Ancient cultures around the world have cherished saffron for centuries and have cultivated it for a variety of reasons, including use as a culinary spice, digestive aid, and mood-boosting aphrodisiac.
Derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, saffron is produced just as it has been since ancient times…by hand. The stigmas (the inside part of the flower which catches pollen) must be painstakingly handpicked and dried as machines are not delicate enough. Additionally, it takes 4,500 Crocus sativus flowers to produce just one ounce of saffron spice. This has earned saffron the position and title as the most expensive spice in the world – for good reason!
In addition to being a delicious and valuable ingredient, vibrantly-hued saffron has several surprising health benefits. Consider the following ways:
1. Help Your Mood
Multiple research studies suggest that saffron may support healthy levels of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being. Saffron is high in carotenoids and B vitamins that help increase the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in the brain that are associated with depression.
In fact, a meta-analysis of five studies found saffron extract to be as effective as antidepressant medication in treating people with major depression.1 Another study found saffron to be as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) in reducing mild to moderate depression.2
2. Support Your Immune System
This colorful and delicious spice has many components, many of which are important antioxidants, such as a-crocin, zea-xanthin, lycopene, a- and ß-carotenes, that help protect the human body from infections, oxidant-induced stress, cancers, and which act as immune modulators.
Furthermore, research has demonstrated that saffron can also help aid in a person’s fight with cancer.3 Saffron is thought to help fight cancer by triggering apoptosis (programmed cell death) in a number of different types of human cancer cells.
3. Promote Learning And Memory
Saffron also has a beneficial impact on learning, concentration, memory, and age related mental impairment. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics found that saffron improved cognitive function in study participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.4
4. Suppress Your Appetite
Studies show that saffron intake effectively enhances the serotonin levels in our body, which helps suppress the appetite or the impulse to eat. A particular saffron extract was found to reduce food cravings and other inappropriate food habits in clinical trials.5 It reduced feelings of hunger and lowered frequency of snacking, supporting appetite moderation and healthy weight management.
1 Hausenblas HA, Saha D, Dubyak PJ, Anton SD. Saffon (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Integrative Medicine. 2013;11(6):377–83.
2 Noorbala AA, Akhondzadeh S, Tahmacebi-Pour N, Jamshidi AH. Hydro-alcoholic extract of Crocus sativus L. versus fluoxetine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized pilot trial. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Feb 28;97(2):281-4.
3 Abdullaev FI, Cancer chemopreventive and tumoricidal properties of saffron (Crocus sativus L.). Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2002 Jan;227(1):20-5.
4Akhondzadeh S1, Sabet MS, Harirchian MH, Togha M, Cheraghmakani H, Razeghi S, Hejazi SSh, Yousefi MH, Alimardani R, Jamshidi A, Zare F, Moradi A. Saffron in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a 16-week, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2010 Oct;35(5):581-8.
5Gout B, Bourges C, Paineau-Dubreuil S. Satiereal, a Crocus sativus L extract, reduces snacking and increases satiety in a randomized placebo-controlled study of mildly overweight, healthy women. Nutr Res. 2010 May;30(5):305-13.
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