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7 Health Benefits of Saffron You Never Knew

  • 5 min read

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

Saffron is one of the most precious spices in the world, and it has been used throughout history to flavor different types of food, dye fabrics, and support overall health and well-being. This spice is a staple ingredient in kitchens throughout the world, and it offers dishes like Indian curries and Spanish paella their unique flavor and golden color. That being said, it comes with a hefty price tag.

The reason behind its high price is its labor-intensive harvesting method, which makes its production expensive. The saffron crocus, scientifically known as Crocus sativus, is the source of the prized spice saffron. This spice is harvested by hand, as skilled individuals carefully gather the delicate thread-like structures known as stigmas from the flowers.

While the exact origin of saffron remains a topic of debate, it is widely believed to have originated in Iran. The country has a long-standing association with saffron, which has been highly regarded for its culinary and medicinal properties. In ancient times, saffron was cherished for its ability to enhance libido, uplift mood, and improve memory, leading people to incorporate it into their diets.

In this article, we will dive deeper into the many health benefits of saffron and why it may be a good idea to include it in some of your dishes or even as a supplement.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before making any changes to your nutrition or supplement regimen.

The Many Health Benefits of Saffron

Saffron being the most expensive spice you’ll tend to find on the shelf of your local grocer, it has got a lot of amazing benefits to come along with such a high price.

Below are some of the many benefits saffron has to offer:

1.      It may support memory function

Scientific studies have delved into various benefits of saffron, particularly its potential to support cognitive function. For instance, a 2015 review supported the notion that saffron can effectively improve memory and facilitate learning processes.

Furthermore, a 2016 review emphasized that saffron’s potential to enhance cognitive function could be attributed to its antioxidant properties, which may positively impact brain health.

However, it is important to mention that both of these reviews acknowledged the necessity for further comprehensive clinical studies to explore using saffron specifically for cognitive enhancement.

2.      Good for your skin

Research indicates that saffron has the potential to function as a natural UV-absorbing agent. This property can be attributed to the presence of flavonoid compounds like kaempferol and quercetin in saffron.

Furthermore, saffron’s photoprotective effects may be attributed to other phenolic compounds it contains, such as tannic, gallic, caffeic, and ferulic acids. Some of these compounds are already utilized as active ingredients in sunscreens and skin lotions.

3.      It may reduce PMS symptoms

PMS (premenstrual syndrome) is a term that defines emotional, physical, and psychological symptoms taking place before the beginning of a menstrual period.

According to a study, in women aged 20-45, taking 30 mg of saffron daily was more effective than a placebo at alleviating PMS symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, pain, and cravings.

Another study found that smelling saffron for 20 minutes helped decrease PMS symptoms like anxiety and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

4.      Anti-cancer properties

Saffron is rich in antioxidants, which play a crucial role in neutralizing harmful free radicals. These free radicals are associated with the development of chronic diseases, including cancer.

According to test-tube studies, saffron and its compounds have demonstrated the ability to selectively eliminate colon cancer cells or inhibit their growth while leaving healthy cells unaffected. This beneficial effect extends to various cancer cells, such as those affecting the skin, bone marrow, prostate, lung, breast, cervix, and more.

Research suggests that crocin, the primary antioxidant in saffron, may enhance the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy drugs.

5.      Promotes weight loss

Some evidence states that saffron may be beneficial for weight loss and can curb appetite.

According to a study, it was found that consuming saffron extract helped people with coronary artery disease to reduce their body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and total fat mass. People who took the saffron supplement also had a reduced appetite compared to those in the placebo group.

6.      It may promote vision health

Studies conducted on rats have shown that safranal, a component found in saffron, has the ability to delay retinal degeneration and decrease the loss of rod and cone photoreceptors. These findings suggest that safranal could be potentially beneficial in delaying retinal degeneration associated with retinal pathologies.

Also, saffron supplementation has been observed to induce significant improvement in retinal function in the mid-term for individuals with age-related macular degeneration.

7.      May help in insomnia treatment

In studies conducted on rats, it has been discovered that the presence of crocin, a carotenoid compound in saffron, can enhance non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep.

Another saffron carotenoid called crocetin has shown the potential to increase the overall duration of non-REM sleep by up to 50%. These findings suggest that saffron and its compounds may positively impact sleep patterns, particularly in promoting non-REM sleep.