What is saffron?
Saffron is a spice that comes from the Crocus Silver flower nicknamed the “sunshine spice.” It is taken from the flower for both seasoning and food coloring purposes.
Saffron is known as the world’s most expensive spice by weight because harvesting saffron is no easy task. Harvesters typically work up to 19 hours per day during harvesting season. And here’s the kicker: it takes 75,000 flowers that yield 225,000 stigmas to create just one pound of saffron!
Despite it being one of the most expensive spices in the world — it’s worth every single penny because it has a variety of powerful psychological and physiological benefits. Plus, it only contains about 6 calories per serving!
In this article, we’ll cover the top 6 health benefits of saffron and recommend the best saffron supplements that can boost your overall health and wellbeing.
1. Saffron works as a natural antioxidant
Saffron is jam-packed with plant compounds that mimic antioxidants in your body — protecting your cells from free radical damage and oxidative stress.
There are four main antioxidants in saffron:
(Don’t be scared off by the difficult-to-pronounce names — I’ll explain the role each of them plays to your health now…)
Crocin and crocetin work in similar ways and are why saffron is red in color. They act as a natural antidepressant, protect your brain cells from damage, and reduce inflammation.
They help naturally reduce your appetite, which is one of the main reasons saffron is used to aid in your weight loss journey.
Safranal is responsible for the taste and aroma of saffron. Safranal boosts your mood, memory, and learning abilities. It also supports your brain cells by protecting against oxidative stress — which can lead to several neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
The last big antioxidant is kaempferol — which has been shown to reduce inflammation. Also, kaempferol has natural anticancer and antidepressant properties.
2. Saffron can treat depressive symptoms and boost your mood
The reason saffron is nicknamed the “sunshine spice” is because, like the sun, it can have a direct impact on your mood and aids in treating depressive symptoms.
In fact, multiple studies have shown that 30mg of saffron produces the same effect as popular antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, Celexa, and Tofranil — without any of the nasty side effects that can derail your health (1).
And saffron has consistently beat placebos in clinical trials when treating mild-to-moderate depression.
So if you’re feeling stuck in a rut or struggle with depressive symptoms, saffron can be a safer and more effective treatment than your typical antidepressant drugs. However, most of these studies were short-term in practice — so it’s impossible to say saffron is a cure for depression without conducting longer human trials.
3. Saffron can help your body fight cancer
Saffron may aid your body in the fight against cancer in several ways.
The first way is because saffron is jam-packed with antioxidants, which help suppress harmful free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules formed from oxidative stress that damage your healthy cells — leading to a variety of health problems from cancer to faster aging.
Test-tube studies found that saffron was effective at either killing colon cancer cells or limiting their growth, without negatively impacting healthy cells (2). Other studies confirmed that saffron was also effective at neutralizing skin, bone marrow, prostate, lung, breast, and cervix cancer cells (3).
Studies have shown that crocin (the main antioxidant in saffron) can help make cancerous cells more susceptible to chemotherapy treatment and drugs (4).
While these results are promising, saffron hasn’t been studied as in-depth inside the human body, so more research is needed to confirm or deny its overall effectiveness.
4. Saffron could help you ward off PMS symptoms
PMS symptoms are not fun — and they affect different women to varying degrees. Typical symptoms can include anxiety, depression, bloating, and hunger cravings, among other negative emotional, physical, and physiological symptoms.
One study found that simply smelling saffron for around 20 minutes reduced PMS anxiety and lowered the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in women (5). Another study found that 30mg of saffron daily diminished irritability, headaches, cravings and pain in women aged 20-45 compared to the placebo group (6).
And, saffron has also shown some promise in boosting your libido (or sex drive) in both men and women — especially in patients battling the side effects of antidepressant drugs.
For men, taking 30mg of saffron over a four-week period improved libido and erectile dysfunction (7). For women, 30mg of saffron over a four-week period reduced sex-related pain and increased desire and lubrication (8).
5. Saffron can be your secret weapon for weight loss
One of the biggest reasons most people either can’t lose weight or can’t keep weight off after they lose it is because of excessive snacking.
Some people snack when they’re bored. Others snack when they’re stressed. And some people snack when they’re sad or frustrated.
Everyone has a different reason for snacking. But more often than not, it’s tied to your emotional state. Hunger plays a role in snacking too, but your emotional state is usually more of a reason you snack than your hunger.
That’s where saffron comes in. Saffron naturally boosts your mood and curbs your appetite — dealing with the two main reasons for excessive snacking.
It’s because of this that many researchers have looked into saffron’s ability for helping you lose weight.
One study found that women who supplemented with saffron felt more full, snacked less, and as a result lost more weight than the control group (9). And another study showed that people supplementing with saffron reduced their appetite, their BMI (body mass index), their waist circumference, and total fat mass (10).
Now, this isn’t to say saffron is a magical supplement that helps you effortlessly lose weight overnight. Saffron indirectly aids in weight loss. It curbs your appetite and enhances your mood so you have less trouble losing weight (and keeping it off).
6. Saffron might improve your vision
While this is the least researched benefit of saffron, early research looks promising for how saffron could improve your vision — especially in adults with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Saffron seems to be effective because all retinal disorders stem from oxidative stress and free radical damage (11).
In fact, Dr. Lylas Mogk, an ophthalmologist, wrote in her book Macular Degeneration – The Complete Guide to Saving and Maximizing Your Sight that “Almost every single one of the risk factors we have for macular degeneration can be linked to free radicals.”
Since antioxidants are one of the most effective nutrients to combat oxidative stress and free radical damage, saffron is a great way to improve your vision and minimize and potentially prevent AMD from impairing your vision.
Saffron supplement recommendations
Depending on what your goals are, I would recommend a couple different saffron supplements. The first one is more focused on mood support and appetite control. While the second one caters to your eyesight and vision.
1. Serotonin Mood Support by BrainMD
Serotonin plays an important role in your brain and helps with getting deep sleep, maintaining a good mood and self-esteem, and regulating your appetite.
Serotonin Mood Support is loaded with 177mg of saffron and will help you feel calmer and happier — which both play a role in maintaining a healthy weight.
Find Serotonin Mood Support by BrainMD here.
2. MacuGuard® Ocular Support with Saffron by Life Extension
MacuGuard® Ocular Support with Saffron is loaded with nutrients like lutein and saffron (among others) which are tough to get your hands on but support healthy eyesight and vision.
Of course, because of the saffron included in MacuGuard®’s proprietary blend, you’ll also get some of the other benefits that saffron has. But this supplement was designed specifically with your eye health and vision in mind.
Find MacuGuard® Ocular Support with Saffron by Life Extension here.