Research Breakdown on Saffron

Research Breakdown on Saffron

An Introduction to Saffron, it’s Sources and Composition.

Crocus sativus, or saffron (as it is more commonly known) is a world renowned spice that is harvested by hand from the bulb of the crocus sativus flower. The name ‘saffron’ comes from the Arabic word for yellow; zafaran. While saffron is now most commonly harvested and produced in Iran, which accounts for 90% of the world’s saffron, saffron historically has been used, known and championed all over Europe.

Saffron has always been arguably the most prized culinary spice in the world. The health benefits of saffron and its medicinal properties are still being tested however saffron has been used for medicinal purposes consistently throughout history. In ancient Rome saffron was used as a hangover cure due to its sedative capabilities. In traditional Persian medicine saffron is used as an antidepressant due to these same sedative qualities.

Despite its wide uses and popularity, the production that goes into harvesting saffron is very labour intensive which is reflected in the price of saffron. In order to harvest 1kg of dried stigma, the saffron spice, anywhere between 150,000-200,000 flowers and 400 hours of labor is required. Per crocus sativus, only three stigmas can be harvested. This is why saffron is such an expensive spice.

There are several components to saffron. These can be divided into either small aromatic aldehydes and carotenoids.

Saffron stigma contains:
  • Picrocrocin (hydroxysafranal β-D-glucoside) which is the main bitter component of saffron as well as picrocrocin acid form
  • Safranol and hydroxy safranol, which are monoterpene aldehydes which result in the characteristic aroma and taste of saffron and are lysed from the picrocrocin molecule after heat treatment
  • Crocin molecules, which are water soluble carotenoids. These are divided into Crocin 1 (17.823mg/g of the water extract), Crocin 2 (trans-crocin-2, cis-crocin-2, and trans-crocin-2'; the former being 7% of the total carotenoids), Crocin 3 (trans-crocin-3 and cis-crocin-3, with the former at 26% total carotenoids, Crocin-4 (trans-crocin-4 and cis-crocin-4, with the former amounting to 46% total carotenoids and the latter 12%) and Crocin 5 (cis-crocin-5)
  • Zeaxanthin, a fat soluble carotenoid
Saffron crom tends to contain:
  • n-tridecane[12]
  • N-tetradecane
  • n-pentadecane
  • n-heptadecane
  • diethyltoluamide
  • n-catane
  • Hexadecanoic acid
  • Octadecadienoic acid
  • Dietary minerals such as magnesium (665-680µg/g), manganese (4.8-6.1µg/g), calcium (2,868-3,110µg/g), zinc (16.2-18.3µg/g), and potassium (4,395-4,870µg/g)

Slide 2.1 Serotonergic Neurotransmission 2.3 Food Intake and Appetite 2.2 Analgesia 2.4 Sedation 2.4 Sedation 2.5 Anxiety and Stress 2.5 Anxiety and Stress 2.6 Depression 2.7 Obsession and Compulsion 2.7 Obsession and Compulsion 5.1 Immunoglobulins and Interferons 7. Interactions with Oxidation 8. Interactions with Aesthetics 5.2 Macrophages 5.2 Macrophages 5.3 T Cells 5.3 T Cells 5.4 Basophils 5.4 Basophils 6.1 Estrogen 6.1 Estrogen 6.2 Testosterone 6.2 Testosterone 6.3 Corticosteroids 6.3 Corticosteroids 7.1 DNA Damage 8.1 Skin 8.1 Skin 9.1 Menstruation 9.1 Menstruation 9.2 Libido 9.2 Libido 9.3 Fertility 9.3 Fertility 10.1 Lungs 10.1 Lungs 10.2 Eyes 10.2 Eyes 11.1 Prostate 11.1 Prostate 12.1 Alzheimer's Disease 12.1 Alzheimer's Disease 13.1 General 13.1 General 1. Sources and Composition 2. Neurology 3. Cardiovascular Health 4. Skeletal Muscle and Physical Performance 5. Inflammation and Immunology 6. Interactions with Hormones 9. Sexuality and Pregnancy 10. Peripheral Organ Systems 11. Interactions with Cancer 12. Other Medical Conditions 13. Safety and Toxicology
Neurology and Saffron

The Physicochemical Properties of Saffron

The labour of harvesting saffron does not end once the threads have been plucked. In order to ensure that flavour and medicinal properties can be extracted from saffron, a drying phase is required.  This can be achieved using several different methods including sun drying, toasting or using a temperature controlled room. This is done so that the moisture content of the threads can be reduced to 10-12%. If done incorrectly or with too low temperatures, the aromatic properties of saffron are compromised and the quality of saffron is severely reduced. 

Serotonergic Neurotransmission
The crocins in saffron have been found to hinder 5-HT2c signalling when tested on rats as it antagonizes the effects of m-Chlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP). In more simple terms, the rat model suggests that saffron has serotonergic effects which means it can promote the production and release of serotonin.
Analgesia
When injected in high doses, the stigma and petals of saffron (360-1,400mg/kg) have been shown to have analgesic, or pain reducing capabilities. While this would mean saffron operates as.a natural aspirin or paracetamol, it is unclear whether this effect can be achieved when saffron is consumed orally.
Food Intake and Appetite
A study showed that when overweight women who do not suffer from any eating disorders used 176.mg of saffron stigma daily they found that their snacking was reduced by 55% and also found their hunger had been reduced after 8 weeks. The decrease in appetite is effective at promoting weight loss in those who want to lose weight to become a healthy weight.
Sedation
While standard doses of crocins (30 and 50mg/kg) consumed orally did not cause sedation in rodents, high doses of injected crocins (up to 600mg/kg) did cause sleepiness. There is no evidence to suggest the same would be experienced by humans.
Anxiety and Stress
Injections of saffron infused water extract have been proven to provide anxiety reducing properties when used on mice. However, lower doses up to 560mg/kg lose their efficiency. The dosage of saffron infused water that was effective has been found to be comparable to diazepam. While an anxiolytic effect was achieved on mice no similar studies have been conducted with humans and oral supplements. However, there is a study that noted the aromatherapy using saffron does mildly relieve anxiety.
Depression

Largely due to saffron’s serotonergic capabilities, the oral ingestion of 150-600mg/kg of crude saffron extract has been proven to reduce mild to moderate depression symptoms in rats when administered in a dose-dependent manner.

The use of 30mg of saffron for depressive symptoms against a placebo found saffron to be more effective. When tested and compared against prescription anti-depressants there was a significant difference in effectiveness with saffron being less effective. However, the use of saffron was still effective and caused less side-effects which can make it the more desirable treatment option.

The petals of the crocus sativus have also been found to reduce symptoms of mild to moderate depression. As the petals are a byproduct of harvesting saffron stigmas, this is a much cheaper alternative for boosting moods.

Saffron has also been noted to effectively boost the mood in people who are not suffering from depression.

Obsession and Compulsion
Saffron crocins have the ability to reverse OCD symptoms and thus could benefit those who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as shown in a study using rats. In this study rats were administered chemically-induced OCD and were then given 30-50mg/kg crocins which reduced their symptoms by half. There have not been studies conducted on humans with obsessive compulsive disorder to provide conclusive evidence.
Cardiovascular Health and Cholesterol
Saffron has been widely used to lower oxidative stress and improve cardiovascular health in people for millennia. Studies have shown that ingesting 50mg of saffron dissolved in milk twice daily for six weeks can significantly reduce cholesterol and oxidation susceptibility. However, more studies are needed to ensure the effectiveness of this treatment.
Soreness, Injury and Recovery with Saffron
Saffron is believed to contain high anti-inflammatory properties and thus has been studied and used in humans to treat delayed onset muscle soreness and injuries. One study saw 39 students take either 300mg of dried saffron, 75 mg indomethacin, or a placebo over 10 days. Of the three groups those who took saffron outperformed their peers when exercising and also saw a decrease in muscle damage and perceived pain that was greater than those taking indomethacin and the placebo.
Inflammation and Immunology

Immunoglobulins and Interferons 

Higher than normal doses of saffron, of about 100mg, administered to healthy men once a day for three weeks temporarily improved the immunoglobulin concentrations in their serum. Lower doses have not yet been tested. 

Macrophages
The oral ingestion of 100mg crude saffron extract increased the monocyte concentration by 9% after three weeks of administration. This change was not detectable after six weeks.
T cells
Total lymphocytes cells are unaffected by the use of saffron up to 100mg in healthy men over a six week period.
Basophils
Basophil concentrations decreased by 20% after three weeks of 100mg saffron oral ingestion in immunoglobulins. These changes were not detectable after six weeks.
Saffron and Hormones
Estrogen
After 20 minutes of exposure to saffron through aromatherapy, women who are otherwise healthy experience a mild increase in estrogen.
Testosterone
After 20 minutes of exposure to saffron through aromatherapy, women who are otherwise healthy do not experience an increase in testosterone. Oral supplementation of 60mg saffron daily over 26 weeks does not influence the testosterone concentration in infertile men.
Corticosteroids
After 20 minutes of exposure to saffron through aromatherapy, women who are otherwise healthy experience a reduction of cortisol and subsequently a decrease in anxiety.
Interactions with Oxidation & DNA Damage
The crocetin compounds of saffron appear to associate with DNA in an antioxidative manner. However, despite providing antioxidants, the exact capabilities of this attachment are yet to be determined.
Interactions with Skin
Creams containing 4% dried or powdered saffron have similar UV radiation and sun protection factors (SPF) as sunscreens containing 8% homosalate solution. Moisturising creams containing 2-8% of dried or powdered saffron do not have any significant impact on the skin after a single administration.
Sexuality and Pregnancy
Saffron is an effective supplement for reducing PMS symptoms and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). A study where 30mg of saffron was taken daily for treating PMS over two menstrual cycles saw 76% of the women who partook in the study reporting a 50% decrease in their total PMS symptoms. Mood-related symptoms, specifically depression, were shown to decrease by over half in 60% of the women taking saffron.
Libido

Saffron has the proven ability of promoting libido in male rats and thus has been tested for its ability to treat SSRI-related sexual dysfunction.

Women who benefitted from SSRI therapy for depression yet experience a lowered sex drive or sexual dysfunction were administered 15mg of saffron stigmas twice daily for four weeks. Statistically these women had improvements on their Female Sexual Function Index regarding sex drive, lubrication and pain. However, these women did not see an increase in desire, sex life satisfaction or orgasm. Similar results were found in men.

Erectile dysfunction was found to be treated using 200mg of saffron daily over 10 days during a small pilot study. A larger study found that 15mg of saffron petal extract twice daily for four weeks did not have any improvement on erectile dysfunction thus suggesting 200mg for 10 days as much more effective.

Fertility
In an uncontrolled study, men given 50mg of saffron infused milk three times a week found that seminal motility and morphology improved despite not increasing sperm count. A more controlled study found that men who took 60mg of saffron per day for 26 weeks resulted in no increase in sperm count. These studies show that it is unlikely that saffron can increase male fertility.
Peripheral Organ Systems - Lungs
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, saffron has been highly effective in treating asthma in animal models using guinea pigs. The results were highly promising with an improvement in pathological signs of asthma in the lungs, a decreased tracheal response to methacholine as well as decreased nitric oxide and nitrite levels all of which increase asthma and cellular damage. While these studies are promising, there have not been any studies done on humans.
Eyes
Through testing saffron for retinal protective capabilities it has been discovered that the crocins have effective protective properties on retinal tissues that are similar to other carotenoids. When 1mg/kg of saffron extract was administered to rats over 10 days, it was found to protect rats from light induced damage. For age-related ocular issues, there was a notable benefit to vision when humans used saffron supplementations. However, supplementation needs to be consistent as saffron is metabolised quickly and thus lacks prolonged benefits.
Saffron and Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer cells that were exposed to 5-20µg/mL safranal, an organic isolated compound from saffron, were shown to shrink and die (apoptosis) within 48 and 72 hours.
Saffron and Alzheimer’s Disease
The human evidence of saffron effectiveness for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is mixed. While the saffron crocins have shown they are able to reduce the formation of β-amyloid protein aggregates in vitro, they have not shown an ability to reduce pre-existing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, saffron has been shown to have a similar impact of reducing the rate of decline in Alzheimer’s patients as the drug donepezil. Neither saffron nor donepezil were able to improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Safety and Toxicology
The standard daily dose of saffron is 30mg which can be used every day for up to eight weeks with little to no adverse effects. Prolonged supplementation of up to 26 weeks at 60mg of saffron daily reduced the white and red blood cells in men as well as decreasing blood pressure, causing sedation, hypomania and changes in appetite. Higher doses of saffron (up to 200mg) in humans have been associated with adverse side effects such as blood in the urine, nausea and vomiting. Higher doses than 30mg per day of saffron should not be taken unless under strict medical advice and supervision.

Client Says

Slide Food enthusiast John Gray Slide Health enthusiast Mike J Slide Healthy food blogger Lilly W
YourSaffron sells a wide range of Saffron products such as Saffron herbs, threads, tea, coffee, honey, soaps and supplements. Their Saffron is grown, processed and packaged in Iran. The Saffron handpicked and dried using traditional Persian methods ensuring potent and fresh produce. The health benefits Saffron has to offer are second to none and that’s why we want to share the magic spice with all of Australia.

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