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Saffron

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

Our evidence-based analysis on saffron features 112 unique references to scientific papers.

Research analysis led by and reviewed by the Examine team.
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Summary of Saffron

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

What is saffron?

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower Crocus sativus and has traditionally been used to flavor food. It has gained scientific attention recently for its potential anti-depressant effects and is available in extract form as a dietary supplement.

What are saffron's benefits?

Enough evidence has accumulated that we can be confident that saffron has notable antidepressant effects, consistently outperforming placebo. Some studies have tested saffron against reference drugs, such as the SSRI fluoxetine and have found the effects to be comparable, though saffron still has less evidence and less of a real-world track record than many drugs. Additionally, it appears to have anti-anxiety effects, though the evidence for this isn't as strong, and more research in specific anxiety disorders is needed. Some preliminary research suggests that it may help to alleviate the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, menopause, various inflammatory conditions, and improve sleep, but much more research is needed to be confident in its efficacy for these purposes.

It should be noted that the vast majority of studies have been conducted in Iran, which produces much of the world's saffron. While this should not discredit the results of the studies, and most seem to take reasonable measures to reduce the risk of bias, more replication from other researchers would go a long way toward solidifying saffron's effects. Additionally, much of the depression research from other countries is industry-funded, which carries an obvious conflict of interest.

There's also the possibility of a small effect on blood glucose, LDL, inflammation, liver health, blood vessels, and erectile dysfunction, but these are all of speculative efficacy.

What are saffron's side effects and drawbacks?

Trials generally suggest that the standard dose of 30 mg of extract is largely safe, without meaningful differences in adverse events compared with placebo. Doses of 60 mg of saffron extract and 400 mg of ground powder may increase the risk for hypotension, reduce hemoglobin, increase blood urea, and reduce the concentration of platelets and immune cells, though these effects aren't usually particularly potent. One study found an increase in creatinine in both a 200 mg and 400 mg group, with a greater increase for 200 mg, though another study that used 300 mg didn't find an effect. High doses may also increase the risk of headaches, nausea, sedation, hypomania, abnormal uterine bleeding, and diarrhea.

Saffron might also not be the most cost-effective supplement, and some alternatives could be more desirable, but this valuation will differ considerably between individuals.

Just like with pharmaceutical drugs, chemicals in herbs can interact negatively with each other, and consumers must always be vigilant about their drug/herb combinations and seek professional advice.

I heard that crocin is the main active chemical in saffron. Can I just take crocin?

There's apparently much more to saffron than crocin, and studies that have found benefits of saffron haven't found as great an effect from an equivalent amount of crocin. There may be some instances where crocin is comparably effective, but more research is needed to determine this,

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How to Take

Recommended dosage, active amounts, other details

For chronic supplementation, take 15 mg of saffron extract, twice a day, for a total of 30 mg daily. 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 200 mg.

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 1,200 mg may cause nasea and vomiting.

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Human Effect Matrix

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The Human Effect Matrix summarizes human studies to tell you what effects Saffron has on your body, how much evidence there is, and how strong these effects are.

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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 31 studies
30 mg saffron extract daily (both petals and stigma) appears to be effective in reducing depression in persons with major depressive disorder, and the potency appears to be comparable to reference drugs (fluoxetine, citalopram, and imipramine). That's not to say that the evidence is equivalent to those drugs, however. Other doses may also be effective but 30 mg of extract is the most common dose.
grade-a Minor Very High See all 12 studies
When taken orally, saffron seems to be a reliable anxiolytic. 30 mg of extract seems to be the most reliable dose, though less or more could be effective as well. When considering some of the most widely-used rating scales, Beck Anxiety Inventory and Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, the effect seems to be small, though when using all measures of anxiety, it's large. More research specifically on participants with diagnosed anxiety disorders is needed.
grade-b Minor - See all 11 studies
Mixed evidence. It appears to reduce blood glucose for those with type 2 diabetes, but the evidence isn't particularly consistent, and its efficacy in other scenarios is unclear. More research on type 2 diabetes in particular is needed.
grade-b Minor Very High See all 3 studies
Mixed evidence but seems to support at least a small reduction overall.
grade-b Minor - See all 7 studies
A meta-analysis found small but potentially meaningful reductions in AST and ALT but not ALP. Most research wasn't in liver diseases though, and more research in this context may yield different results.
grade-b Minor Very High See all 14 studies
Overall, a small reduction has been found. More research for those with dyslipidemia would expand our understanding of its effects.
grade-b Minor - See all 5 studies
In general, an improvement has been noted, though little of the research has specifically been on insomnia or other sleep disorders, instead being secondary to anxiety and depression. More research in this context could help to better understand its potential.
grade-b Minor - See all 14 studies
Overall, the reduction is small, and more research on those with dyslipidemia may help to understand its potential usefulness better.
grade-b Minor - See all 15 studies
A small reduction has been found. There may be a larger effect for those with dyslipidemia, but more research is needed to evaluate this and determine its usefulness.
grade-b - - See all 14 studies
Overall, it doesn't seem to have a meaningful effect. More research for those with dyslipidemia could be potentially useful.
grade-b - - See all 10 studies
While some studies have found a reduction, overall it doesn't appear to be reliable or meaningful.
grade-c Notable Very High See 2 studies
Two studies have found fairly potent effects of 20-30 mg of saffron extract. More research is needed to strengthen these findings, and it remains promising but speculative.
grade-c Minor Very High See 2 studies
Basophil count has been noted to mildly decrease following saffron supplementation alongside a reduction in IgM concentrations.
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 Moderate See all 4 studies
Most studies found an improvement
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 Moderate See all 5 studies
The reduction seems to be small overall, but it does seem to have some potential to reduce CRP.
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
- See all 5 studies
Mixed evidence, some studies suggest a reduction, which may be due to toxicity with a high dose, but it's unclear.
grade-c
Minor
- See all 3 studies
Supplementation of 60 mg 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. Other studies didn't find effects at 30 mg of an extract or 200-400 mg of saffron powder.
grade-c Minor Moderate See all 3 studies
One study found an improvement for women taking SSRIs. The study that evaluated men taking SSRIs didn't find an effect, though one in general erectile dysfunction with diabetes found an improvement.
grade-c Minor - See all 3 studies
Inconsistent effects but an improvement is possible, though it's not clear how likely it is yet.
grade-c Minor Very High See all 3 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 all 3 studies
Supplementation of saffron appears to increase visual acuity in persons with age-related macular degeneration.
grade-c Minor Moderate See all 5 studies
A decrease in white blood cell count has been noted with supplementation of saffron at 60mg for over eight weeks.
grade-c - - See 2 studies
Mixed evidence, it doesn't seem to have much of an effect, though the study that found an effect used a much larger dose of 176.5 mg vs. 300 mg of an extract, so that may be a reason for the difference.
grade-c - - See all 8 studies
Overall there doesn't seem to be a meaningful effect.
grade-c - Very High See all 8 studies
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 - Very High See 2 studies
Eosinophil concentrations are not affected by saffron supplementation in otherwise healthy persons, though a reduction in allergic asthma was found, which is likely a good sign.
grade-c - - See study
FSH is unaffected in infertile men given 60mg saffron daily over the course of 26 weeks.
grade-c - - See study
In one study, secondary to reducing snacking (thought to be via increasing satiety from meals) saffron appeared to reduce overall food intake. In another, it didn't, however. More research is needed.
grade-c High See all 6 studies
Overall there didn't appear to be a meaningful effect. It is possible that an effect could be seen for those with type 2 diabetes but more high-quality research is needed.
grade-c - Very High See all 4 studies
No effect was found.
grade-c - - See all 5 studies
Most studies don't support an effect. Hemoglobin has been noted to be decreased in one study and thought to be related to possible toxic effects of moderately high dose saffron (60 mg for more than 8 weeks).
grade-c - - See study
No significant influence on circulating IgA concentrations following saffron ingestion.
grade-c - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-c - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-c - - See study
Supplementation of 60mg saffron for 26 weeks did 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 all 3 studies
Saffron supplementation does not appear to be effective in increasing sperm count in infertile men.
grade-c - Very High See 2 studies
Neither aromatherapy nor oral supplementation appear to significantly influence testosterone concentrations in serum.
grade-c - High See all 7 studies
Generally a lack of effect was found.
grade-c - High See all 7 studies
Some studies have found an effect but most didn't, and it seems unlikely to have much of an impact in the short-term.
grade-d Strong - See study
One study found a considerable reduction.
grade-d Strong - See study
One study found a reduction in DOMS pain after eccentric exercise.
grade-d Notable - See study
One study found a reduction in DPPH but more research is needed.
grade-d Notable - See study
One study found an increase after 24 hours and just after starting uterine contractions.
grade-d Notable - See study
Reduction found in one study during resistance training.
grade-d Notable - See study
One study found a reduction in conjunction with an improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms. More research is needed.
grade-d Notable - See study
One study found an improvement in mood as measured by POMS.
grade-d Notable - See study
One study found a reduction for youths with anxiety and depression.
grade-d Notable - See study
One study found a reduction in fibromyalgia.
grade-d Notable - See study
One study found a reduction.
grade-d Notable - See study
One study found a reduction comparable to medication.
grade-d Notable - See study
One study found reductions in pain, tenderness, and swelling.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found an effect.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found a reduction in allergic asthma.
grade-d Minor Very High See 2 studies
Two studies have found an effect, but much more research is needed.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found an increase in ADHD.
grade-d
Minor
- See study
Decreased in the 200 mg group but not 400 mg.
grade-d Minor - See study
One small study found a reduction. More evidence is needed.
grade-d Minor Very High See 2 studies
Appears to improve cognition in those with Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment in two studies.
grade-d Minor Moderate See 2 studies
Mixed evidence, the negative study was in schizophrenia and the positive study was in rheumatoid arthritis, so it may have more of an effect in inflammatory conditions. But more research is needed.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found a reduction.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found a reduction.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found a reduction for participants who self-reported poor sleep.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found a reduction.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found a reduction.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found a reduction.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found an increase.
grade-d Minor Low See all 3 studies
The effect seems small and inconsistent but evidence supports some subtle effect.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found an improvement in allergic asthma.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found an increase from 400 mg but not 200.
grade-d Minor Low See all 3 studies
Small effect and inconsistent, but the evidence supports a subtle effect.
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 Minor Moderate See 2 studies
Mixed evidence.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found an increase.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found an improvement.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found a reduction.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found an increase for participants with schizophrenia.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found a reduction.
grade-d Minor - See study
One study found an improvement.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study,
grade-d - High See all 3 studies
Mixed evidence, not likely to have much of an effect.
grade-d - Moderate See 2 studies
Mixed evidence, doesn't appear to be much of an effect. More research is needed.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - Very High See 2 studies
No apparent effect in 2 studies.
grade-d - - See 2 studies
Mixed evidence.
grade-d - Very High See all 4 studies
No apparent effect overall.
grade-d - High See all 3 studies
Mixed evidence. More research is needed.
grade-d - Very High See 2 studies
No apparent effect in two studies.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - Very High See 2 studies
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - Very High See 2 studies
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No meaningful effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one 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.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - High See all 4 studies
Overall the evidence doesn't support a meaningful effect.
grade-d - Very High See all 3 studies
Mixed evidence. More research is needed.
grade-d - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect on the rate in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.
grade-d - - See study
No apparent effect in one study.

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 112 references.