Could Saffron be the answer to depression?

Posted by Mark Hamilton on

An analysis of studies show Saffron is a powerful tool for depression

Thursday October 18, 2018


The vibrant red spice saffron (Crocus sativus) has a long history of medicinal use, among them is the use of this unique herbal plant for improving mood and mental health.  Modern science has sought to confirm many of its ancient and traditional assertions.  In fact, recent findings suggest saffron can be a powerful tool in depression.



Depression is a common, serious mental health condition.  It is suggested to be the leading cause of disability worldwide and at its worst Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) can lead to suicide.  Despite the range of psychological and prescription treatments available there are severe barriers to treatment, such as the social stigma around depression[1].

As well as being used widely as a spice to enhance food flavours, saffron is a notable herbal medicine with benefits reported as anti-convulsant, anti-inflammatory, preventative from oxidative damage, besides learning and memory enhancement, but also as a treatment for depression.  

Recently more studies on the treatment of MDD with saffron have emerged, subsequently Yang et al of The First Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University, China, conducted a meta-analysis designed to provide an overview of the current evidence and an up to date conclusion on the use of saffron for treating MDD in adults.



Seven studies were analysed that either compared the effects of saffron to a placebo or anti-depressant medication.  The saffron treatments administered 30mg daily for 6 to 12 weeks.  The results showed that saffron is an effective treatment of adult MDD and produces relief comparable to anti-depressant medication[2].

The exact mechanisms by which these benefits are enjoyed are not fully understood, but it is suggested that the unique bioactives of saffron improve neurotransmitter balance.  Although, more research is necessary to reveal the mechanisms that play a role in the relief of depression, clinical guidelines by the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments recommended saffron, 20-30mg daily for 6-8 weeks as a third-line additional therapy for mild to moderate depression[3].

The outstanding ability of saffron to perform in a comparable manner to anti-depressant medication provides the patient with a treatment option that is free from side effects.  Anti-depressants can exert side effects that include sexual disfunction, gastrointestinal upset, nausea, increased appetite and fatigue.  In fact, studies have shown a reprieve of anti-depressant associated sexual dysfunction in both males and females through the use of saffron[4] [5].

To date this is the most recent analysis of evidence for Saffron use in depression.  While there may be a need for further long-term research, it cannot be denied that Saffron is an effective treatment in adult depression combined with its excellent safety history and lack of side effects. 

Thanks to Jenny for this really interesting blog.

Author: Jenny Cardson is a Nutritional Practitioner and Technical Supervisor at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Nutritional Science.  

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