Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the "saffron crocus.” The red gold threads are collected and dried and commonly used as a seasoning and coloring agent in food.
However, new research suggests saffron may prove itself beyond flavor and looks.
Saffron and sleep
According to Consumer Reports, 27% of the 4,023 US adults they surveyed said they had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights. The survey also found 68% —or an estimated 164 million Americans—struggled with sleep at least once a week.
“This is a serious issue as poor sleep quality can have a negative impact on both mental and physical health and can interfere with daily function,” said lead researcher Dr. Adrian Lopresti, who has studied saffron.
Lopresti previously studied saffron’s effects on mild-to-moderate depression when he stumbled upon another finding.
“Our previous research showed saffron was an effective add-on to pharmaceutical antidepressants in patients experiencing mild-to-moderate depression. Because many of these people reported improvements in their sleep, in this study we focused on healthy adults who were generally medication-free but had experienced poor sleep lasting greater than four weeks.”
With that in mind, new research from Murdoch University suggests that poor sleepers may have a solution in the form of saffron extract.
“Poor sleep quality is known to pose significant health implications, disrupting mental and physical wellbeing and interfering with daily function. This represents a huge market for Affron® and one step ahead for the sleep improvement market category, which demands safe ingredients with no side effects associated, green label and trusted origin and proof of efficacy,” Julia Diaz, head of marketing for Pharmactive, told NutraIngredients-USA.
The research was funded by Pharmactive Biotech Products – the manufacturer of Affron, the saffron extract product.
The new research, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, was a 28-day, parallel-group, double-blind, randomized controlled trial. Fifty-five healthy adults aged 18 to 70 with self-reported sleep problems were randomized to receive either saffron extract (affron, 14mg twice daily) or a placebo.
At the time of the study, the volunteers were not being treated for depression, considered physically-healthy, medication-free for at least four weeks (with the exception of contraceptive pill) and had self-reported symptoms of poor sleep.
The subjects rated their sleep using the standardized Insomnia Severity Index (ISI)
Lopresti said the results reveal standardized saffron extract improved sleep quality in adults with self-reported poor sleep, with most of these improvements happening in the first week of treatment.
"In addition to the improved sleep, the study showed that saffron was well tolerated with no reported adverse effects," Lopresti said.
More research needed
While the mechanisms in which saffron improves insomnia aren’t entirely understood, the findings are promising. The research team said further studies using a larger sample size and differing populations are needed.
“Our early research is indeed positive and there is evidence that taking a standardized saffron extract is associated with improvements in sleep quality,” said Lopresti.
“Further studies using larger samples sizes, treatment periods, objective outcome measures, and volunteers with varying demographic and psychographic characteristics are required to replicate and extend these findings.”
Julia Diaz, Marketing Manager of Pharmactive, told NutraIngredients last fall that the saffron market isn’t very big because it is a relatively new market, but it targets some of the largest categories in the US: mood enhancement, anxiety reduction and sleep.
A report by Future Market Insights projects that rising demand for plant-based natural ingredients is driving the saffron consumption. In 2016, more than $200 million worth of saffron threads were consumed across the US, China, Iran, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and the UK.
By the end of 2026, over $90 million worth of saffron powder is expected to be consumed by Americans alone.
Source: Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine
Feb 14, 2020 https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.8376
“Effects of Saffron on Sleep Quality in Healthy Adults With Self-Reported Poor Sleep: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial”
Authors: A. Lopresti et al.