Saffron for Depression, Anxiety, OCD, Cancer, Alzheimer’s, & More
Reading about the health properties of saffron has driven home what I’ve been learning about the differences between our woeful Western diet (often called the Standard American Diet, or SAD – how unfortunately apt is that?) and the traditional, spice and herb rich diets of India, Persia, and other Middle Eastern cultures.
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Saffron is so highly prized for culinary and medicinal uses, as an ingredient in perfumes and dyes, and so labor intensive to grow and harvest, it’s often referred to as ‘red gold’.
80% of the world’s saffron is grown in Iran. While there last fall, we saw beautiful heaps of saffron stigmas (called threads) for sale in the bazaars we visited – and it often appeared as an ingredient in our food. I bought some lovely saffron filaments from this spice merchant (and his son?) in the vast and beautiful Grand Bazaar in Esfahan.
I could happily have spent days exploring this bazaar (Qeysarriyeh Bazaar in Farsi) – and also the bazaars in other cities we visited: Hamadan, Tabriz, Zanjan, Shiraz, and Yazd! Each is different and quite wonderful in its own way.
I also saw small patches of saffron crocuses growing in the dry soil on the much trod paths in front of desert monuments such as Naqsh-e Rustam – four tombs carved into the side of a cliff embellished with intricate relief carvings. King Darius I (550-486 BCE), the builder of nearby Persepolis, is in the first tomb. The other tombs are attributed to Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. Wish now I’d taken a photo of these brave little crocuses to show you. To my amazement, I saw saffron crocuses growing in the dry, tamped down soil in front of the tombs at Naqsh-e-Rustam, Iran
“Saffron’s use is ancient. Saffron-based pigments have been found in 50,000 year-old paintings in northwest Iran. It conjures romance, royalty, and delicacy wherever it appears. Alexander the Great bathed in saffron to cure battle wounds. Cultivated saffron emerged in late Bronze Age Crete, bred from its wild precursor by selecting for unusually long stigmas making the plant sterile. Called Kumkum or Kesar in Ayurveda, it also appears as an important medicinal herb in many ancient texts including Ayurveda, Unani, and Chinese Medicine.” (Joyful Belly Ayurveda, 2016)
The first known mention of saffron appeared in a 7th century BCE Assyrian botanical reference. Since then, documentation of saffron’s use in the treatment of some 90 illnesses as been found. (Srivastava, 2010) A detail from the “Saffron Gatherers” fresco of the “Xeste 3” building, one of many frescos depicting saffron found at the Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri, on the Aegean island of Santorini
In Sanskrit, ayur means ‘life’ and veda means ‘wisdom’. The aim of Ayurveda, an ancient form of traditional medicine originating in India over 5,000 years ago, is to create a state of harmony in the body – physical balance, mental balance, and emotional balance. In Ayurveda, this understanding of health is called swastya (a Sanskrit word meaning health). Being in a state of swastya helps us live with good energy, enhances immunity, prevents the onset of ill health, and nurtures the body back into good balance if it does fall sick.
Swastya also includes the idea of being firmly established in one’s self. (Art of Living Retreat Center, 2015)
As a psychotherapist who focuses on mind-body balance, this approach makes a lot of sense to me. Dhanvantari , the deity associated with Ayurveda
Ayurveda sees the body as having three basic energies, called doshas
Vata: kinetic energy
Pitta: energy transformation
Kapha: cohesive energy
Balance among the three doshas produces swastya, a state of health.
SAFFRON IN AYURVEDIC MEDICINE
“Saffron helps pacify all three doshas. It improves immunity, increases energy, helps fight phlegm and respiratory disorders, improves vision and reduces inflammation. Its tonic can lower cholesterol, improve digestion and help treat spleen ailments, insomnia, impotency, premenstrual syndrome and neurodegenerative disorders.” (Sharma, 2016) PSYCHOTROPIC MEDICATIONS FOR DEPRESSION
Modern psychopharmacology has been marketing a variety of antidepressants world wide for more than 50 years. The use of these antidepressant medications in the US has increased by 400% in the last 28 years – over 11% of Americans age 12 and older now take them. (Downey, 2013)
The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2003 that 1 in 10 adult Americans described themselves as depressed and the World Health Organization estimated that depression is expected to be the world’s second-leading cause of disability by 2020, second only to cardiovascular disease. (Swartz, 2003)
This dire situation is compounded by yet another: Taking these psychotropic medications is often accompanied by at least one of many physiological adverse side effects – anxiety, agitation, emotional numbness, suicidal thoughts, improper bone development, improper brain development, insomnia, constipation, weight gain, gastrointestinal bleeding, sexual dysfunction, and more. (Downey, 2013) & (Kresser, 2008)
Seems to me that experiencing any of these side effects would be quite depressing, especially for people who are feeling depressed to begin with.
On top of all this, taking antidepressant drugs often doesn’t resolve the original depression. SAFFRON FOR DEPRESSION
If depression is a problem for you, you might want to look into an alternative to pharmaceutical antidepressants with their undesirable side effects and try an age old remedy from Ayurvedic Medicine: saffron.
There is compelling scientific evidence that saffron (Crocus sativus) is as effective as some pharmaceutical antidepressants for alleviating depression – without the unpleasant side effects. And for people not wanting to give up their existing antidepressants, saffron has been found to work as a highly effective adjunct therapy to block adverse sexual side effects.
Saffron also has been shown to treat other conditions for which antidepressants are often described – such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Downey, 2013)
Traditional Persian medicine prized saffron for relieving depression. Now 21st century research has studied saffron extract and found it produces a powerful antidepressant benefit. (Downey, 2013) & (Dharmananda, 2005) SAFFRON FOR ANXIETY
Research findings demonstrate that constituents in saffron known as crocins reduce anxiety without adverse reactions. (Downey, 2013)
SAFFRON FOR OCD
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are often treated with combinations of antidepressants.
Research evidence has suggested a functional interaction between the crocins found in saffron and the serotonin-neurotransmitter system, leading scientists to study the effect of saffron on OCD. In an animal model of this condition, crocin compounds from saffron substantially reduced both obsessive and compulsive symptoms without significant adverse effects. (Downey, 2013) UNCONTROLLED EATING AND SNACKING
Neurotransmitter imbalances, particularly low levels of serotonin, have been shown to increase vulnerability to food cravings, overeating and obesity.
Appetite-suppressing medications can cause numerous, sometimes deadly side effects—including heart valve damage, birth defects, liver injury, and increased blood pressure.
Scientists conducted a clinical trial using a saffron extract with 60 mildly overweight female volunteers, at least half of whom suffered with compulsive snacking behavior.
Study subjects were randomly given either daily doses of 176.5 mg of patented saffron extract or a placebo. They were all instructed to maintain their normal dietary habits and all between-meal snacking was recorded.
“Over 8 weeks, the number of snacking events for the placebo group decreased by 28%. In the saffron group, between-meal snacks decreased by 55% and they reported a reduced feeling of the “need” to snack!
“After 8 weeks and without any dieting, the saffron group had lost an average of 2 pounds and reported increased energy and alertness. These small weight loss results show how its takes more than reduced snacking to achieve meaningful weight loss.”
The subjects experienced no unwanted side effects. (Downey, 2013) SAFFRON FOR ASTHMA
Asthma is an autoimmune disease in which lung tissue becomes inflamed, resulting in a narrowing of the airways. Saffron reduces inflammation so helps open the airways. (Downey, 2013) & (HealthyLifeInfo.com, 2014)
SAFFRON FOR INSOMNIA
The compound safranal in saffron has been found to increase total sleep time without any negative impact on motor coordination. (Downey, 2013). SAFFRON FOR CANCERS
Western Medicine generally treats cancers, which cause over 7.5 million deaths each year, with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
“Recent scientific evidence, both in vitro and in vivo, has suggested that saffron extract and its main active constituents can help inhibit carcinogenesis and tumor genesis. Rodent studies further demonstrate that saffron can reduce the serious negative effects of the anticancer drug Platinol® (cisplatin). These anticancer findings have prompted extensive current research on saffron and its components, including safranal and crocin, as promising preventive agents against cancer.” (Downey, 2013)
Saffron’s biochemical compounds zea-xanthin, lycopene, α- and β- caroteneaffron have also been shown to be helpful for cancer prevention. These compounds act as immune modulators to protect the body from cancer. (Gyan