted to be decreased in one study and thought to be related to possible toxic effects of moderately high dose saffron (60mg for more than 8 weeks).
grade-c Minor - See study
An increase in IgG concentrations has been noted to occur with saffron supplementation alongside a decrease in IgM and no influence on IgA.
grade-c Minor - See study
A decrease in IgM concentrations has been noted to occur following supplementation of saffron.
grade-c Minor - See study
Supplementation of saffron appears to be able to cause a mild increase in monocyte concentrations in serum.
grade-c Minor Moderate See 2 studies
A decrease in RBCs has been noted in one study suggesting saffron toxicity with prolonged supplementation of a double dose (60mg).
grade-c Minor - See study
Supplementation of 60mg saffron was able to reduce platelet counts in serum following eight weeks of exposure (increasing in magnitude until study cessation at 26 weeks) thought to be related to toxicity.
grade-c Minor Moderate See 2 studies
SSRI related sexual dysfunction in both men and women appears to be reduced with coingestion of saffron, although saffron does not alter the efficacy of SSRI therapy on depression.
grade-c Minor Very High See 2 studies
Mixed evidence on the efficacy of saffron, but it is possible that supplementation could delay an increase in symptoms without a therapeutic effect.
grade-c Minor Very High See 2 studies
Supplementation of saffron appears to increase visual acuity in persons with age-related macular degeneration.
grade-c Minor - See study
A reduction in weight has been noted to a very mild degree which may be wholly related to a reduction in snacking that has been observed with saffron supplementation in overweight women.
grade-c Minor Moderate See 2 studies
A decrease in white blood cell count has been noted with supplementation of saffron at 60mg for over eight weeks.
grade-c - - See study
Creatinine does not appear to be influenced in serum following supplementation of saffron.
grade-c - - See study
Saffron does not appear to influence ejaculate volume in men with infertility.
grade-c - - See study
Eosinophil concentrations are not affected by saffron supplementation in otherwise healthy persons.
grade-c - Moderate See all 3 studies
The best evidence to date does not support a pro-erectile effect of saffron supplementation per se, although it may have a particular role in combating SSRI related sexual dysfunction that results in erectile dysfunction.
grade-c - - See study
FSH is unaffected in infertile men given 60mg saffron daily over the course of 26 weeks.
grade-c - - See study
No significant influence on circulating IgA concentrations following saffron ingestion.
grade-c - - See study
Supplementation of 100mg saffron extract for six weeks failed to increase liver enzymes in otherwise healthy persons.
grade-c - - See study
LH concentrations are unaffected by saffron supplementation at 60mg in infertile men.
grade-c - - See study
Neutrophil concentrations in serum are unaffected by supplementation of saffron.
grade-c - - See study
Supplementation of 60mg saffron for 26 weeks does not significantly influence prolactin in infertile men.
grade-c - Very High See 2 studies
The best evidence to date does not support a role for saffron supplementation in increasing seminal motility.
grade-c - Very High See 2 studies
Saffron supplementation does not appear to be effective in increasing sperm count in infertile men.
grade-c - Very High See 2 studies
While preliminary evidence suggested benefit to seminal morphology, the best evidence to date does not support a role for saffron in enhancing seminal quality.
grade-c - Very High See 2 studies
Neither aromatherapy nor oral supplementation appear to significantly influence testosterone concentrations in serum.
grade-d Minor - See study
Supplementation of saffron appears to be capable of reducing LDL oxidation when tested ex vivo in both healthy controls and persons with cardiovascular disease, although to a mild degree.
grade-d Minor - See study
In men with erectile dysfunction, saffron appeared to increase nighttime tumescence at both the tip and base.
grade-d - - See study
grade-d - - See study
Acute topical application of a cream containing saffron has failed to cause significant changes in skin moisture content over the course of seven hours.

Studies Excluded from Consideration

  • Confounded with fennel and celery[1]

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Things to Note

Is a Form Of

Primary Function:

Also Known As

Crocus sativus

Do Not Confuse With

Turmeric (Indian saffron)

Caution Notice

Possible interactions with pregnancy

  • Due to traditional usage as an abortifacient and (infrequent) reports of irregular vaginal bleeding at higher doses (200-400mg) of saffron, it may be prudent to avoid supplementation during pregnancy

  • Chronic usage of saffron (over eight weeks continuous) should be approached cautiously, as double the recommended dose may result in harm to the body. Double the recommended dose is still a relatively small overall amount (60mg) and it is possible usage of saffron as a spice could exceed this

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Click here to see all 62 references.