General information on saffron :
It is a bulbous perennial herbaceous plant , without stem, belonging to the Iridaceae family, the Liliaceae lineage, cultivated between 650 and 1200m altitude, in various countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain, Israel , Morocco, Turkey, Iran, India, China, Egypt and Mexico (Hatziagapiou K et al, 2019).
Saffron, which for decades was the world's most expensive spice by weight, is native to Iran; it was first cultivated in the Persian Empire (Kamalipour M, 2011) The spice is obtained from the three stigmas of the plant which have been dried. Its nickname “red gold” comes from its laborious production: it takes 150,000 flowers to produce one kilo of this spice.
In addition, the harvest must be carried out quickly because the flower blooms for only 24 hours: this plant remains dormant during the summer, and flowering takes place in autumn when all the other plants are preparing to protect themselves against the rigors of winter. (Moratalla-Lopez N et al, 2019)
Crocetin esters are responsible for the red color of this spice and its coloring ability to give yellowish-red hues. Picrocrocin is the main contributor to the bitter taste characteristic, and safranal is the main compound in the volatile fraction of saffron contributing to its aroma (Moratalla-Lopez N et al, 2019)
For a very long time, this spice has been very popular in cooking, for its coloring power which gives dishes a yellow color. Saffron also has a strong aroma. It is also a flavor enhancer. For example, it can be added to jams to enhance the taste of fruits.
Saffron has been used for a long time in tinctures but it is especially in medicine that saffron is recognized for its many virtues. To benefit from its benefits, the preferred form is filament to avoid counterfeiting. Saffron capsules can be consumed, without exceeding a dose of 15mg per day. Saffron can also be used as an infusion by taking 1g of saffron in 1 liter of water.
On the nervous system:
It is recognized for its antioxidant potential which could be attributed to its content of phenols and flavonoids, gallic acid and pyrogallol (Hatziagapiou K et al, 2019).
Quercetin is ubiquitous in fruits and vegetables, being one of the most common dietary flavonols in the Western diet. Quercetin has been reported to exert a wide range of biological effects, including antioxidant and anticarcinogenic activities (Reyes-Farias M et al, 2019).
Recent studies indicate that saffron components, particularly crocins and crocetin, may have an anticarcinogenic effect in breast, lung and pancreatic cancer cells (Moratalla-Lopez N et al, 2019). Oxidative stress, a condition of imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species and antioxidants, strongly contributes to the high incidence of Alzheimer's disease in elderly subjects (Mecocci P et al, 2018).
Saffron and its metabolites have pharmacological effects on the central nervous system, with an action on memory and learning, thus having effects on Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis (Moratalla- Lopez N et al, 2019).
Recent results from animal and human studies have demonstrated that saffron and its main constituent crocin are effective against cognitive dysfunction induced by chronic stress and oxidative stress and slow cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease (Saeedi M, 2021 ).
Recently, several randomized controlled clinical trials have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of saffron in mild to moderate depression (Toth B et al, 2018).
It has long been known to help mental well-being : it brings joy, cheerfulness and serenity. Saffron is statistically significantly superior to placebo in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, and not inferior to Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants (fluoxetine, citalopram) (Toth B et al, 2018).
On the cardiovascular system :
Saffron is a powerful tonic .
Several studies claim that crocetin increases oxygen diffusion and, therefore, oxygenation of various tissues by increasing oxygen in blood plasma (Moratalla-Lopez N et al, 2019). Due to the presence of crocetin, it indirectly helps in reducing the level of cholesterol in the blood and the severity of atherosclerosis, thereby reducing the chances of heart attack.
Saffron helps reduce the risk of heart disease by strengthening the blood circulatory system (Kamalipour M et al, 2011).
On the ophthalmic system:
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common, chronic and progressive degenerative disease of the macula that affects the elderly and is characterized by a loss of central vision ( Gheorghe A, 2015).
Six published clinical studies evaluated vision-related parameters in AMD patients receiving oral saffron supplementation. Based on this, studies found that saffron improves visual acuity with all doses tested (daily dose range: 20 to 50 mg) (Heitmar et al, 2019).
Recently, a randomized clinical trial showed that in patients with early AMD, dietary supplementation with saffron was able to significantly improve sensitivity to retinal flicker (Bisti S, 2014).
On the body in general:
It has been proven that in addition to weight loss treatment, saffron can reduce the frequency of snacking (Moshiri et al, 2014).
They suggest several mechanisms: the blocking of the digestion of fats in the diet, the reduction in food intake by increasing satiety, or the feeling of fullness due to the increase in the level of neurotransmitters or hormonal functions and the increase glucose and lipid metabolism (Moratalla-Lopez N et al, 2019).
Saffron in the treatment of migraine?
No study has evaluated the effectiveness of saffron against migraines .
However, this spice remains known to fight against these headaches. Crocin, crocetin and picrocrocin (which are pigments present in saffron) act on the nervous system. It would thus fight against the hyperexcitability of the brain.
This property is interesting for patients who suffer from migraine because the brain of migraine sufferers is hyper-excitable and hypometabolic (Lovati C et al, 2014).