Saffron: Natural remedies for neurological disorders

James lake, MD

In this article:

  • Saffron and treatment of many neuropsychiatric disorders
  • Saffron and depression
  • Saffron and ADHD
  • Saffron and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Saffron, anxiety, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Saffron, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties

Limitations of the available standard drugs leads to the spread of evidence-based complementary and alternative drugs (CAM).

Limited efficiency, safety problems and high cost of many psychotropic drugs are in high demand in a more safe, effective and affordable remedies for the treatment of mental illness. After decades of research, which has spent billions of dollars, the efficacy of widely used drugs prescribed for severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychiatric diseases, does not appear to be very high. Problems forced a lot of people with mental illnesses to seek treatment and specialists in the field of alternative and complementary medicine, including specialists in the field of Chinese medicine, naturopaths, herbalists, chiropractors, homeopaths, etc. In the context of the growing interest in the integrated approach to the care of people with mental problems of saffron could be a promising tool in a number of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Saffron and treatment of many neuropsychiatric disorders

Saffron (Crocus sativus) has long been used in Iranian and Chinese medicine, as it is known as aphrodisiac, expectorant, anticonvulsant, antiseptic, and also as a means of affecting cognitive function. Data from various studies on humans suggests, saffron has beneficial effects in depressed mood, Alzheimer’s disease and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Results of animal studies suggests that saffron may exert beneficial effects on patients diagnosed with anxiety disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD). Bioactive components of saffron may increase the inhibition reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine, and can also act as receptor antagonists N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) and GABA-agonists. This article briefly describes the results of studies on the application of saffron in a depressed mood, Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Saffron and depression

Antidepressant properties of saffron may be associated with various mechanisms, including its serotonergic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuro-endocrine and neuroprotective properties. A systematic review of 6 placebo-controlled studies on the use of saffron in mild to moderate depression, allowed to come to the conclusion that saffron and antidepressants have comparable efficacy. Held in 2019, a meta-analysis of 11 placebo-controlled studies (Total >500) the use of saffron, people with mild and moderate depression, have led to the conclusion that the effectiveness of saffron statistically significantly higher than placebo, and that it is equivalent to the efficiency of SSRI-antidepressants (fluoxetine, citalopram). It was not revealed differences in the frequency of side effects when using saffron in comparison with placebo, despite the fact that the study used high doses of saffron (up to 1.5 mg/day). All the studies included in the meta-analysis were conducted in Iran, where saffron is traditionally used for low mood and other health problems. In addition, many patients had comorbidities. These two factors could affect the result. To confirm these findings and to determine optimal dosages and duration of treatment necessary for large-scale, placebo-controlled study conducted by independent research groups. According to the latest data, curcumin (derived from turmeric) has antidepressant properties as when used in monotherapy, or in combination with antidepressants. It was hypothesized that the application of curcumin together with saffron for their antidepressant properties may increase. During a 12-week double-blind placebo-controlled study of individuals diagnosed with severe depressive disorder randomly received an extract with a low dose of curcumin (250 mg 2 times a day), extract with a high dose of curcumin (500 mg 2 times a day) or extract with a low dose of curcumin in combination with saffron (15 mg 2 times a day); as a result, they noted comparable significant improvement in mood compared to people on placebo. However, more research is needed to determine whether different dosages of these herbal remedies different antidepressant properties.

The cultivation and collection of C. Sativus is very labor-intensive, requires hundreds of hours of manual Assembly stigmas with a thousand flowers. As a result, saffron has a high price and on world market number of quality of saffron is limited. Trying to find more efficient and less expensive source of C. Sativus, the researchers singled out from the bases of the stems of C. Sativus several active substances and examined their effects on the model behavior in depressed mood in mice. Researchers have identified two bioactive fractions, which may have antidepressant efficacy comparable to the effectiveness of saffron obtained from stigmas. However, placebo-controlled clinical studies to confirm these results when used by people with depression.

Saffron and ADHD

Stimulants such as methylphenidate and others, is widely used in ADHD, lead to various side effects such as insomnia, loss of appetite and abdominal pain. The efficacy of stimulants and other pharmalogically of drugs used in ADHD in adults can be two times lower than for children. In connection with all these problems, studies have been conducted of the properties of promising natural products and other methods of treatment alternative medicine and alternative medicine.

Bioactive agents included in the composition of saffron can increase the inhibition reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine, and can also act as receptor antagonists N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) and GABA-agonists. It is believed that both mechanisms have a positive impact on the symptoms of attention deficit. The 6-week randomized, double-blind study in children and adolescents diagnosed with ADHD showed equivalent efficacy of saffron (20-30 mg/day) and methylphenidate (20-30 mg/day) in the assessment of symptoms by parents and teachers using a special scale. These conclusions must be regarded as preliminary confirmation which must be checked large long-term placebo-controlled study.

Saffron and Alzheimer’s disease

Recent studies confirm the data of traditional medicine that saffron improves brain function in healthy people and can reduce symptoms of decline in cognitive abilities in Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed that saffron improves cognitive abilities like due to the fact that it is an antioxidant as due to the fact that it is an antioxidant and anti-amyloidogenic action. The results of a placebo-controlled trial of saffron in the AD talking about its beneficial effects on cognitive function. During a 22-week placebo-controlled study in 55 participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who are randomized took saffron (15 mg twice daily) and donepezil (5 mg twice a day), a widely used cholinesterase inhibitor, was observed equivalent improvement in behavior and cognitive function assessment using a standardized scale for assessment of symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is often accompanied by depressed mood, thus, for such patients, the saffron is a rational choice.

Saffron, anxiety, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder

In addition to the positive effects in depressed mood, Alzheimer’s and ADHD, recent research on animals suggests that saffron may be useful for symptoms of anxiety and psychosis and in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, to date, no human studies on the effectiveness of saffron in either of these disorders. The mechanism or mechanisms by which bioactive components of saffron have antianxiety, antipsychotic and antiobsessive properties have not been studied, but it may be related to modulation systems of the neurotransmitters GABA-A and NMDA.

Saffron, antioxidant and neuroprotective effects

Limitations associated with the available classical methods of treatment of mental problems, stimulate research funds of alternative and complementary medicine. In recent years, the interest in saffron as a means of treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders, as well as to other non-pharmacological means, is constantly growing. Recent data suggest that saffron possesses significant antioxidant and neuroprotective properties and is safe and effective in treating mild to moderate depression, and Alzheimer’s disease of mild and moderate degree. Recent studies suggest that in the treatment of ADHD efficacy of saffron is comparable with the action of stimulating drugs. Preliminary results from preclinical animal studies suggest that saffron may have significant anticraving, antipsychotics and antiobsessional action. To confirm the above results and determine the optimal dosages and safe ways to use saffron in combination with other natural remedies and psychotropic drugs requires large long-term placebo-controlled studies.


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  • Dr. lake is a Board-certified psychiatrist and former Professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Stanford. He founded and previously chaired the forum of the American psychiatric Association additional, alternative and integrative medicine and is the author or coauthor of five textbooks on integrative mental health care, and regularly publishes articles in “Psychiatric newspaper”. His latest work is a series of short books designed as quick guides for an integrative treatment of depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, insomnia and substance abuse. For more information, please visit Dr. Lake

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