The spice saffron adds more than a bright yellow color to your favorite dishes. Its brilliant hue is also thought to bring a sunny disposition to those who take it on a regular basis. And research is supporting the promise of this spice’s use to boost mood and even lessen depression.
This article, the second of the three-part “Heal with Saffron” series explores the ways in which saffron may provide support for those suffering from depression. Part one (published in our October 2023 issue) explored its use for anxiety and part three (coming in our December 2023 issue) will examine its use for memory.
When sadness becomes depression
Depression goes well beyond the normal experience of sadness most people experience from time to time.
Symptoms of depression
While sadness is one of the symptoms of depressive disorders, depression can also include a loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, poor concentration, fatigue, and/or suicidal thoughts.
How to recognize depression
Also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, the condition may involve angry outbursts, reduced interest in sexual activity, or difficulty remembering things or making decisions. If you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, it’s important to reach out to a doctor, therapist, minister, friend, or loved one.
What might cause depression
There are many causes of depression, including early childhood trauma, brain chemistry or hormonal imbalances, family history of depression, substance use, as well as underlying medical conditions.
Additional risk factors
- vitamin D deficiency
- financial problems
- use of medications like birth control pills, beta blockers, or corticosteroids
Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men.
If you or someone you know is feeling symptoms of depression visit sanhsa.gov/find-help for free resources and support.
Promising research for those with depression
Lauren Hauswirth, new product development manager at Genuine Health, is excited about the promising research into saffron’s effectiveness in improving mood. She recommends using the standardized extract of saffron known as Affron®, since published research using this product is showing good results in decreasing negative moods.
Affron® research shows results
Not just for those with depression, Affron improved mood in healthy adults by decreasing negative moods and symptoms related to stress, as well as improving sleep quality, according to a study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
A number of studies support Hauswirth’s assertions, suggesting that saffron may offer help for those suffering from depression or who simply need support to balance their low moods.
In one study published in the journal Pharmacopsychiatry, researchers assessed the effectiveness of saffron compared to the drug citalopram, known as Celexa®, used in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Participants who received 30 mg of saffron experienced similar therapeutic results as those in the drug group.
While the study size was small and more research is needed, other studies have yielded similar results comparing saffron to the drug fluoxetine, of which Prozac® is a common brand name. In a meta-analysis of eight studies comparing the efficacy of saffron to fluoxetine, published in the journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management, researchers concluded that saffron improved the symptoms of depressed study participants as effectively as the drug option.
How saffron works
Researchers found that saffron may work in multiple ways to boost mood and lessen the symptoms of depression:
- appears to help balance neurotransmitters—the body’s chemical messengers created by nerve cells
- exerts a neuroprotective effect, which entails protecting nerve cells from injury and degeneration
- may regulate a balancing effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in the body
The HPA axis is a complex feedback system involving the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands in an effort to maintain homeostasis in the body in response to stress. Its impairment is a major risk factor for depression.
Supplementing with saffron
Hauswirth recommends 28 mg of saffron standardized extract known as Affron®. A typical dose in clinical trials was 30 to 200 mg of saffron daily. Five grams or higher is believed to create toxicity and should be avoided.
Consult your health care practitioner prior to taking saffron and avoid saffron supplements during pregnancy. Always choose a reputable brand to ensure you’re getting pure saffron.
Trifecta of support
Hauswirth recommends using saffron alongside the herbs ashwagandha and passionflower to provide an immediate sense of calm and to support longer-term stress management.
Sleep soundly with saffron
We all know that we feel better and have an improved capacity to greet the day after a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, there’s great news from the scientific world for insomniacs or those who suffer from poor quality sleep.
In a double-blind study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers found that people who took 14 mg of the standardized extract of saffron known as Affron® twice daily reported an improvement in sleep quality. Research published in Nutrients yielded similar results with study participants reporting improved sleep quality, duration, and a reduction in the time it took to fall asleep (known as sleep latency).
This article was originally published in the November 2023 issue of delicious living magazine.