Saffron is royalty in the world of spices. As one of the most expensive options, it features a distinct flavor, color, and aroma that can add an exotic touch to your favorite risotto, biryani, and milky desserts. This golden spice, derived from the dried stigma and style of the purple blue saffron flower, is native to the Middle East and has been used as a flavoring agent across cultures for over 3000 years.1 In Asian medicine, saffron is valued for its medicinal properties and is used to treat a range of disorders from inflammation and nausea to throat diseases and menstrual disorders.2 Needless to say, it is one talented spice.
The health benefits of saffron are so significant that modern medical science has begun to pay attention. Most notably, saffron’s bioactive compounds like crocin, crocetin, picrocrocin, and safranal have stolen the spotlight. Read on to learn what this superstar spice can do for you.
1. Soothes An Upset Stomach
Traditionally, saffron has been used in Eastern medicine to treat gastric disorders. This means that it can help eliminate the burning pain, heartburn, and indigestion that comes with a stomach ulcer. Animal studies show that saffron extract and its active components crocin and safranal have antioxidant properties that reduce ulcer formation by preventing damage to the gastric mucosa.3 If you are prone to ulcers, a pinch of saffron may be just what the doctor ordered.
2. Lowers Depression
Depression is a common problem that impacts 19 million Americans.4 And while there are countless pills to treat depression, saffron has emerged as an effective and natural alternative. One study determined that the power of saffron is comparable to the antidepressant imipramine for treating mild to moderate depression. Saffron seems to work its magic through crocin and safranal, both of which modulate the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, the cocktail of brain chemicals that influence your mood.5
3. Improves Premenstrual Syndrome
About 85% of menstruating women suffer from at least one premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptom during their monthly cycle.6 You might be surprised to learn that a remedy for PMS is sitting right on your spice rack. Research has found that saffron can significantly reduce the symptoms of PMS that impact mood, behavior, and pain. The claim to fame? Saffron’s ability to influence the neurotransmitter serotonin.7
4. Lowers Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance – a condition in which your cells stop responding normally to the hormone insulin – is a leading factor in the development of diabetes. Crocetin, a major component of saffron, has been found to tackle insulin resistance. An animal study found that when rats were fed a high-fructose diet, they developed insulin resistance along with many other pathological changes. Amazingly enough, crocetin’s antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties alleviated their insulin insensitivity.8 And while it is always best to limit high-fructose foods, saffron may be able to help prevent the negative impact of the occasional soda and candy.
5. Protects Your Heart
Saffron can be a real treat for your heart. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can promote healthy arteries. Animal studies have also shown that crocetin has the ability to lower cholesterol. In fact, according to some researchers, one of the reasons Mediterranean countries like Spain have low rates of cardiovascular diseases is due to their heavy use of saffron.9 Finally, the perfect excuse to whip up an authentic saffron-infused paella for dinner.
6. Preserves Your Sight
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world.10 When AMD develops, light-sensitive cells in your retina start to break down over time. However, research has shown that saffron supplementation can result in long-term stable improvement in retinal function in those with AMD. The stars of the show are crocin and crocetin, which are thought to protect light sensitive cells from retinal stress. They even have the ability to regulate cell death.11
Clearly, this is one spice that packs a healthy punch. Next time you are in the kitchen, consider adding an extra dash of delicious saffron to your food. Your body will thank you!
Your Doubts Answered
|↑1||Melnyk, John P., Sunan Wang, and Massimo F. Marcone. “Chemical and biological properties of the world’s most expensive spice: Saffron.” Food Research International 43, no. 8 (2010): 1981-1989.|
|↑2, ↑5||Akhondzadeh, Shahin, Hasan Fallah-Pour, Khosro Afkham, Amir-Hossein Jamshidi, and Farahnaz Khalighi-Cigaroudi. “Comparison of Crocus sativus L. and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a pilot double-blind randomized trial [ISRCTN45683816].” BMC complementary and alternative medicine 4, no. 1 (2004): 1.|
|↑3||Kianbakht, S., and K. Mozaffari. “Effects of saffron and its active constituents, crocin and safranal, on prevention of indomethacin induced gastric ulcers in diabetic and nondiabetic rats.” فصلنامه علمی پژوهشی گیاهان دارویی 1, no. 29 (2009): 30-38.|
|↑4||Depression, National Institutes of Health.|
|↑6||Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) fact sheet. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7||Agha‐Hosseini, M., L. Kashani, A. Aleyaseen, A. Ghoreishi, H. A. L. E. H. Rahmanpour, A. R. Zarrinara, and S. Akhondzadeh. “Crocus sativus L.(saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double‐blind, randomised and placebo‐controlled trial.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 115, no. 4 (2008): 515-519.|
|↑8||Xi, Liang, Zhiyu Qian, Guanglin Xu, Shuguo Zheng, Sai Sun, Na Wen, Liang Sheng, Yun Shi, and Yabing Zhang. “Beneficial impact of crocetin, a carotenoid from saffron, on insulin sensitivity in fructose-fed rats.” The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 18, no. 1 (2007): 64-72.|
|↑9||Kamalipour, Maryam, and Shahin Akhondzadeh. “Cardiovascular effects of saffron: an evidence-based review.” The Journal of Tehran University Heart Center 6, no. 2 (2011): 59-61.|
|↑10||Prevention of Blindness and Visual Impairment, The World Health Organization.|
|↑11||Piccardi, Marco, D. A. R. I. O. Marangoni, A. M. Minnella, MARIA CRISTINA Savastano, P. Valentini, L. Ambrosio, E. Capoluongo, Rita Maccarone, Silvia Bisti, and Benedetto Falsini. “A longitudinal follow-up study of saffron supplementation in early age-related macular degeneration: sustained benefits to central retinal function.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012 (2012).|