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Saffron: A Rich Spice With An Abundance of Health Benefits

What is the first thing you think about when the word saffron pops up? Well, the first thought that comes to our mind is a bright-colored spice with a rich aroma that instantly lifts up any delicacy it’s added to whether it’s a biryani or kheer. But did you know that apart from being an integral part of our rich culinary heritage, the exquisite and expensive spice is also known for a plethora of health benefits? Well, it’s true.

Also known as Kesar in Hindi, saffron has been used by several civilizations for its medicinal benefits. Known by its scientific name, Saffron Crocus, saffron (the spice) is derived from a beautiful flower called Crocus Sativus. It is typically the stigma of the flower (the thread-like structures in flowers), which is dried to create the spice. This process of drying the extracts is what lends saffron a rich colour, texture, and fragrance. There’s enough anecdotal evidence that states that saffron has libido-enhancing, mood-boosting, and memory-improving properties. But are these backed by enough scientific evidence? Well, read along to find out!

Health Benefits of Saffron

Just a tinge of saffron in your dish goes a long way in elevating its flavour and titillating your tastebuds. We all know that it pairs well with both sweet and savoury dishes like rice pudding, risotto, and the like. But given its medicinal properties, it is also an integral ingredient in most dietary supplements. Do you want to know what these health benefits are? Well, read along.

  • A Rich Source Of Antioxidants

Saffron contains a variety of antioxidant-rich plant compounds that protect the body, right down to the cells, against free radical activity and oxidative stress. For the uninitiated, free radical damage causes inflammation in the body and the onset of many chronic diseases like cardiovascular ailments, diabetes, and even cancer. What antioxidants do is prevent this free radical-induced cellular and tissue damage by inhibiting the formation of radicals in the body, scavenging them, or causing them to decompose. Some of the predominant antioxidants in saffron include crocetin, crocin, safranal, and kaempferol. Saffron gets its distinct colour from the two carotenoid antioxidants, crocetin and crocin. On the other hand, Safranal is the antioxidant that gives the spice its signature aroma. This antioxidant is also vital for cognitive functions. It protects the brain cells against the harmful effects of oxidative stress, uplifts mood, and improves memory and one’s learning ability.

  • Enhances Cognitive Abilities and Improves Sleep Quality

As mentioned above, saffron has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which improve one’s overall wellbeing, and most importantly, one’s nervous system. The spice is an all-natural mood booster that aids in calming down the nervous system, and in enhancing the dopamine levels in the brain. They have therapeutic potential for numerous nervous-system-related issues. While more evidence is required, saffron is said to have the potential to decrease the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in the long run. A study involving mice showed how the plant compound, crocin in saffron, demonstrated the potential to bolster non-REM sleep by nearly 50%. Moreover, there’s enough scientific and anecdotal evidence, which suggests that saffron can help with depressive tendencies. A research study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology states that consuming 30 mg of saffron every day was just as effective as having antidepressants like Fluoxetine, Imipramine, and Citalopram.

Keeping this potential of saffron in mind, Wellbeing Nutrition has included this spice in its new variant of the Melts range called Calm and Relaxation Melts. These fast-acting and all-natural plant-based Calm & Relaxation oral thin strips are 95% more bioavailable than traditional tablets/capsules/Sugar filled gummies. It contains a unique blend of plant-based ingredients sourced from all across the globe such as Suntheanine, lemon balm, magnesium, and saffron. Suntheanine from Japan is a clinically-researched and patented form of L-theanine, used to boost focus, mental attention, clarity, productivity, learning performance, and sleep quality. Magnesium is used to help activate neurotransmitters responsible to keep anxiety at bay, while saffron has been used to boost dopamine levels to combat depressive tendencies. Additionally, these Melts strips contain lemon balm and chamomile to fight occasional stress. All you need to do is place a strip on your tongue before you hit the bed at night and you will experience calmness and tranquillity like never before.

  • Aphrodisiac Potential

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a pinch of saffron in a glass of milk at bedtime goes a long way in boosting libido and stimulating one’s sexual desire. Well, there’s also enough scientific evidence to corroborate saffron as an aphrodisiac. Research shows that most people consuming saffron supplements, especially those on antidepressants, experienced bolstered libido and sexual vitality. A 2012 study published in the Psychopharmacology Journal showed how consuming 30 mg of saffron daily for over 4 weeks significantly improved the condition of erectile dysfunction among men on antidepressants.

  • May Reduce Appetite and Prevent Weight Gain

If you are someone who is trying to lose weight, then maybe you could give saffron a try as it’s said to be an effective appetite suppressant. Research suggests that saffron may likely reduce one’s urge to snack frequently, which is a major contributor to weight gain. An 8-week study published in Nutrition Research showed how women consuming saffron supplements felt significantly satiated and full and consequently snacked less, losing more weight than those who didn’t take the supplements. However, more scientific evidence is required to corroborate the same.

  • May Reduce the Risk of Cancer

Given that saffron is a rich source of antioxidants as mentioned above, it offsets free radical activity in the body, protecting it from its damages, one of which is inflammation- the leading cause of all kinds of illnesses, even cancer. A 2014 test-tube study published in the Pharmacognosy Reserve shows how saffron and its compounds (crocin, crocetin, and safranal) have killed cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells unharmed. However, while the findings of many test-tube studies were positively inclined toward saffron’s anti-cancer potential, more human studies are required to corroborate saffron’s efficacy in reducing the risk of cancer.

The other health benefits of saffron include its potential to protect eyes from age-related degeneration, regulate blood sugar levels, reduce PMS symptoms, and improve cardiovascular health, among other things.

References:

Rezaee R, Hosseinzadeh H. Safranal: from an aromatic natural product to a rewarding pharmacological agent. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2013 Jan;16(1):12-26. PMID: 23638289; PMCID: PMC3637901. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23638289/)

Masaki M, Aritake K, Tanaka H, Shoyama Y, Huang ZL, Urade Y. Crocin promotes non-rapid eye movement sleep in mice. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012 Feb;56(2):304-8. DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201100181. Epub 2011 Oct 28. PMID: 22038919. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22038919/)

Noorbala AA, Akhondzadeh S, Tahmacebi-Pour N, Jamshidi AH. Hydro-alcoholic extract of Crocus sativus L. versus fluoxetine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized pilot trial. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Feb 28;97(2):281-4. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2004.11.004. Epub 2005 Jan 6. PMID: 15707766. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15707766/)

Modabbernia A, Sohrabi H, Nasehi AA, Raisi F, Saroukhani S, Jamshidi A, Tabrizi M, Ashrafi M, Akhondzadeh S. Effect of saffron on fluoxetine-induced sexual impairment in men: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Oct;223(4):381-8. DOI: 10.1007/s00213-012-2729-6. Epub 2012 May 3. PMID: 22552758. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22552758/)

Gout B, Bourges C, Paineau-Dubreuil S. Satiereal, a Crocus sativus L extract, reduces snacking and increases satiety in a randomized placebo-controlled study of mildly overweight, healthy women. Nutr Res. 2010 May;30(5):305-13. DOI: 10.1016/j.nutres.2010.04.008. PMID: 20579522. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20579522/)

Samarghandian S, Borji A. Anticarcinogenic effect of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and its ingredients. Pharmacognosy Res. 2014 Apr;6(2):99-107. DOI: 10.4103/0974-8490.128963. PMID: 24761112; PMCID: PMC3996758. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24761112/)

Lashay A, Sadough G, Ashrafi E, Lashay M, Movassat M, Akhondzadeh S. Short-term Outcomes of Saffron Supplementation in Patients with Age-related Macular Degeneration: A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Randomized Trial. Med Hypothesis Discov Innov Ophthalmol. 2016 Spring;5(1):32-38. PMID:
28289690; PMCID: PMC5342880. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28289690/)

Samarghandian S, Azimi-Nezhad M, Farkhondeh T. Immunomodulatory and antioxidant effects of saffron aqueous extract (Crocus sativus L.) on streptozotocin-induced diabetes in rats. Indian Heart J. 2017 Mar-Apr;69(2):151-159. doi: 10.1016/j.ihj.2016.09.008. Epub 2016 Sep 25. PMID: 28460761; PMCID: PMC5414951. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28460761/)

A DM, K S, A D, Sattar K. Epidemiology of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Study. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014 Feb;8(2):106-9. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2014/8024.4021. Epub 2014 Feb 3. Erratum in: J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Jul;9(7):ZZ05. PMID: 24701496; PMCID: PMC3972521. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24701496/)

Fatehi M, Rashidabady T, Fatehi-Hassanabad Z. Effects of Crocus sativus petals' extract on rat blood pressure and on responses induced by electrical field stimulation in the rat isolated vas deferens and guinea-pig ileum. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003 Feb;84(2-3):199-203. doi: 10.1016/s0378-8741(02)00299-4. PMID: 12648816. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12648816/)

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