Saffron - The Natural Mood-Lifting Spice

By Adrian Lopresti

Depression is a debilitating condition that affects approximately 10-20% of Australians. It is a serious condition that is much more than the sadness that every person experiences at certain times during their life. It is characterised by greater than a two-week period of consistent sadness and lack of pleasure from daily activities. Depression is also associated with a change in sleep (too much or too little), change in appetite (increased or decreased), weight fluctuations, lowered energy, inability to concentrate, irritability, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.

Saffron - The Natural Mood-Lifting Spice

Currently depression is primarily treated through a combination pharmaceutical antidepressants and psychological therapies such as cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT). These therapies are moderately effective, however, they are far from perfect. In fact, antidepressants are only really effective for 30% of sufferers, moderately effective for another 30%, and ineffective for the remaining 40%. That is why research into alternative options is important.

Natural therapies are another common option for the treatment of depression, with St John's wort being the most recognised. Unfortunately, just like psychological and pharmaceutical treatments, St John's wort is not effective for everyone. Also, a major problem with St John's wort is that it interacts with other medications, affecting how they work. Examples of common drug interactions include the contraceptive pill, other pharmaceutical antidepressants, blood thinners and anticonvulsants.

Saffron is one natural spice that has been shown in over eight clinical studies to be effective for the treatment of depression and other mood problems. In fact, four clinical studies have now confirmed that is as effective as some pharmaceutical antidepressants and without the commonly experienced side effects. Some the reasons why saffron may be helpful for the treatment of depression are outlined in this article.



Increases the effectiveness of mood-regulating neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that are associated with a whole array of functions. They are particularly important for mood regulation. Serotonin is one such neurotransmitter that is associated with depression. Levels of serotonin are commonly treated through the use of pharmaceutical antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These pharmaceutical antidepressants improve mood by increasing serotonin availability in the brain. Research has shown that saffron can also affect serotonin's effectiveness in the brain by increasing the sensitivity of serotonin receptors in the brain.



Lowers the stress response

People with depression often suffer from a hyperactive (excessive) or hypoactive (insufficient) stress response. This stress response is associated with a part of the brain known as the HPA axis (H= hypothalamus, P= Pituitary, A=adrenal) and leads to either too much or too little cortisol in the body (our main stress hormone). A few studies have shown that saffron can regulate the stress response by lowering levels of cortisol during stressful times.



Increases antioxidant defences

Research over the past decade has now confirmed that people with depression have high levels of free radicals and low levels of antioxidants in the body. This creates a condition known as oxidative stress – an imbalance in free radicals to antioxidants. Too much oxidative stress can be damaging to the body, especially the brain, leading to increased degeneration in the brain over time. Some studies have shown that a higher antioxidant intake is protective against depression. As saffron is a potent antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress, this may be another reason why it is helpful for the treatment of depression.



Reduces inflammation

Our inflammatory response is essential for health and healing. Without it we would not be able to recover from many illnesses or physical trauma. Unfortunately, when the inflammatory response is too severe or is turned on for too long it can be damaging to the body. Increased inflammation is associated with several medical diseases, including depression. People with depression have higher levels of inflammatory markers in the body, which can affect the brain. Excess inflammation can also lower levels of serotonin and increase levels of cortisol. Some recent studies have confirmed that anti-inflammatory treatments are beneficial for the treatment of depression. For example, one study showed that depressed people taking an anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant drug did far better than those taking antidepressants on their own. The problem with pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories is that long term use is associated with several side effects, including digestive problems. Saffron is a potent anti-inflammatory without the side effects.

Research over the past decade has confirmed that saffron is effective for the treatment of depression and mood changes associated with PMS. Further studies are, however, required to help us better understand how saffron works, although the likely mechanisms are due to one (or a combination) of the factors detailed here.

To enhance general health and wellbeing, saffron can (and should) be added to meals when appropriate. However, to improve mood it is probably best taken in capsule form. This way you can regulate the dosage. Studies show that 52.5mg twice daily is what is required. To ensure that you are take a high-quality source of saffron make sure that the product you purchase is listed with the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). All these products must have an AUSTL number listed on the label. BCN's Saffron Ultra fulfils these criteria.

For more information about the health benefits offered by Saffron, please watch this video:

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