7 Health Benefits of Saffron – Cleveland Clinic
Saffron adds a nice color to your dishes. Could it also add a big boost to your health? Dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, dives into the science behind saffron and explains how to use the spice safely.
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What is saffron?
Saffron, a spice native to Asia, has a long history as a healing or health-boosting herb. Also known as Crocus sativus L.people have used saffron as a flavoring, coloring and health remedy for thousands of years.
Czerwony explains recent research on this reddish flower, explaining how saffron may have several health benefits.
Health benefits of saffron
Numerous studies – mostly small ones – suggest that saffron may improve your health or help with specific health issues. This research shows that saffron may show promise as:
1. Antioxidant Boost
Saffron, like many other herbs and plants, is rich in antioxidants. These substances help fight cell damage and can prevent cancer or other diseases. Research has also shown that the antioxidants in saffron may be healthy for your brain and nervous system.
Crocetin, crocin, and safranal, three antioxidants found in saffron, may help improve memory and learning ability. These substances can also help prevent neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
“The antioxidants in saffron may help protect the brain from damage,” says Czerwony. “Antioxidants are beneficial substances and you should get them from a variety of sources. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a powerful way to increase your antioxidant intake and prevent disease. Add saffron to a healthy diet to boost your antioxidants.
2. Relief from PMS
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can cause a variety of symptoms, from pelvic pain to acne breakouts. For many people, PMS impacts their mental health, causing anxiety, depression, and mood swings. Some small research studies have shown that saffron may improve PMS-related depression.
“PMS can negatively affect a person’s quality of life,” says Czerwony. “If you have PMS that is severe or interferes with your daily activities, talk to your provider. Saffron might also help relieve some of the emotional symptoms of PMS.
3. Aids in weight loss
Losing weight can be difficult, especially when your appetite seems to be working against you. A study on a group of women found that taking saffron helped them feel less hungry and snack less frequently.
“There is some evidence that saffron can suppress your appetite and help you lose weight,” says Czerwony. “But it doesn’t work on its own. Combine saffron with a healthy, balanced diet for success.
4. Seizure treatment
Saffron is used as an anticonvulsant (anti-epileptic) remedy in Iranian folk medicine. Some studies in biological models show that it can shorten certain types of seizures. However, says Czerwony, we need larger clinical trials to learn more about how it works.
“Saffron might show promise as a treatment for seizures, but we need more data on its safety and effectiveness,” notes Czerwony. “If you have a seizure disorder, ask your provider before taking herbs or supplements like saffron.”
5. ED Remedy
Erectile dysfunction (ED), the ability to maintain an erection, affects millions of people. And saffron could be a treatment for erectile dysfunction, according to some research.
“Providers often recommend ED medications, which work for many people,” Czerwony says. “But those looking for a herbal remedy might try saffron. Studies have shown 30 milligrams a day to be effective, but don’t exceed that amount. Large amounts of saffron can be toxic.
6. Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease
Saffron may be as effective as a prescription drug for treating mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but studies suggest that saffron may help slow its progression and relieve symptoms.
“Some small studies have shown that saffron extract improved cognitive function in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease,” says Czerwony. “Saffron also has a low risk of side effects. People with Alzheimer’s disease should check with their supplier regularly and discuss any supplements they are taking.
7. Depression Treatment
Depression is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people around the world. Treatment may involve different types of therapy or medication. Some studies show that consuming saffron may help relieve symptoms of depression.
“Saffron could become a future treatment for depression if we get more evidence and data,” says Czerwony. “However, we need larger studies that look at long-term results before saffron can replace proven medications for depression. Don’t stop taking your prescription medications without talking to your provider.
How to use saffron
Saffron flower petals look like thin red threads. Steep a few threads in hot water to make saffron tea or stir the liquid into savory dishes for added flavor. And be prepared for the price – it’s one of the most expensive spices in the world.
You can also buy saffron capsules to swallow if you don’t like the flavor. But before taking any supplements, ask your health care provider if it’s safe for you. Some supplements can have unwanted side effects, especially if you are pregnant, taking medication, or have any medical conditions.
“Saffron is generally safe when people use small amounts for cooking or as tea,” says Czerwony. “It’s also high in antioxidants, so we know it has health benefits. Before taking saffron, however, check with your supplier to make sure it is safe for you.