Saffron is making the news with increasing frequency as research reveals more about its role in medicine. Learn more about its uses in managing Alzheimer's and depression.

What is Saffron?

Saffron is a spice. It's derived from the saffron crocus, a striking deep purple flower with stunning crimson stigma and styles. Though saffron is among the costlier spices by weight, the saffron crocus' stigma and styles are frequently used as seasonings and food dyes.

Middle Eastern cultures have used saffron for medicinal purposes for centuries, and its popularity as a "wonder drug" is increasing worldwide.

Saffron for Alzheimer's

What do we know about saffron's ability to treat Alzheimer's?

  • This study showed that dementia symptoms improved amongst patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms taking saffron for 16 weeks.
  • A double-blind study conducted in 2010 demonstrated that saffron worked as well as leading Alzheimer's drug, Donepezil at treating mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's. This study observed 54 adults ages 55 and older. Participants took either a saffron capsule (30 mg/day) or Donepezil (10 mg/day) for 22 weeks. The effects of saffron compared to Donepezil were rated using changes in the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale and Clinical Dementia Rating Scale. Bonus: patients taking saffron vomited less than patients taking Donepezil.
  • Even patients with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's benefit from saffron. A randomized, double-blind, parallel-group study published in 2014 followed the effects of saffron versus Memantine on 68 patients with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's. Participants took either Memantine (20 mg/day) or saffron extract (30 mg/day) for a year. Both groups achieved similar outcomes, leading the researchers to conclude that saffron works as well as Memantine as a treatment for moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's.

The research published on saffron and Alzheimer's shows promising results for saffron as a treatment for mild to severe Alzheimer's symptoms, especially since saffron has virtually no adverse side-effects. In contrast, Alzheimer's drugs have side effects ranging from mild to severe.

Saffron for Depression

What do we know about saffron's ability to treat depression?

  • Fifteen years ago, we learned that saffron worked as well as Prozac (fluoxetine) to treat depression. This double-blind, randomized study, conducted in 2005, followed 40 adults with mild to major depression. Patients got either 30 mg of saffron per day or 20 mg of fluoxetine per day for six weeks. Saffron was just as effective as fluoxetine at treating mild-to-moderate depression.
  • This review study showed that saffron may reduce free radical damage in the brain. Saffron had significant treatment effects in placebo-comparison trials and similar results to antidepressant drugs in drug vs. saffron trials. The researchers concluded that saffron's mechanism of action might be linked to its status as an antioxidant. Saffron potentially confers serotonergic, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects. Only high-quality, double-blind trials were included in this study's analysis.

With treatment effects similar to antidepressant drugs, saffron seems to beat the leading antidepressant medications as a treatment for depression. Plus, unlike antidepressants, saffron doesn't come with sexual dysfunction as a potential side effect.

Saffron to the Rescue

Saffron seems to have promising potential as a treatment for Alzheimer's and depression. It's also demonstrating its effectiveness as a therapy for drug-induced sexual dysfunction in men and women, erectile dysfunction and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).