Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO
November 7, 2015
Costco is selling this season’s saffron in their spice aisle for only $10 a gram and I was feeling pleased with myself for finding this when I stopped in at Arash this morning, only to discover they are selling saffron 2 grams for $9. Actually they have a 5.5 gram container for less than $20. As precious as saffron is in our minds, it is clearly affordable if you hunt around and it now appears to be well worth the effort.
I first wrote about saffron in February 2012.
At the time the chief research interest was in using saffron to treat depression with some early hints that it might also be useful in treating cancer. The research has come a long way in the last three years. Let me try and mention a few of the interesting papers that have appeared since I last looked into this.
A review by Kazdair et al published in September 2015 listed quite a range of useful potentially useful actions: “Saffron has been suggested to be effective in the treatment of a wide range of disorders including coronary artery diseases, hypertension, stomach disorders, dysmenorrhea and learning and memory impairments. In addition, different studies have indicated that saffron has anti-inflammatory, anti-atherosclerotic, antigenotoxic and cytotoxic activities. Antitussive effects of stigmas and petals of C. sativus and its components, safranal and crocin have also been demonstrated. The anticonvulsant and anti-Alzheimer properties of saffron extract were shown in human and animal studies. The efficacy of C. sativus in the treatment of mild to moderate depression was also reported in clinical trial. Administration of C. sativus and its constituents increased glutamate and dopamine levels in the brain in a dose-dependent manner. It also interacts with the opioid system to reduce withdrawal syndrome.” 
Another review, published a few months earlier in July, combined data from 12 earlier clinical trials “examining the effectiveness of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on psychological and behavioral outcomes.” The conclusion, “saffron may improve the symptoms and the effects of depression, premenstrual syndrome, sexual dysfunction and infertility, and excessive snacking behaviors.” 
In another meta-analysis, this one from September 2014, Lopresti and Drummund combined data from six randomized placebo controlled trials and concluded that,
“… saffron had large treatment effects and, when compared with antidepressant medications, had similar antidepressant efficacy. Saffron's antidepressant effects potentially are due to its serotonergic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuro-endocrine and neuroprotective effects.” 
Saffron continues to appear quite safe to use, even with high risk patient populations. A September 2015 paper by Mousavi et al reported on a double-blind, placebo-controlled study performed on patients with schizophrenia. A total of 66 male patients were divided into three groups. While receiving their normal treatment, they also received a 12-week treatment with an aqueous extract of saffron (15 mg twice daily), crocin (15 mg twice daily) or placebo. 61 patients completed the trial; none of them reported a serious side effect. White blood cell counts increased significantly in patients receiving saffron aqua extract, but it was within the normal range and had no clinical significance. Other hematologic components, markers of thyroid, liver and kidney or inflammation markers had no statistically significant difference among the groups. 
Recent publications suggest saffron has benefit for a range of conditions. Human clinical trials have in the last year or two, been published suggesting a benefit in depression [5,6] , Alzheimer’s disease  , glaucoma  , macular degeneration  , and erectile dysfunction. 
Studies suggesting potential benefit for treating cancer are of great interest.
Effect of saffron on liver metastases in patients suffering from cancers with liver metastases: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Hosseni et al reported in September 2015 the results of a small clinical trial in which 13 patients with cancer metastasized to the liver were divided into two groups. Both received standard chemotherapy treatment. Patients in one group received 50 mg of saffron in a capsule twice a day during chemotherapy while the second group received placebo. Of the 13 patients who started, only seven patients finished the study. Two of the four patients who took saffron showed a partial and complete response. No response was seen in the placebo group. Admittedly the sample size was way too small for this study to be convincing. On the other hand most of us would probably volunteer to get the saffron if we could and not the placebo.
A September 2015 article published in Oncotarget by Rangarajan and fellow researchers at Kansas University describes an experiment in mice that suggests saffron extracts strikingly inhibit pancreatic cancer cell growth in both in cell cultures and in mice. “The mice who were given the crocetinic acid demonstrated a 75 percent reduction in their tumor growth, while the mice in the control group, which didn't receive the crocetinic acid, actually saw a 250 percent increase in tumor growth," 
Studies on depression have advanced, moving from treating patients with mild to moderate depression in 2014  to a study on treating major depressive disorders in 2015. 
Back when I last wrote about saffron I suggested making a water and alcohol extract. While that idea is still valid, my colleague Mark Davis of Portland, Oregon tells me that his approach is much simpler. He has patients make a cup of saffron tea daily with about 10 strands of saffron in it. The study mentioned above in which the participants had cancer metastasized to the liver used 100 mg/day. Thus a gram would last ten days and the $9 two-gram package from Arash would last almost three weeks or the $20 package, about 55 days. That’s not bad for something that potentially may improve your mood and possibly slow cancer.
Arash Market is located at 2720 S Parker Rd, Aurora, CO 80014
That’s on the east side of the road, across the street from H-Mart.
Heather McWilliams wrote a nice piece in the Denver Post on Arash Market a few years ago: http://www.denverpost.com/food/ci_14870388
1. Khazdair MR, Boskabady MH, Hosseini M, Rezaee R, M Tsatsakis A. The effects of Crocus sativus (saffron) and its constituents on nervous system: A review. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2015 Sep-Oct;5(5):376-91.
2. Hausenblas HA, Heekin K, Mutchie HL, Anton S. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials examining the effectiveness of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on psychological and behavioral outcomes. J Integr Med. 2015 Jul;13(4):231-40.
3. Lopresti A1, Drummond PD. Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2014 Nov;29(6):517-27.
4. Mousavi B, Bathaie SZ, Fadai F, Ashtari Z, Ali Beigi N, Farhang S, Hashempour S, et al. Safety evaluation of saffron stigma (Crocus sativus L.) aqueous extract and crocin in patients with schizophrenia. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2015 Sep-Oct;5(5):413-9.
5. Shahmansouri N, Farokhnia M, Abbasi SH, Kassaian SE, Noorbala Tafti AA, Gougol A, et al. A randomized, double-blind, clinical trial comparing the efficacy and safety of Crocus sativus L. with fluoxetine for improving mild to moderate depression in post percutaneous coronary intervention patients. J Affect Disord. 2014 Feb;155:216-22.
6. Talaei A, Hassanpour Moghadam M, Sajadi Tabassi SA, Mohajeri SA. Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15;174:51-6.
7. Farokhnia M, Shafiee Sabet M, Iranpour N, Gougol A, Yekehtaz H, Alimardani R, Farsad F, Kamalipour M, Akhondzadeh S. Comparing the efficacy and safety of Crocus sativus L. with memantine in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease: a double-blind randomized clinical trial. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2014 Jul;29(4):351-9.
8. Jabbarpoor Bonyadi MH, Yazdani S, Saadat S. The ocular hypotensive effect of saffron extract in primary open angle glaucoma: a pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Oct 15;14:399. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-399.
9. Marangoni D, Falsini B, Piccardi M, Ambrosio L, Minnella AM, Savastano MC, Bisti S, et al. Functional effect of Saffron supplementation and risk genotypes in early age-related macular degeneration: a preliminary report. J Transl Med. 2013 Sep 25;11:228. doi: 10.1186/1479-5876-11-228.
10. Mohammadzadeh-Moghadam H, Nazari SM, Shamsa A, Kamalinejad M, Esmaeeli H, Asadpour AA, Khajavi A. Effects of a Topical Saffron (Crocus sativus L) Gel on Erectile Dysfunction in Diabetics: A Randomized, Parallel-Group, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2015 Oct;20(4):283-6.
11. Hosseini A, Mousavi SH, Ghanbari A, Homaee Shandiz F, Raziee HR, Pezeshki Rad M, Mousavi SH. Effect of saffron on liver metastases in patients suffering from cancers with liver metastases: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2015 Sep-Oct;5(5):434-40.
12. Rangarajan P, Subramaniam D, Paul S, Kwatra D, Palaniyandi K, Islam S, Harihar S, et al. Crocetinic acid inhibits hedgehog signaling to inhibit pancreatic cancer stem cells. Oncotarget. 2015 Sep 29;6(29):27661-73. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.4871.
13. Shahmansouri N, Farokhnia M, Abbasi SH, Kassaian SE, Noorbala Tafti AA, Gougol A, Yekehtaz H, et al. A randomized, double-blind, clinical trial comparing the efficacy and safety of Crocus sativus L. with fluoxetine for improving mild to moderate depression in post percutaneous coronary intervention patients. J Affect Disord. 2014 Feb;155:216-22.
14. Talaei A, Hassanpour Moghadam M, Sajadi Tabassi SA, Mohajeri SA. Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15;174:51-6.