It is called red gold and, judging by its incredible properties for health, it is truly precious. We are talking about saffron, a spice with an anti-inflammatory action, it is able to save the eyesight, also useful in case of insomnia. And from today, we know that saffron also helps improve mood, counteracts depression and makes the body more resilient to stress. This is what emerges from a recent scientific research published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition thanks to a collaboration between British and French scientists (Jackson et al, Front Nutr, 2020).
The properties of saffron
Saffron is obtained from the stigmas of the flower of the perennial plant Crocus Sativus, belonging to the Iridaceae family. Saffron is a spice known and appreciated for its medicinal and anti-inflammatory properties, also useful for protecting the retina from degeneration and for keeping menstrual disorders under control. These properties are due to its four active ingredients, crocin, crocetin, picrocrocin and safranal. Previous studies had already shown that the intake of saffron is able, in animals, to reduce the levels of corticosterone, a hormone produced in response to stress. In addition, benefits could be observed following the intake of saffron extracts in case of depression in humans. Therefore, scientists have tried to understand if saffron can help in case of stress, anxiety and mood worsening, a very common condition for which we often do not even go to the doctor but which can impact on the quality of our life. In addition, anxiety and sadness in some cases can even lead to real depression, as shown by scientific studies. Hence the importance of the study we are talking about today.
Saffron against stress, anxiety and depression, the study
Scientists recruited 56 adults, aged between 18 and 54, all with a condition of stress and anxiety. The study participants were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to take a supplement containing 30 mg of saffron extracts for 2 months. The second group took a placebo instead. At the end of the study, the volunteers underwent tests and questionnaires to evaluate the effects of the saffron extracts. What emerged was that those who had taken the saffron showed a marked improvement in mood. Not only that, social skills had also improved. The scientists then performed a further experiment inducing stress in the volunteers. This stress was recreated by subjecting the volunteers to a series of scoring tests in which they were asked to count back starting from a random number provided at the time. Then, the volunteers also had to perform a series of chained subtractions, all in order to increase the stressors. Half of the volunteers had taken saffron both before and after the test, the other half a placebo. Well, it emerged that those who had taken saffron did not have the typical reduction in heart rate variability that is instead noted in moments of great stress. In fact, the heart rate is not always the same, and fortunately. Indeed, a healthy heart and body exhibit great variability in heart rate showing the ability to adapt to different conditions. A reduction in heart rate variability indicates that the body is experiencing the situation without having the ability to cope and adapt to it. Thus, the fact that saffron prevented the reduction in heart rate variability clearly indicates that this spice has been able to make the body more resilient to stressors.
As the research shows, saffron improves mood and fights anxiety and depression. Not only that, this spice is also able to fortify the body and to make it more resistant to stress. Hence, adding saffron to your preparations, such as gravies or sauces, becomes a really good idea. A cup of lukewarm vegetable milk is also excellent, to which you have added the tip of a teaspoon of saffron. Alternatively, there are also saffron-based supplements, if you are going through a particularly difficult period. Given the action of saffron to promote contractions of the uterus, avoid this spice during pregnancy.