saffron helps depression and anxiety

You’ve heard of saffron, and you’ve heard of depression and anxiety, but have you ever of saffron for depression and anxiety?

Saffron can improve the flavour of your dishes. Depression and anxiety can ruin your quality of life. But, in a recipe for life that still hasn’t caught on, saffron can improve the quality of your life.

Five years ago, we wrote a review of the exciting emerging research on the herb saffron for the journal HerbalGram. At the time, part of what excited us enough about saffron to write a review of it was several studies showing for the first time that saffron could really help people with depression. First the studies showed it was better than a placebo (Phytother Res 2005;19:148-151; Phytomed 2006;13:607-611), then they graduated to showing that it was as good as the risky antidepressant drugs, while being safer (BMC Complement Altern Med 2004 (J Ethnopharmacol 2005;97:281-284; Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2007;31:439-442). Two meta-analyses had concluded that the herb was better than placebo and at least as good as drugs with the advantage of being safer (J Integr Med 2013;11:377-383; Hum Psychopharmacol 2014;29:517-527).

Today, at least five reviews have found saffron to be better than placebo and as effective as drugs for depression. The latest is a systematic review and meta-analysis of 7 double-blind studies of 316 people with mild to moderate depression that compared saffron to placebo, Prozac or other antidepressant drugs. Both combined and in each of the studies individually, saffron was significantly better than placebo and as effective as drugs (Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat 2018;14:1297-1305).

Then something exciting happened. The research began to discover that saffron helped, not only depression, but anxiety too. In 2016, for the very first time, researchers showed that saffron helped people with anxiety. The study was double-blind, and it showed, no longer surprisingly, that saffron helps people with mild to moderate depression. The surprise was that it also significantly helped anxiety (J Complement Integr Med 2016;13(2):195-199). Then it happened again. A study comparing saffron to the SSRI citalopram found that the herb had a significant and equal effect to the drug (Pharmacopsychiatry 2017;50(04):152-60).

The next development was the exciting discovery that saffron could help children too. In the first study of kids who suffered from both depression and anxiety, saffron was shown to be significantly more effective than a placebo for overall symptoms and separately on separation anxiety, social phobia and depression (J Affect Disord 2018;232:349-357).

In the latest phase of the research on saffron for depression and anxiety, researchers have now put it all together and evaluated the body of controlled studies of saffron for depression and anxiety.

The systematic review and meta-analysis included 14 randomized, controlled studies that included 716 people with depression. They result was that saffron was significantly better than a placebo. Five studies, including 210 people, showed that saffron was as good as antidepressant drugs. A meta-analysis of four studies showed that adding saffron to antidepressant drugs significantly improved their effect.

And the results were just as exciting in the six controlled studies of 375 people that looked at saffron for anxiety. Though the data was insufficient to allow an analysis of saffron compared to drugs, it was sufficient to demonstrate the herb’s superiority over placebo for anxiety.

Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies included in the review also found greater improvement with saffron for mood disturbances, fatigue, tension, vigour, confusion, negative affect, stress, separation anxiety, social phobia and general mental health.

Though saffron has been resistant to really catching on as a herb, this exciting and growing body of research strongly suggests that it is a powerful herb for helping people who are struggling with depression and anxiety.


Nutr Rev 2019;doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuz023


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For much more on preventing and treating depression and anxiety, see our book The Family Naturopathic Encyclopedia.


For comprehensive help with anxiety and depressionmake an appointment to see Linda Woolven now. Linda’s clinic is now open for virtual appointments.

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