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December 2013

Saffron Evaluated For Major Depressive Disorder in Adults

Supplementing with saffron may help improve symptoms of depression in adults who have major depressive disorder (MDD), according to a study.

Depression or depressive disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. Depression is considered a mood disorder. Depression affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about life situations. Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss, or passing mood states, depressive disorders are persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual's thoughts, behavior, mood, activity, and physical health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. This includes MDD (severe depression), dysthymic disorder (mild to moderate depression), and bipolar disorder (manic-depressive).

Saffron has been studied as a possible treatment for depression. Saffron is the dried stigma of the crocus (Crocus sativus) flower. It is available both as filaments and powder. Around 75,000 blossoms are needed to make a single pound of saffron. For this reason, the price of saffron can range from $50 to $300 per ounce. Saffron has a long history of use as a spice, medicine, and yellow dye. The crocus was reportedly used by ancient Greek and Roman civilizations and in medieval Egypt. Saffron may have anticancer, antidepressant, nerve protective, and antioxidant properties and may have effects on the immune system. Saffron has also been studied for its ability to improve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, asthma, infertility, menstrual problems, and psoriasis.

In the current study, authors reviewed previous research conducted on the use of saffron for MDD in adults. They included trials that had involved people aged 18 or older with symptoms of depression. A total of five studies were reviewed.

The results suggested that a significant benefit was found for saffron supplementation over the use of a placebo in treating depressive symptoms. The included studies reported that saffron appeared to have a similar effect to antidepressants when used as a treatment for adult MDD.

The reviewers concluded that these findings suggest a benefit of saffron supplementation for symptoms of depression in people with MDD. However, they emphasized that larger trials with long-term follow-up periods are needed before firm conclusions can be made on the use of saffron for this purpose.

Many alternative and complementary therapies have been evaluated for depression, including DHEA and St. John's wort. There is strong evidence to support the use of these treatments for this condition.

For more information about saffron, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements database.


  1. Hausenblas HA, Saha D, Dubyak PJ, et al. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Integr Med. 2013 Nov;11(6):377-83. doi: 10.3736/jintegrmed2013056. 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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