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The spice of happiness that counteracts anxiety and stress

July 10, 2023
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The spice of happiness that counteracts anxiety and stress

Anxiety, stress, sadness and depression are conditions that, perhaps more than others, are typical of our time. But help to face and contrast them comes from a well-known spice, saffron! In fact, saffron has been shown to reduce stress levels and to improve mood. This emerges from two very recent scientific studies. The first was published in the journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies by Iranian scientists [1], the second in the journal Nutrients by a French team [2].

Stress, anxiety and depression are very common conditions

We are continually subjected to sources of stress, such as a very demanding job, climate changes, time changes, problems and worries. And our body responds to stress with the tools it has at its disposal. Our body's weapon to cope with these events is an increase in cortisol, a hormone which in turn causes an increase in blood sugar and fat in the blood, so that we can have more energy available.

In addition to this, adrenaline and noradrenaline are also released, two hormones which, together with cortisol, increase blood pressure in order to improve physical performance. It is clear that once the stress has passed, the body relaxes and everything returns to balance. However, often the perceived stress is chronic or repetitive, the threat is always constant and the body is on alert. This is how the body's response, continuously subjected to stressful conditions, can become dangerous, causing damage to the heart and increasing the risk of anxiety and depression. If to these conditions we also add physiological changes that occur in the body, as in the case of menopause in women, the increased risk of developing anxiety and depression is even higher. Science is thus constantly looking for natural and well-tolerated remedies to counteract stress and improve mood. One of these remedies seems to be saffron.

Saffron, properties

Saffron, scientific name Crocus sativus, is a spice widely used to flavor dishes but also, as a natural remedy, to treat various ailments. The most important active ingredients of saffron are crocin and safranal, which give the spice antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, beneficial for the cardiovascular system, muscles, brain and eyesight. In fact, saffron helps keep blood pressure and circulating fats under control, fights eye diseases such as glaucoma and maculopathy, helps reduce the risk of neurodegeneration and sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass. In addition, saffron has also been shown to have an effect on mood and stress, acting on the levels of cortisol, serotonin and dopamine, which are hormones that regulate mood. Precisely to better understand these properties and what happens in human beings, the two groups of scientists, Iranian and French, have conducted interesting scientific studies, which we will discuss here.

Saffron tea, the tea of happiness

Iranian research has analyzed the action of saffron in menopausal women and therefore with a greater risk of developing anxiety and depression. For this purpose, 72 women, all in menopause, were recruited. The volunteers were divided into two groups. The first group was used as a control, while the second group drank a cup of saffron tea every day for 1.5 months. Before and at the end of the study, the volunteers were subjected to tests and questionnaires to evaluate their mood. What emerged is that saffron has been able to improve mood in women, increasing the level of perceived happiness. This result was achieved without registering side effects.

Saffron reduces anxiety and stress

The French study investigated the action of saffron on young men subjected to a condition of great stress. 19 volunteers aged between 18 and 25 were divided into three groups. The first group took a supplement containing 30 mg of saffron, the second a supplement containing 0.06 mg of safranal, the active ingredient in saffron, and the third a placebo.

Then, the volunteers were subjected to a stress condition, in which they were asked to immerse their hands in cold water at a temperature of 2° C and mentally perform a small mathematical calculation. Before, during and after the experiment, cortisol levels in saliva were measured, which are considered a valid indicator of perceived stress. Well, saffron and its active ingredient safranal were able to control the salivary cortisol peak and significantly reduce stress and anxiety.

Saffron, recipes

How is saffron taken? The Iranian study offers an interesting idea, a tea with saffron. 30 mg of saffron stigmas, between 15 and 20 stigmas, were infused in 300 ml of boiling water for 15 minutes. It is noteworthy that the study demonstrated important mood results with a small dose of saffron, 30 mg as indicated, well below the 1.5 grams which is considered the maximum safe dose one can take without incurring side effects. As an alternative to herbal tea, it is also possible to warm a cup of milk, even vegetable, and add a pinch of saffron, mix and drink, or even taste the saffron added to dishes at the end of cooking. In any case, if you are taking medicines, always ask your doctor for advice to check that there are no interactions between saffron and the medicines taken. In fact, saffron can interact with some drugs, such as sedatives, but also antihypertensives and diabetes drugs. The authors of the studies state that saffron can be a complementary therapy in case of anxiety and depression but also highlight the need to always talk to your doctor first.

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