Saffron: Health Benefits, Risks, and How to Use

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Saffron is a highly valuable spice that offers many potential health benefits. It’s the world’s most expensive spice ($500-$1,000 per pound). It may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and even anticancer properties.

Below, we will discuss saffron’s benefits, including the scientific evidence which supports these claims. This spice may improve your mental health as well as your physical health!

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What Is Saffron?

Nicknamed “Red Gold,” saffron is derived from the stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower, also known as the “saffron crocus.” In the whole stigma form, saffron threads are thin and orange-red in color.

Largely cultivated in Iran and India, you can use saffron to spice food such as traditional Persian dishes, Spanish paella and Indian curry, or take it as a supplement. 

Is Saffron Safe?

It is generally safe to take up to 1.5 grams of saffron daily, which equates to 3/4 teaspoon of the spice in ground form. There are 550-600 whole stigma threads of saffron in a single gram. 

Consuming more than 5 grams of saffron per day can become toxic. 

Many studies show that saffron is beneficial at only 30 mg — a very safe dosage for the average person. 30 mg of saffron equates to about 13 saffron threads.

In addition to allergic reactions, possible side effects of saffron include drowsiness and stomach issues such as nausea and vomiting.

Who should not take saffron? Because of the (minor but still real) risks of taking large doses of saffron, we do not recommend saffron for the following people:

  • Breastfeeding or pregnant women
  • Individuals with bipolar disorder
  • People using blood thinners or blood pressure medication
  • Individuals who are susceptible to abdominal distress
  • People who have allergic reactions to saffron

Read Next: It May Be Time to Rebalance Your Nervous System 

Health Benefits of Saffron

1. Antioxidant Boost

Saffron contains many antioxidants that protect your cells against free radicals and oxidative stress. Antioxidants may help reduce the risk of inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and many more diseases.

Saffron antioxidant compounds include:

  • Crocin
  • Crocetin
  • Safranal
  • Kaempferol

The antioxidants in saffron may possess these medicinal properties:

2. Depression Relief

Red Gold is not saffron’s only nickname — it’s also nicknamed the Sunshine Spice due to its mood-improving potential. If you’re experiencing anxiety or depressive symptoms, there are plenty of natural solutions to consider. Saffron supplementation may be beneficial to you.

A double-blind placebo-group study showed that saffron helped manage symptoms of  depression and stress. (Read about Vitamins For Stress.)

30 mg of saffron daily has been shown to be as effective in treating mild-to-moderate depression as conventional antidepressants, such as fluoxetine.

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3. Anti-Cancer Properties

Saffron is an antioxidant substance that neutralizes free radicals that may contribute to cancer. Saffron’s compounds may selectively suppress or destroy cancer cells without killing healthy cells.

The anticancer effects of saffron are promising, but there have been no large-scale clinical trials to indicate these lab studies translate to benefits for human cancer patients. 

However, its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may reduce your risk for cancer, especially if you are already vulnerable to inflammation or oxidative stress.

4. Reduced PMS Symptoms

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) describes a range of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms occurring before the start of a menstrual period.

Studies show that saffron may help treat PMS symptoms.

Most women experience PMS symptoms, including:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Tender breasts
  • Mood swings
  • Period poops
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping issues
  • Problems concentrating
  • Depression
  • Skin breakouts
  • Appetite changes
  • Hormonal changes

Many women prefer non-pharmaceutical treatments for PMS symptoms. Saffron may be an effective way to reduce the duration and severity of PMS symptoms — especially depression.

Read more: 13 Reasons You’re Not Getting Pregnant

5. Improved Sexual Function

Saffron may have aphrodisiac potential. Aphrodisiacs are foods or supplements that boost your libido (sex drive).

For men, saffron may help with erectile dysfunction and satisfaction with sexual intercourse.

For women, saffron may improve desire, satisfaction, and lubrication. It’s one of the many dietary and lifestyle changes that may naturally increase the female libido.

6. Better Weight Loss

Saffron extract has been shown to suppress appetite and reduce stomach obesity.

Snacking is a common habit that may cause weight gain. Saffron may prevent snacking by reducing food cravings.

An older study concluded, “[Saffron compounds] can be potentially useful in prevention, control, and/or management of overweight and obesity…”

A recent animal study showed that saffron stigma and petals improve weight changes in obese mice.

7. Improved Insulin Sensitivity

Saffron may lower blood sugar levels and raise insulin sensitivity, both of which are important in preventing and managing diabetes. Saffron could be a good supplement for diabetic and prediabetic individuals.

This 2022 study concludes, “Clinical trials revealed multiple positive effects of saffron on diabetic patients including improvement of metabolic factors, glycemic control, lipid profile, oxidative stress, and inflammation.”

8. Reduced Symptoms of Neurological Disorders

Saffron’s antioxidant properties may improve cognitive function in adults with Alzheimer’s disease. It may even help prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Up to 1 billion people worldwide experience neurodegeneration in their lives. Medical interventions have not proven very effective, so people often look for alternative treatments such as dietary changes and natural remedies.

Saffron offers neuroprotective effects to the brain. Used regularly, it may slow and prevent neurodegeneration.

9. Better Eyesight with Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Up to 20 million Americans have visual impairments.

Fortunately, saffron’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties show promise in improving eyesight in adults, especially those experiencing age-related macular degeneration.

10. Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

Saffron may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death in America. Studies show that saffron may lower cholesterol levels and prevent blood vessels from clogging.

A 2022 clinical trial finds that saffron may help patients with clogged blood vessels to improve their quality of life and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Saffron’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may help maintain a healthy heart and blood vessels, supporting healthy blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease.

11. Seizures

Over 3 million people in America experience seizures, including half a million children. Saffron may help control seizures.

Crocin (a chief antioxidant carotenoid in saffron) may be a promising anti-epileptic treatment. Epilepsy is a chronic condition that results in seizure activity.

12. Sleep

Sleep dysfunction increases your risk for many health problems. Sleep duration, sleep schedule consistency, and sleep quality all impact your waking health. Fortunately, there are many potential solutions to sleep dysfunction, including saffron.

Taking saffron extract may help you get to sleep faster and stay asleep. A 2021 clinical trial suggests that saffron extract may be a safe, all-natural way to improve sleep quality and sleep duration.

A recent scientific review found that saffron and its antioxidant compounds had a hypnotic effect on users, allowing for better, longer sleep. Promising early research shows the need for larger clinical trials.

Tired, but can’t sleep? Read about 12 Reasons You Can’t Sleep When You’re Tired.

Dosage & Side Effects

According to scientific studies, people may benefit most by taking only 30 mg of saffron daily. This dosage is well below the maximum safe dosage and shouldn’t cause side effects unless you are allergic to saffron, which is highly uncommon.

What is the best way to take saffron? The best way to take saffron for its health benefits is to consume 30-100 mg saffron extract supplement daily. Consult a healthcare professional about dosage and duration of supplementation.

Does saffron have side effects? Saffron is generally safe to consume with no side effects. This well-tolerated spice can also be consumed as a tea or dietary supplement.

Up to 1.5 grams of daily saffron appears to be safe, though most everyone needs a fraction of that to notice health benefits — 30 mg (2% of the maximum safe dosage).

High doses of 2-5 grams or more of saffron can cause toxic effects, including nausea, severe abdominal distress, extreme drowsiness, or even miscarriage. 20 grams may be lethal. It would be difficult to reach this dosage, but try not to consume more than 1.5 grams per day to be safe.

Make sure your saffron supplement or saffron powder is not adulterated with cheap ingredients. Some saffron powders are mixed with ingredients like turmeric, paprika, or beetroot; be cautious to get a pure saffron supplement to track your exact dosage. Purchase your saffron from a reputable company to ensure authenticity and efficacy.

How to Add Saffron to Your Diet

There are 3 common ways to add saffron to your diet:

  1. Use saffron spice in your cooking. The expensive spice’s flavor has been described as subtle, earthy, floral, and sweet then bitter.
  2. Steep saffron strands in hot water. Make this herbal saffron tea with warm (not boiling) water.
  3. Take saffron extract supplements. 30-100 mg daily dose is an average use of saffron extract.

Looking for integrative healthcare and cutting-edge medical advice that addresses your unique health situation with a balance of dietary changes, supplements, lifestyle adjustments, and medications when necessary? Schedule a free consultation with PrimeHealth in Denver, Colorado. See if we’re the right fit for you.


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