Saffron’s Fascinating Benefits: From Improving Mood to Gut Health and More

Image of saffron stigmas in a glass jar on a purple background with a crocus flower for the Saffron's Fascinating Benefits post by The Healthy RD
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Saffron is an underrated yet highly beneficial spice made from the stigma of the crocus flower. Owing to its rich and diverse antioxidant content, saffron may be one of the most important spices that you use in your spice and supplement cabinet. 

Like many spices, saffron has synergistic effects, meaning that because it is a complex plant, its multiple antioxidants and healing compounds are more than the sum of its parts. Plus, its risks are minimal to none. I found no less than 40 clinical studies in humans demonstrating its safety and effectiveness.

In this post, learn about the benefits of saffron, how to use it, and doses that are helpful. 

Saffron Benefits Overview

Using saffron is a no-brainer for health because it has been clinically studied to help so many aspects of health.

Among these studies, saffron helps:

  • Improve mood
  • Helps immune function
  • Enhances heart health
  • Reduces appetite
  • Improves sexual function
  • Helps eye health
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Alleviates IBS and colitis
  • Decreases asthma symptoms
  • Relieve arthritis
  • Reduces OCD
  • Helps with menopause

Let’s take a closer look at these benefits. 

Saffron Improves Mood

Image of Saffron stigmas and a smiley face with a brown background for the Saffron's fascinating benefits post: from improving mood to gut health and more by The Healthy RD

One of the most impressive benefits of saffron is that it clearly improves mood. 

Saffron reduces depression symptoms in people undergoing coronary catheter procedures as much as the antidepressant medication fluoxetine in one small clinical study. In fact, a compilation of 5 clinical studies of people with depression found that saffron was equally effective to conventional treatment for depression without all the negative side effects in people with major depression

Yet another study in menopausal women shows that saffron reduces both depressive symptoms and reduces hot flashes both. Pretty impressive. Saffron even reduces the symptoms of premenstural syndrome

The doses used for saffron and depression were quite low at just 30 mg per day, which means that this spice is an affordable option for many people to try. 

Saffron Improves Eye Health

Graphic of crocus and saffron with a healthy eye by The Healthy RD

The antioxidants in saffron called crocin help improve oxygenation and nutrient supply to the retina in the eye. Several clinical studies show that saffron improves eye function in people with age-related macular degeneration as well as glaucoma and a condition called macular dystrophy. Let’s take a closer look. 

Using saffron at 30 mg per day improved retinal function over a 6-month period in people with Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and notably, the people taking the saffron reported that they were going to continue taking it after the study was completed

Further, a longer-term study over a period of 15 months showed similar improvements in retinal function in people with AMD at a dose of 20 mg per day of saffron.

Yet another study showed that saffron also improves visual acuity and visual function in AMD patients.

A small study showed that saffron reduced pressure in the eye of people with glaucoma too.

In people with a genetic condition called macular dystrophy, saffron helped protect the retina because of its rich antioxidant content.

Related post: Natural and Best Astaxanthin Supplements

Saffron for Immunity

Graphic of saffron with immune cells for the saffron for immunity section of saffron's fascinating benefits post by The Healthy RD

Like many other spices and herbs, saffron is also great for the immune system. 4 research studies have demonstrated their benefits for overall immunity. Let’s explore this further. 

As with other spices, saffron has diverse effects on the immune response in the body which lend it to helping our bodies regulate its responses. By generally dampening inflammatory compounds that are generated by the immune system, saffron helps promote a normal immune response. 

Saffron has anti-inflammatory effects on our innate immune cells called neutrophils. By dampening pro-inflammatory cytokines, saffron may help protect our bodies from cancer and the damages of toxins.

All the while, saffron may dampen immune-mediated conditions like asthma, allergy, and colitis for this reason. Higher dose saffron (100 mg per day) improved immune response without any side effects in a group of healthy men. Using saffron may dampen inflammation at the gene level due to immune benefits. These inflammatory compounds that are improved include NF-kB and NRF2.

Last but not least, early research shows that saffron has natural antiviral effects which could prove useful for reducing the risk of the common cold and other viral conditions. 

Saffron Heart Health Benefits

Graphic of crocus and saffron with a heart and ekg line graphic in red for the saffron's fascinating benefits post by The Healthy RD

Anything that improves the immune response also tends to be good for the heart, and saffron is no exception. In addition to this, clinical studies have shown that saffron significantly reduces blood pressure in people with Type 2 diabetes. 

Another study used saffron, ginger, and cardamom combination to demonstrate a significant reduction in blood pressure and a marker of plaque progression in the arteries called ICAM-1. 

Some research shows that saffron combined with ginger and cardamom also reduces LDL cholesterol in people with Type 2 Diabetes although results are mixed in various research studies. Another study of saffron at 100 mg per day found that LDL cholesterol was reduced along with blood pressure reduction in a study of asthma patients

Saffron Improves Sexual Function

Graphic of crocus and saffron and graphic of female and male symbols by The Healthy RD

One of saffron’s traditional uses as an aphrodisiac is now being proven in research.  In fact, saffron impressively reversed the sexual side effects of antidepressant medication fluoxetine in women. Using 15 mg twice a day of saffron along with 50 mg of vitamin E daily improved sexual function in women with known sexual dysfunction in another study.

Men also benefit from saffron. In a review of 6 clinical trials, saffron improved sexual function, specifically it had a positive effect on erectile dysfunction.

Saffron Reduces Appetite and Body Weight

Graphic of saffron and reducing appetite by The Healthy RD

Saffron impressively reduced body weight, fat mass, caloric intake and appetite over a period of 8 weeks in patients with coronary artery disease.  

In another randomized, placebo-controlled trial, using saffron supplements over an 8-week period resulted in a reduction in appetite and a reduction in snacking behaviors among overweight women.  The dose was 175 mg twice a day of a saffron extract called Satireal. 

Yet another study showed that saffron reduced food cravings and depression symptoms in overweight women using 15 mg of saffron twice daily. 

Saffron Improves Lung Health

As an antioxidant-rich spice, saffron helps reduce allergy-related asthma symptoms and even improves lung function tests while dampening inflammation in one study. This study used 100 mg of saffron per day over an 8-week period. 

A very similar study found that saffron reduced asthma symptoms and reduced shortness of breath and waking due to asthma symptoms with the same dose and duration as the previous study. The people enrolled also had an improvement in immune function as measured by a reduction in eosinophils and basophils. 

Reduces Pain and Inflammation

Saffron helps so many aspects of health because of its benefits for dampening inflammation. It also reduces pain in several conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and in painful menstrual periods. Doses of 100 mg per day or more are used for pain conditions like these. 

Reduces Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

So far, 2 clinical studies show that saffron effectively reduces the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder and works as well as conventional therapy called fluoxetine and fluvoxamine with no side effects compared to conventional therapy which can have a lot of side effects. 

Related post: Best Probiotics for Anxiety and OCD

Helps Liver and Gut Health

As a natural spice, it isn’t too surprising that saffron may help with a number of gut conditions and promote overall gut wellness.

Of the studies we have so far, the one that stands out the most as far as its gut benefits show that saffron reduces the severity of mild to moderate ulcerative colitis while also dampening inflammation. Saffron’s antioxidant content also helps protect the liver and may even reduce the chances of fatty liver disease. More research is needed in this area.

And another interesting fact: saffron improves the quality of life and mood for people who struggle with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

Saffron Improves Sleep

As a multipurpose spice, saffron helps improve sleep quality according to three small studies. While some of the results are based on self reports of sleep quality, saffron also improved sleep quality as verified by brain waves. One study using saffron extract improved both sleep quality and daytime functioning.

May Help Protect Kidneys

An important factor to consider when using herbal supplements is whether or not it is safe for your whole body. Interestingly, saffron may be  protective of kidneys too, at least according to early research. Specifically it helps reduce the toxic burden of medications on the kidney, which could one day prove useful for people who have to take risky medications. 

Further, saffron improved some markers of kidney function including blood urea nitrogen but did not change serum creatinine levels. Early research shows that saffron may protect from acute kidney injury due to heart conditions. 

Safety of Saffron

Studies using saffron show that it is safe and there are no short-term or long-term risks of using this spice. There is some concern of using high doses during pregnancy, so supplements should be avoided if you are pregnant.

How to Use Saffron

Saffron supplements are used in all the clinical trials reviewed above. The doses range from 20 mg to 100 mg per day.

You can use saffron stigmas in cooking too. Most recipes call for about 10 stigmas. Grind these in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and then add a small amount of water to help it “bloom” or soften. Then add the saffron to recipes as desired.

Saffron is commonly added to rice dishes, but also adds a nice color and flavor to soups, stews, smoothies, egg dishes, and more.

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