The Benefits of Saffron Extract

Can saffron extract boost your mood and help with weight management?

A wooden spoonful of bright red saffron
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Saffron is a spice long used in cooking and in some systems of traditional medicine. Derived from the Crocus sativus flower, it's typically consumed as a culinary spice. Proponents claim that supplements containing saffron extract can help promote weight loss and aid in the treatment of health conditions including depression.

The major active compounds are believed to be crocins, crocetin, picrocrocin, and safranal.

Why Do People Use Saffron Extract?

Although it's best known as a spice used to flavor dishes like bouillabaisse and paella, saffron is also used medicinally and is said to help treat or prevent the following health problems:

In addition, saffron extract is said to relieve pain, support weight loss, treat sexual dysfunction, and protect against some forms of cancer. When applied directly to the scalp, it is said to aid in the treatment of alopecia areata.

The Benefits of Saffron Extract

To date, scientific support for the health effects of saffron extract is fairly limited. However, several studies suggest that consuming saffron may provide certain health benefits. Here's a look at some key findings from the available research:

1) Depression

Although it may be surprising to hear that a culinary spice may help with depression, some studies suggest it may aid in the treatment of this condition.

For instance, a 2014 study published in Journal of Affective Disorders found that saffron extract was as effective as fluoxetine (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor commonly used for depression) in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. The study involved 40 adults with depression, each of whom was treated with either a saffron supplement or fluoxetine every day for six weeks.

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, 40 adults with major depressive disorder took crocin (an active constituent of saffron) or a placebo along with a SSRI. Results revealed that the group taking crocin had significantly improved scores on self-reported assessments compared to those taking the placebo.

What's more, a review published in the Human Psychopharmacology in 2014 concluded that "research conducted so far provides initial support for the use of saffron for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression". In their systematic review of six clinical trials with placebo or antidepressant controls, the review's authors found that saffron extract had a large treatment effect when compared to a placebo, and was as effective as antidepressant medication.

Related: 8 Natural Depression Remedies to Consider

Although the way that saffron exerts an antidepressant effect isn't understood, some research suggests that it may increase levels of serotonin (a chemical known to regulate mood) in the brain.

Further research is needed to understand how saffron works (and to identify possible drug interactions and adverse effects) before it can be recommended as a treatment for depression. 

2) Weight Loss and Appetite Management

When used as a weight loss aid, saffron supplements are purported to curb appetite and reduce cravings. Some proponents suggest that saffron increases brain levels of serotonin and, in turn, helps prevent compulsive overeating and the associated weight gain.

Related: All-Natural Approach to Weight Loss

Saffron extract shows promise as a means of controlling compulsive eating, according to a small study published in Nutrition Research in 2010. For the study, 60 healthy women who were mildly overweight took either a saffron-containing supplement or a placebo every day for eight weeks (during which the participants' intake of calories was unrestricted).

Study results showed that members of the saffron group experienced a significantly greater decrease in snacking and a significantly greater reduction in body weight (compared to members of the placebo group). The study's authors note that saffron's supposedly mood-enhancing effects could contribute to the decrease in snacking frequency.

3) Premenstrual Syndrome

Saffron extract may help relieve symptoms of PMS, according to a 2008 study from the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. After taking saffron supplements daily throughout two menstrual cycles, study participants had a significantly greater decrease in PMS symptoms than those who took a placebo for the same time period.

Related: Natural Remedies for Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

What to Know Before Trying It

Saffron is available in most grocery stores. Widely available for purchase online, saffron supplements can be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Although saffron is considered safe for most people when consumed in the small amounts typically used in cooking, use of saffron or saffron supplements may trigger several side effects (including dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, headache, uterine bleeding, low blood pressure, and reductions in red and white blood cells and platelets). What's more, taking saffron in excess amounts may be toxic and lead to vomiting, bleeding, numbness, and serotonin syndrome (a rare but potentially life-threatening condition). A typical dose used is 15 mg twice a day for up to eight weeks. Preliminary research suggests that even double this dose (which is still relatively small) can result in adverse effects.

Do not take saffron if you're pregnant.

If you're taking supplements or medication, such as antidepressants, that affect the body's level of serotonin, taking saffron may raise your risk of serotonin syndrome.  

The Takeaway

Saffron is commonly used in cooking, which may lead you to believe that it's completely safe. While there are studies to show that it may offer some benefits for depression, appetite control, and sexual dysfunction, there's still a lack of large-scale clinical trials confirming these effects. Saffron has also been found to cause adverse effects, even in relatively small overall amounts, and may interact with medication. 

if you're considering using saffron for health purposes, talk with your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons. Also keep in mind that self-treating a condition like depression and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.


Agha-Hosseini M, Kashani L, Aleyaseen A, et al. "Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial." BJOG. 2008 Mar;115(4):515-9.

Gout 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.

Lopresti AL, Drummond PD. Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2014 Nov;29(6):517-27. 

Shahmansouri N, Farokhnia M, Abbasi SH, et al.  A randomized, double-blind, clinical trial comparing the efficacy and safety of Crocus sativus L. with fluoxetine for improving mild to moderate depression in post percutaneous coronary intervention patients. J Affect Disord. 2014 Feb;155:216-22.

Talaei A, Hassanpour Moghadam M, Sajadi Tabassi SA, Mohajeri SA. Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15;174:51-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.11.035.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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