When we think of saffron, most will think of a rather exotic, expensive spice used for centuries in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian cooking. Saffron however has not only been used to add a distinctive flavour to our foods, for centuries it has been revered in ancient Greece, the Middle East and even in Traditional Chinese Medicine for various health problems such as depression and anxiety. Even as long ago as Hippocrates, saffron was believed to have been used for treatment of stomach ailments, insomnia, cough, colds – the list goes on. Because of its beautiful, distinctive yellow colour, saffron was also used as a dye, particularly to dye the vivid yellow robes of Buddhist monks in India.
Saffron is often known as the ‘sunshine spice’, maybe because of its vibrant colour or maybe because it has been known to enhance our mood.
Because of the side effects of antidepressant medications, for some time there has been research into herbal remedies which may help with depression. This has led to studies into saffron which has found saffron may be helpful in dealing with mild depression. A meta-analysis of five published randomized controlled trials found supplementation with saffron significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared to the placebo trials. Interestingly when comparing the evidence between saffron supplementation and the antidepressant groups, the indications were that both treatments were similarly effective in reducing symptoms of depression. (1)
There are some indications saffron may also help with treatment of anxiety as well as help those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Evidence from animal studies (2) showed treatment with saffron may induce anxiety reducing benefits. Once again animal studies (3) also indicated there was a beneficial interaction between saffron and the serotonin-neurotransmitter system in the brain.
It is sad that whilst many of us enjoy life and generally have a great outlook on life, many in our community struggle with depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, the events over the past few months have not made it easy for many and I’m sure many are struggling with their mental health. Depression is one of the top five most prevalent diseases in the world. It is quite often indicated with a low mood, difficulty in thinking clearly, loss of interest as well as some physical complaints such as headaches, insomnia, low libido and low energy.
According to Beyond Blue, it is estimated 45% of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime and, sometime during their life, experience one or more episodes of major depression. In any 1 year, approximately 1 million Australian adults will suffer from depression and 2 million will suffer from anxiety.
Whilst we would never advise anybody to cease taking their pharmaceutical anti-depressant medication, without first consulting their doctor, it is interesting to note saffron may be taken in conjunction with antidepressants unlike other herbs such as St Johns Wort.
Hausenblas HA, Saha D, Dubyak PJ, Anton SD. J Integr Med 2013 Nov;11(6):377-83. Doi:10.3736 /jintegrmed 2013056 Saffron (Crocus sativus L) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials
Pitsikas N, Boultadakis A, Geogiadou G, tarantillis PA, Sakellaridis N. Effects of the active constituetns of Crocus sativus L., crocins, in an animal model of anxiety. Phytomedicine 2008 DEC;15(12):1135-9
Georgiadou G, Tarantillis PA, Pitsikas N. Effects of the active constituents of Crocus sativus L, crocins, in animal model of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Neurosci Lett. 2012 Oct 18:5281(1):27-30