Saffron, botanically known as Crocus Sativus, is the most expensive cultivated herb in the world. The word ‘saffron’ comes from an Arabic word, which means ‘yellow’.

The flower of C. Sativus is light purple in color and it has the thread-like reddish colored stigma that is valued as a spice and as a natural colorant.

36,000 flowers yield one-pound stigmas. Over 200,000 dried stigmas obtained from about 70,000 flowers yield 500 grams of pure saffron, which is not contaminated with safflower.

The beautiful color we get from saffron is due to the degradation of carotenoid compounds crocin and crocetin. The flavor comes from the carotenoid oxidation products, mainly safranal and the bitter taste from glucoside picrocrocin.

Medicinal Properties of Saffron

Saffron is a part of folk medicine and Ayurvedic health system, since ancient times. The phytochemicals present in saffron are responsible for its medicinal properties. It is used as a:

  • Sedative.
  • Expectorant.
  • Weight loss agent.
  • Anti-asthmatic agent.
  • Emmenagogue.
  • Adaptogenic agent.
  • Anti-depressant.

Saffron Benefits

Let’s have a detailed look at the health benefits of saffron:

Beneficial in Women Health Problems

Woman taking medicine

Saffron is an excellent remedy for several women health problems. It has emmenagogue property, which means it promotes menstruation and improves the blood flow during periods.

Scanty Periods

It induces uterine contractions boosts blood circulation toward the uterus. Due to emmenagogue action, it promotes the blood flow during the periods. If a woman has scanty periods, it is a very useful home remedy for it.

Dysmenorrhea (Painful Periods)

Menstrual Cramps

The cramps or pain occurring during periods are referred to painful periods, menstrual cramps and dysmenorrhea. Saffron is the most effective herb that alleviates pains and relieves menstrual cramps.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Low serotonin is a contributing factor for premenstrual syndrome. Saffron restores the healthy level of serotonin in the body. It also reduces symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

Aids Weight Loss

Weight Loss

This spice, which is often added to dessert preparations can boost weight loss if consumed in a correct way.

Crocin is an active compound of saffron that inhibits the dietary absorption of fat in the body. It blocks the action of pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that supports fat breakdown and absorption.

Fats from the food consumed are excreted in the feces rather than being used as a source of energy in the body. This results in weight loss as well as fat loss.

As compared to orlistat, a drug that inhibits fat absorption, saffron is less effective, but it does not cause any side-effects and damage to the liver.

It further suppresses appetite, which results in fewer hunger cravings. You can take saffron in the form of liquid or extract supplements. Taking it half an hour before the meals may help.

Improves Lipid Profile

Studies have reported that saffron keeps the blood cholesterol levels within normal and healthy range. Crocin is an effective hypolipidemic agent, which reduces high blood cholesterol levels.

It impairs intestinal absorption of fat from the foods consumed. Crocin promotes elimination of the fat from the body and thus, it prevents synthesis of cholesterol from the fat too.

Adding saffron to low-fat milk and drinking it on a daily basis may help in reducing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Improves Blood Glucose Profile

Blood Glucose Test

Saffron has possible anti-diabetic properties, says evidence-based studies. Crocin and crocetin are two active compounds present in saffron that possess anti-diabetic properties.

These compounds reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake by the cells and muscles. This reduces the presence of excess glucose in the bloodstream and helps in the management of diabetes mellitus.

Studies have also found that saffron intake when clubbed with regular exercise gives excellent results when it comes to diabetes control.

Saffron increases the secretion of insulin from the pancreas and stimulates the uptake of glucose by the cells. Moreover, saffron helps with weight loss, which could be the reason for the reduction of fasting blood glucose levels as well as HbA1c.

Blood Pressure Management

Blood Pressure

Studies have reported that daily intake of saffron prevents elevation of blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure.

Crocin and safranal are two active compounds of saffron that help in lowering high blood pressure, which in turn maintains the heart health too.

Antioxidants and carotenoids present in saffron prevent arterial stiffness and boost smooth blood flow all throughout the body.

Anti-Depressant Action

Depression

Findings from scientific studies indicate that saffron intake can improve symptoms of depression in adults with the major depressive disorder.

The active constituents present in saffron possess antidepressant properties similar to those of current antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine and citalopram, reports a recent study published in the year 2018.

Saffron helps to cope up with stress so that a person can remain calm and relaxed. It uplifts the mood, induces a feeling of happiness and improves overall well-being.

A cup of saffron tea is a great alternative for individuals who cannot tolerate anti-depressant medications.

Anti-Cancer Potential

Intake of saffron is beneficial for individuals with cancer, especially liver cancer. Saffron and its constituents are effective in cancer therapy, says a study.

Antioxidant compounds present in saffron increase response to chemotherapy treatment and reduce the adverse effects of anti-cancer drugs.

Topical administration of saffron inhibits the initiation and promotion of skin-specific cancer-causing agents.

Saffron also helps in reducing the toxicity of anti-cancer drugs and enhances detoxification of the liver.

Crocin suppresses tumor growth and inhibits the growth and spread of cancer cells to other organs of the body. It protects the other healthy cells of the body against attack and destruction caused by cancer cells.

Improves Digestive Disorders

Studies have found that saffron acts as a therapeutic agent against various gastrointestinal tract disorders. It detoxifies the liver, improves the way it functions and reduces the load of toxins on it. It also helps the liver to get rid of extra fat and reduces the risk of fatty liver disease.

Saffron also helps in the treatment of diarrhea and dysentery. Research-based studies have observed that crocetin reduces inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis. It suppresses the production of pro-inflammatory compounds and enhances the production of anti-inflammatory compounds.

The high antioxidant capacity of saffron protects the gastrointestinal tract against attack by free radicals and keeps it away from diseases.

Supports Heart Health

Heart

Regular intake of saffron protects the heart against damage by inhibiting the risk factors for heart diseases, which include:

  • High blood glucose levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Altered lipid profile
  • Obesity
  • Oxidative stress
  • Inflammation

As saffron helps in the management of these risk factors, it automatically lowers the risk of heart diseases and damage too.

Summary

Intake of saffron regularly is beneficial for the entire body. It exerts a beneficial effect on each organ system.

Saffron can be consumed with milk or you can make your own saffron tea. Saffron supplements are available in the market, however, overconsumption of saffron may have some adverse effects on the body.

References
  1. Khazdair, M. R., Boskabady, M. H., Hosseini, M., Rezaee, R., & M Tsatsakis, A. (2015). The effects of Crocus sativus (saffron) and its constituents on the nervous system: A review. Avicenna journal of phytomedicine, 5(5), 376-91. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4599112/
  2. Gohari, A. R., Saeidnia, S., & Mahmoodabadi, M. K. (2013). An overview on saffron, phytochemicals, and medicinal properties. Pharmacognosy reviews, 7(13), 61-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3731881/
  3. Mashmoul, M., Azlan, A., Khaza’ai, H., Yusof, B. N., & Noor, S. M. (2013). Saffron: A Natural Potent Antioxidant as a Promising Anti-Obesity Drug. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 2(4), 293-308. doi:10.3390/antiox2040293. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4665515/
  4. Phytochemistry and Pharmacology of Saffron, the Most Precious Natural Source of Colour, Flavor and Medicine, SMU Medical Journal. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270624458
  5. Dehghan, F., Hajiaghaalipour, F., Yusof, A., Muniandy, S., Hosseini, S. A., Heydari, S., Salim, L. Z., … Azarbayjani, M. A. (2016). Saffron with resistance exercise improves diabetic parameters through the GLUT4/AMPK pathway in-vitro and in-vivo. Scientific reports, 6, 25139. doi:10.1038/srep25139. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848502/
  6. Samarghandian, S., Azimi-Nezhad, M., & Samini, F. (2014). Ameliorative effect of the saffron aqueous extract on hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and oxidative stress on diabetic encephalopathy in streptozotocin-induced experimental diabetes mellitus. BioMed research international, 2014, 920857. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4119909/
  7. Javadi, B., Sahebkar, A., & Emami, S. A. (2013). A survey on saffron in major islamic traditional medicine books. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences, 16(1), 1-11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3637900/
  8. Nasiri, Z., Sameni, H. R., Vakili, A., Jarrahi, M., & Khorasani, M. Z. (2015). Dietary saffron reduced the blood pressure and prevented remodeling of the aorta in L-NAME-induced hypertensive rats. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences, 18(11), 1143-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4764118/
  9. Lopresti AL, Drummond PD. Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action. Human Psychopharmacology 2014; 29(6): 517-527. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK292058/
  10. Shafiee M, Arekhi S, Omranzadeh A, Sahebkar A. Saffron in the treatment of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders: Current evidence and potential mechanisms of action. J Affect Disord. 2018 Feb;227:330-337. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.11.020. Epub 2017 Nov 7. Review. PubMed PMID: 29136602. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29136602/
  11. Hausenblas HA, Saha D, Dubyak PJ, Anton SD. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Integr Med. 2013 Nov;11(6):377-83. doi: 10.3736/jintegrmed2013056. PubMed PMID: 24299602; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4643654. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24299602
  12. Hosseini, A., Mousavi, S. H., Ghanbari, A., Homaee Shandiz, F., Raziee, H. R., Pezeshki Rad, M., & Mousavi, S. H. (2015). Effect of saffron on liver metastases in patients suffering from cancers with liver metastases: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Avicenna journal of phytomedicine, 5(5), 434-40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4599117/
  13. Khorasany, A. R., & Hosseinzadeh, H. (2016). Therapeutic effects of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in digestive disorders: a review. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences, 19(5), 455-69. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4923465/

Featured Image: (Credit Image By graibeard)