Saffron Health Benefits and Side Effects
By Christopher Karam
What Is Saffron?
Saffron is a red spice that’s made from the dried stigma of the Saffron Crocus flower (Crocus sativus L. Iridaceae). Saffron is used in both cooking and baking recipes, as it a light cooking ingredient that has a deep fragrance, strong flavor, and a bright yellow and red tinge.
Per ounce, a single strand of saffron costs more than gold. This makes saffron the most expensive spice (per pound) in the world. Saffron costs around 63$ per gram, compared to gold which is around 59$.
The reason why saffron is so expensive is because harvesting the stigmas within the flower is very labour intensive. It takes 1 acre of land to make 4 pounds of saffron.
The Benefits of Saffron
There are many scientifically proven health benefits to eating saffron regularly. Saffron has thousands of studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
It contains many healthy plant-based compounds, fatty acids, and antioxidants which help your body defend against oxidative stress and free radicals.
There are 3 plant-based compounds found in saffron, which include:
- Picrocrocin: The chemical compounds responsible for the taste of saffron.
- Crocin: The chemical compound responsible for the color.
- Safranal: The chemical compound responsible for the aroma.
1. Protects Against Cells Damage
All living organisms suffer from cell damage, through their diet or by ageing.
Cell damage is caused by different stressors that make cells prone to oxidative and DNA-related damage caused by free radicals.
Free radicals are a by-product of metabolic processes such as digesting food, exercising, and thinking. This can be accelerated by a variety of different stressors such as:
- Poor diet and a lack of nutrition
- Environmental changes
- Increased stress (cortisol hormone)
- Physical injuries
Multiple research studies have shown that saffron is a powerful superfood that can maintain and improve cell health.
Saffron protects the myelin sheaths (cell membrane) around the fat cells of neurons, which safeguard and transmit electrical pathways to and from the brain and nervous system.
2. Improves Mood and Symptoms of Depression
Anxiety and depression are some of the most commonly diagnosed psychological disorders, affecting nearly 25.3 million people in the United States.
Depression and other mood disorders are a devastating side effect of stress, a poor diet, personal relationships, or other life experiences.
Similar to conventional antidepressants, saffron exhibits similar results by improving and regulating certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin (a mood-elevating neurotransmitter).
This is due to all of the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits of saffron. Crocetin, crocins, and safranal reduces inflammation and promotes a healthy brain chemical balance of:
Taking saffron regularly has been proven, in several scientific studies to promote good mood, reduce symptoms of depression, and reduce overall blood pressure.
3. Promotes Weight Loss
Obesity is a rising global issue for over a decade now, which can lead to increased risks of cancer, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), hypertension, strokes, as well as many other illnesses and diseases.
Saffron has many healthy plant-based compounds that help with weight loss, appetite suppression, as well as reducing cravings.
This is due to many factors, primarily because saffron increases levels of serotonin in the brain which increases satisfaction and reduces the likelihood of overeating, which is also associated with weight gain.
Saffron is a healthy, vitamin and mineral-rich, low-calorie spice that improves the ability for dieters and regular individuals to lose weight.
4. Reduces the Risk of Cancer
Saffron is full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that all help to increase the strength of your immune system. A stronger immune system allows for a better response and reduced risk of cancer.
The nutrients found in saffron itself are especially toxic to cancerous cells by increasing the frequency of apoptosis (triggered cell death) by the cancer cells.
Saffron also reduces the ability of cancer cells to express RNA and DNA synthesis, making it difficult and a much slower process for these cells to reproduce.
The Side Effects of Saffron
Taking up to 1.2 grams of saffron per day is generally safe, while at higher doses, saffron can be highly toxic. These symptoms usually include insomnia, nausea, and vomiting. Additionally, there are minor cases of allergic reactions caused by saffron.
Other common side effects caused by eating an excessive amount of saffron include:
- Dry mouth
- Increased anxiety
- Dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, or vomiting
- Kidney damage
- Severe lack of appetite
For women, saffron should never be taken during pregnancy as it actively stimulates uterine contractions and drastically increases your chances of a miscarriage.
May Cause a Miscarriage
Pregnant women should never take saffron as it has a very high chance of causing a miscarriage, although lower dosages are generally considered safe for expecting mothers, it’s highly suggested to avoid it completely to avoid any unnecessary risks.
A study conducted on women working in saffron fields found that 89% of women who ate saffron regularly had a miscarriage. The larger the number of miscarriages these women had already suffered, lowered the rate of a future miscarriage, caused by saffron.
Saffron is a versatile and highly underrated spice that is packed with vitamins and minerals, nutritious plant-based compounds, and antioxidants. Saffron’s been thoroughly studied and has many scientifically purported health benefits.
Despite its expensive price point, saffron has many health benefits and minimal side effects that are beneficial to nearly everyone.
Using small amounts of strands in a few dishes throughout the week will give you all of the health benefits without the risk of overconsuming.
When buying saffron, always buy saffron in its strand form as the powdered form can include many fillers. Saffron is very easy to add to your diet, using just 1 to 2 strands along with your carbohydrates is more than enough to get all of its nutrition.
With hundreds of scientific studies and research papers make saffron a must-include in your diet. Along with its wonderful flavor and bright yellow color, it can brighten up any recipe.
About the author:
Christopher Karam is a certified nutritionist, dietitian, and personal trainer at MyDietGoal. Our team of M.D.s and researchers deliver thoroughly researched articles on common health, dieting, and wellness-related topics.