Did you know that saffron, the world's most expensive spice, is a natural antidepressant agent that has shown efficacy equal to drugs like Zoloft and Prozac, but is much safer?
Saffron (Crocus sativus) is so expensive because the threadlike portion of the flower used for cooking, the stigma, must be hand-picked and separated from the flower. To obtain one pound of saffron, a minimum of 50,000 flowers are needed. A pound of saffron will have a price between $500 to $5,000. Thought to have originated in Greece, saffron has been used throughout its history to boost mood, enhance libido and sexual function, and improve memory. These effects and more are supported with modern clinical science.
Saffron began to be investigated as an antidepressant agent beginning in 2001. Preclinical and pilot studies quickly demonstrated activity on par with conventional antidepressant drugs like Zoloft, Prozac, and Tofranil. This has led to what is now a total of at least 21 double-blind, controlled clinical trials comparing saffron to either a placebo or a conventional antidepressant drug. In a detailed review of these studies, researchers concluded “Saffron could be considered as an alternative to synthetic antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.”
Most of the research has been conducted with extracts of saffron standardized for the compound safranal (2%), but also containing other important phytochemicals like crocin and safromotivines. Saffron’s antidepressant effects are due to multiple sites of action. For example, it increases the levels in the brain of important mood-elevating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. It also modulates the stress response and regulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis activity to lessen the effects of cortisol. Lastly, it also exerts some interesting effects in protecting brain cells and exerting anti-inflammatory effects in the brain. More and more research indicates that inflammation within the brain is often a key factor in depression.
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