Extract of saffron, the exotic spice, is a safer alternative to pharmaceutical antidepressants in mild to moderate depression, recent studies find.
Saffron has fewer side effects and is just as effective in some cases.
The conclusions come from a review of six separate studies that included 230 clinically depressed patients.
Using saffron as an antidepressant was compared with both Prozac and Tofranil (generically known as fluoxetine and imipramine).
All the studies were high-quality randomised controlled trials — although they were small.
Dr Adrian Lopresti, the study’s first author, said:
“So far the literature shows saffron is as effective as pharmaceuticals.
Saffron has had a number of really well designed, robust studies investigating its antidepressant properties and pretty much all the studies have been positive.”
Pharmaceuticals can cause a wide range of side effects.
Some of the most common side effects of pharmaceuticals are:
- and sexual problems.
Saffron, though, was not linked to such severe or wide-ranging side effects, Dr Lopresti said:
“Saffron certainly had less severe side effects than pharmaceutical medication.
The most common side effect, which is really only minor, was digestive issues.”
It’s not yet known exactly why saffron works, but it is probably at least partly down to its antioxidant effect.
Saffron contains crocin, which is an anti-inflammatory and crocetin, which is an antioxidant.
Dr Lopresti said:
“What’s been found in the literature over the last ten years is that people with depression have high levels of inflammation and free radical damage associated with oxidative stress.
That led to interesting work looking into antioxidants and anti-inflammatories as antidepressants.”
Dr Lopresti hopes to carry out further studies with more people and over longer periods, he said:
“We need thousands of samples to get a good idea of the side effects, but so far it looks like there is a better safety profile for saffron.”
Supplements and dosage
For anyone interested in trying saffron extract for depression, here are a couple of ideas for supplements, depending on whether you prefer a tablet or a liquid:
The doses used in the studies were 15mg taken twice daily.
They should be taken for 6-8 weeks before making a decision about whether it is helping.
The study was published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental (Lopresti & Drummond et al., 2014).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Saffron image from Shutterstock