Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Chefs and culinary enthusiasts splurge on the rare spice to add flavor to their dishes, but that’s not the only thing it’s good for. Medical researchers have discovered that saffron extract has a wide variety of health benefits, and supplement companies have started making pills to give you the benefits.
Although saffron extract has dozens of potential uses, not all of them are clinically studied and proven. Complicating things further, the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, and it’s difficult to tell if you’re investing money in one that’s potent enough to give you results.
In this in-depth article, we will discuss the potential uses of saffron extract, and tell you everything you need to know about the proven benefits, side effects, and the best ways to use it.
What is Saffron Extract?
Saffron is a plant that grows in locations around the world, but the majority of the fields used in supplements come from either Spain or Iran.
The plant produces vibrant purple flowers that have three red stigmas at the center of the bloom. This is the part of the flower that produces the extract.
Responsible for producing the pollen for the plant, the stigmas are incredibly fragile and can only be harvested by hand. Adding to the difficulty of cultivating the crop, once the stigmas are plucked from the flower, the plant will die.
Like a tulip or crocus, Saffron is a bulb plant that only produces a single bloom per season, and not all of the bulbs will continue to bloom annually.
The reason the supplement and spice are so expensive is because it takes around 75,000 blossoms to produce one pound of spice. This small number of stigmas are only available to be harvested at specific times of the year. In addition, the plants must be replanted and tended to year after year.
Does Saffron Extract Work?
Several clinical studies prove that saffron extract is a highly effective method for treating a variety of health-related issues. However, that doesn’t mean that supplements available over the counter are guaranteed to produce the same results.
In these studies, researchers used pure forms of the extract and often derived their own blends to ensure high quality and accurate results. In packaged and mass marketed products, it’s difficult to know the concentration of the extract versus added fillers.
Although it’s impossible to know for certain the ratio of active ingredients to unnecessary ones in a supplement, if you purchase from a reputable manufacturer who certifies the quality of their products, you may see positive results.
Saffron Extract Uses
People use saffron for many different health problems. Some uses are backed by scientific research, while others are based on anecdotal success stories. We will delve into some of the most common uses for the supplement below, but first, here’s a short list of conditions saffron extract can treat:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Premenstrual Symptoms (PMS)
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Infertility (specifically in men)
- Premature Ejaculation
- Gas and Stomach Pain
- Atherosclerosis (a condition where your your arteries have fat deposits and harden)
Saffron Extract Benefits
Here is an in-depth look at some of the most promising uses for the spice, and clinical research to back the claims.
Saffron Extract Weight Loss
One of the most promising applications for saffron extract is to combat obesity and assist with weight loss. Although many of the clinical studies around the topic are still in their infancy, there is evidence from other studies that support the claim.
For example, when researchers were studying the effects of saffron extract supplementation on cancer patients, they noticed it had strong antioxidant properties that also surpassed inflammatory cytokines, which may be partially responsible for giving your body unnecessary hunger cues.
Saffron extract also has the ability to inhibit pancreatic lipase in the body, which means that dietary fat that you consume isn’t digested and absorbed, but instead passes through and is expelled. This translates into fewer calories consumed in a weight loss application.
Another helpful perk of saffron supplementation is that it boosts your happy neurotransmitters, which can lead to better appetite control. People taking the supplement experienced satiety, or the feeling of fullness, sooner resulting in fewer calories consumed during meals.
All of these functions of saffron extract make it an excellent, natural way to slim down without taking medications full of chemicals and stimulants. Although further research and testing are needed in this area, as long as you don’t fit into one of the adverse groups we list below under side effects, it’s a safe option that is worth considering if you need to lose weight.
A saffron supplement is an effective alternative to prescription depression medications, according to several studies that show encouraging results. In one, participants received 30 mg per day of saffron over a six-week trial. The test group showed improved mood based on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, whereas the placebo group did not show similar improvements.
A second study had similar results. They had two test groups, one who took 30 mg daily for six weeks of saffron extract and a second who took a dose of the antidepressant Prozac. Both groups showed similar improvements in their mild to moderate depression symptoms, but those ingesting saffron experienced less unpleasant side effects.
Researchers believe that the extract has a similar effect on the neurotransmitters in your brain to that of a prescription antidepressant. It boosts your serotonin levels to correct the chemical imbalance and give you more feel-good hormones.
Saffron has been used as an aphrodisiac as far back as Ancient Egypt, and recent clinical studies and trials show that there is a scientific reason it works. In a six-week study among women, the group taking a daily dose reported significant improvements in sexual function by the end of the fourth week. Their experiences included being more aroused, having more lubrication, and less pain during the encounter.
In men, a daily dose showed improvements in sexual function after just two weeks in a separate study.
Another potential application for saffron is to increase fertility, particularly in men with a low sperm count. Although more research and testing is required, one study shows a positive increase in the viability of sperm in 52 men. They took 50 mg of the supplement three times per week for three months to get these results.
Combined with the potential for an aphrodisiac effect, saffron extract provides a boost in more ways than one to help increase the chances of conception.
In patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease, a 30-mg daily dose of saffron caused an improvement of symptoms over a 16-week study. Although the study calls for further clinical examination, these results show a real possibility of an effective treatment for the cognitive disease.
Saffron Extract Side Effects
You should always speak with your doctor before you start taking any new supplements, as they could interact with health conditions or other medications. With that in mind, saffron extract is safe for more people to take orally in small doses as a short-term treatment or long-term supplement.
There is a potential for side effects. You may experience dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, headaches, anxiety, and drowsiness when you take the supplement. If you are allergic to saffron, or to other additives in the supplement, you also risk an adverse reaction.
Do not take saffron in high doses. It can lead to severe side effects that include vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, and bleeding from the eyes, nose, and lips. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these or any other serious symptoms. Experts recommend that you do not take a dose higher than 12 grams to prevent these outcomes.
In addition, pregnant women should not take saffron. The extract acts as an abortifacient and could induce cramping and bleeding, which may lead to a miscarriage if not treated promptly.
Finally, if you have a heart condition or blood pressure issues, you should avoid saffron as it can cause complications.
If you decide to stop taking saffron, it’s likely you may also experience some withdrawal side effects. Because the extract can increase the serotonin your body processes, it’s possible you’ll feel the drop when you discontinue use. You might feel sad, have trouble concentrating, or have mood swings until your body recovers and begins producing higher levels of serotonin again on its own.
How Much Should You Take?
Read the label on your supplement to determine the concentration of saffron and the recommended dosage. Most manufacturers say 30 mg daily is safe, and you can split those into two 15 mg doses for optimal absorption.
You can safely use the supplement for up to six weeks, assuming you don’t experience any severe side effects. It isn’t recommended for long-term use, but you can cycle on and off of it as needed.
In addition to these general guidelines, there are some specific dosing recommendations around studied health conditions. Research recommends the following if you have:
- Depression: 30 mg per day or 15 mg twice daily
- PMS: 15 mg per day twice daily
- Alzheimer’s: 30 mg per day
Where to Find Saffron Extract
It’s easy to find saffron extract through a variety of online retailers or at your local health food store.
Shop for products that have a label indicating how many milligrams of the supplement are in each dose to have a better chance of getting a pure, concentrated blend.
Although the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, you can still look for a USP or GNP seal. These stand for United States Pharmacopeia and Good Manufacturing Practices and are the gold standard for supplements. Generally, these indicate purity, potency, and strength of the product.
Some manufacturers will also offer a satisfaction guarantee, which is a good way to determine if they stand by the quality of their product.
How Much Does Saffron Extract Cost?
Saffron is hard to cultivate, challenging to harvest, and expensive to produce. As such, the supplements are pricey. While its premium price tag doesn’t make it out of reach for everyone, you’ll pay more for certified products with a money back guarantee.
Expect to pay around $70 or more for a 30-day supply. That could be considerably more depending on the brand. Be aware that you may sacrifice quality if you choose an option that is inexpensive, as it will likely contain more fillers than active ingredients and therefore be cheaper to produce. Conversely, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better and you’ll want to research the company before you purchase.
One tip to help ensure that you’re investing your money in a quality product is to contact the manufacturer for more details. Most companies have representatives who can tell you where they sourced their ingredients, which will help determine if they are genuine and superior.
The Bottom Line
Saffron extract is an all-natural supplement with a wide array of potential uses. The scientific community is excited about what it can do, and hundreds of studies have proven benefits and treatments for everything from depression to PMS.
Although it’s a supplement powerhouse, it isn’t the right fit for everyone. Because it’s so difficult to source, it is an expensive option that might be hard to fit into your budget if you don’t have a lot of disposable income. In addition, it’s challenging to guarantee quality and potency.
There are some potential side effects, specifically if you take too much or use it for too long. It’s best used as a short-term supplement, but only if you talk with your doctor first.
Finally, although it’s generally safe to use, pregnant women, children, or anyone with heart or blood pressure medications should avoid saffron extract as it can cause serious complications.