Study: Saffron could assist with depression treatment

By Nikki Hancocks contact

- Last updated on GMT

istock | kieferpix
istock | kieferpix

Related tags: saffron, Depression

New research funded by Pharmactive Biotech Products has shown that saffron taken in conjunction with pharmaceutical antidepressants may assist adults with depression.

In an eight-week, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, r​esearchers from Murdoch University and UWA found greater reductions in depressive symptoms when adults complemented depression medication with saffron capsules.

Dr. Adrian Lopresti, from Murdoch University, said the trial was the largest of its kind to date and the first study looking at the effects of saffron as an add-on to pharmaceutical antidepressants. Previous research has only investigated the antidepressant effects of saffron as a stand-alone treatment.

"In our research, depressive symptoms decreased more in participants taking saffron compared with a placebo, with reductions of 41 and 21%, respectively on the clinician-rated scale,"​ Dr. Lopresti said.

"In addition, improvements occurred in sleep quality, initiative and motivation, and interest and pleasure in activities."

The study

160 participants were randomly allocated to one of two trial groups, one taking a placebo and one taking a standardised saffron extract (affron®) for eight weeks.

Participants were required to be physically healthy, aged 18–65 years and were taking a stable dose (at least eight weeks) of a single pharmaceutical antidepressant 

Of the 160 participants enrolled, 139 provided usable data.

Based on the Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), depressive symptoms decreased more in participants taking saffron compared with a placebo, with reductions of 41% in the intervention group and 21% in the placebo group.

However, scores on the self-rated MADRS (MADRS-S) in the saffron and placebo groups decreased 27% and 26% respectively.

Given the conflicting results, the report states that further research is needed to clarify the clinical benefits.

However Dr. Lopresti said that the study indicated that saffron could be used to help avoid the side effects of pharmaceuticals.

"At the moment, if pharmaceutical antidepressants aren't working the options are to increase the dose or to try a new antidepressant. This increases the likelihood of side effects. Now a new option is to take antidepressants and saffron together."

The report notes that the findings do not mean the addition of saffron to cooking would necessarily promote antidepressant effects given the significant variance associated with the quality of saffron stigmas and the variability in extracts available on the market.

Prior research

Researchers from the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences in Iran previously found​ that Saffron improved depression symptoms among mothers with mild post-partum depression.

The study, in the journal Phytomedicine,​ found that the 30 study participants supplemented with 15 mg of saffron daily showed more improvements at the end of the intervention period compared to the 30 new mothers who took the placebo.

“This is not the first study that investigated the effects of saffron in patients with mild-to-moderate depression,”​ Stefan Gafner, chief scientific officer of the American Botanical Council, told NutraIngredients-USA, commenting independently on the study.

“Researchers from the University of Florida, Gainesville have published a meta-analysis of clinical trials on the topic​, which included five studies in which saffron was compared to placebo (two studies) or to conventional anti-depressant treatment (three studies).

“The meta-analysis suggests that saffron (the dosage was 30 mg/d of powdered saffron – the same as in the clinical trial by Tabeshpour et al.) is significantly better than placebo in improving symptoms of depression and more or less equivalent to standard pharmaceutical antidepressants (i.e., imipramine or fluoxetine).

“So this new study adds on to the existing evidence for the benefits of saffron for people suffering from mild to moderate depression.”

Source: Journal of Psychopharmacology​ 

Lopresti. A. L., et al.

“Efficacy of a standardised saffron extract (affron®) as an add-on to antidepressant medication for the treatment of persistent depressive symptoms in adults: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study”

DOI: 10.1177/0269881119867703

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