Most people have either seen saffron (Crocus sativus) or used it as a spice. If you’ve wondered why it is so expensive, it is because harvesting must be done by hand.
Although the word saffron conjures images of a deep orange-red color, the flower that it comes from has purple-blue petals, and at first glance, looks much like any crocus that might emerge from flowerbeds in the spring. The three stigmas in the flower supply the spice and color that we know as saffron, and along with compounds that appear to fight symptoms of depression along a number of fronts.
For many years, researchers believed that depression was primarily a condition of chemical imbalance. These days, there is a much more nuanced picture of depression, and most scientists and therapists would agree that brain chemistry, inflammation, and the intersection of childhood events and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses, can all contribute to various types of depressive disorders. For all that, there is much emerging science that shows that our diets have a deeper effect on our psyche than we may like to admit.
A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial reported in the journal Phytotherapy Research, found that saffron reduced symptoms of mild depression in just six weeks. Part of it effectiveness may be due it anti-inflammatory actions, but that’s not all.
Saffron also boosts serotonin production, lowers cortisol, and helps preserve levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). We need all of these neurotransmitters to be properly balanced, or we’re going to feel either too wound up or too dragged down.
For cases of milder depression, like those in this study, or for individuals dealing with people dealing with dysthymia (also known as persistent depressive disorder) saffron may offer relief without the need to commit to strong medications or an intensive regimen.
Akhondzadeh S, Tahmacebi-Pour N, Noorbala AA, et al. Crocus sativus L. in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2005 Feb;19(2):148-51.
Depression is a serious disorder in today's society, with estimates of lifetime prevalence as high as 21% of the general population in some developed countries. As a therapeutic plant, saffron is considered excellent for stomach ailments and as an antispasmodic, to help digestion and to increase appetite. It is also used for depression in Persian traditional medicine. Our objective was to assess the efficacy of the stigmas of Crocus sativus (saffron) in the treatment of mild to moderate depression in a 6-week double-blind, placebo-controlled and randomized trial. Forty adult outpatients who met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition for major depression based on the structured clinical interview for DSM IV participated in the trial. Patients had a baseline Hamilton rating scale for depression score of at least 18. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, single-centre and randomized trial, patients were randomly assigned to receive a capsule of saffron 30 mg[sol ]day (BD) (Group 1) or a capsule of placebo (BD) (Group 2) for a 6-week study. At 6 weeks, Crocus sativus produced a significantly better outcome on the Hamilton depression rating scale than the placebo (d.f. = 1, F = 18.89, p < 0.001). There were no significant differences in the two groups in terms of the observed side effects. The results of this study indicate the efficacy of Crocus sativus in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. A large-scale trial is justified.
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