The 'promising' role of saffron in stress resilience

By Olivia Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Zhak YaroslavPhoto
Getty Images / Zhak YaroslavPhoto

Related tags stress stress management saffron

New research conducted in partnership with botanical product manufacturer Pharmactive reveals that its standardized saffron extract Affron was able to normalise HPA axis dysregulation following chronic mild stress stimulation in a rat model.

In addition, levels of adrenocorticotropic and corticosterone hormones involved in the stress response were significantly reduced in the Affron group compared to rats exposed to stress only.

“These findings scientifically confirm the efficacy of Affron in improving occasional stress and anxiety, paving the way for the development of new natural supplements in line with current market trends,” Carlos Rodriguez, communication manager at Pharmactive, told NutraIngredients. “Secondly, the mechanism of action detailed in the study provides a deeper understanding of how Affron's active components interact at the biological level, which may serve to improve the efficacy and safety of existing products and encourage innovation in the formulation of new supplements."

He added that this research, published in the journal Nutrients​, may increase the confidence and scientific perception of cognitive health supplements among both consumers and health professionals, promoting their acceptance and use for cognitive health.

Nutrition and chronic stress

In an era where chronic stress has become an alarming public health concern, there is a need for sustainable, long-term solutions to meet the growing prevalence of mental health conditions. Exposure to diverse stressors over long periods can result in a cascade of adverse physiological and psychological responses, resulting in the progression of conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as cognitive and emotional impairments.

Stress resilience is crucial to the management of stressors and preventing the development of chronic health issues, with allostasis playing in key role in this process. This involves the active maintenance of stability via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

There has been significant interest in the use of natural remedies for stress management, including saffron (Crocus sativus Linn​), which has a long history of use as a therapeutic due to its bioactive content including crocin, safranal and crocetin. Extensive research supports its anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-obesity activities.

Specifically, Affron has previously demonstrated significant benefits for mood modulation, stress reduction and mental well-being. The present research sought to investigate the mechanism of action behind the extract’s effects and the potential effects on the HPA axis to improve resilience to chronic stress.

Study details

The researchers used the unpredictable CMS animal model to investigate the effects of Affron on the HPA axis regulation in 40 Wistar rats. Hypothalamic gene expression, stress hormone and sucrose levels were assessed using the sucrose preference test (SPT) following the repeated administration of Affron at dosages of 100 mg/kg and 200 mg/kg.

The study reported that at both dosages, the HPA axis was normalised and neuroplasticity was enhanced as shown by increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), with greater efficacy noted with the higher concentration Affron.

In addition, the researchers observed significant or near significant reductions in levels of adrenocorticotropic and corticosterone hormone, further suggesting stress alleviation and HPA axis normalisation following Affron consumption. The rats also lost interest in sugar during stress stimulation, an effect which was reversed following supplementation, the study noted.

"Chronic or excessive activation of the HPA axis and prolonged elevation of these hormones can contribute to the maladaptative response called allostatic overload—a state of cumulative strain wherein the body and mind get overwhelmed by constant anxiety or challenges, but don’t have the time to recover," explained Inés Morán, PhD, scientific studies manager at Pharmactive. "Beyond the mental overload, it can contribute to various health problems, such as metabolic diseases and accelerate long-term wear and tear on the body’s systems."

Rodriguez highlighted that the findings build on the growing body of research backing saffron's anti-stress properties, including six published studies by Pharmactive, and provide further information on the mechanisms of action explaining the stress modulatory effect.

“Through ongoing research, we are unearthing more about saffron’s benefits on cognitive well-being and its mechanisms of action," he said. "We are realizing these extend beyond influencing serotonin expression but actually demonstrates a potential to boost resilience to chronic stress and prevent its detrimental impact on overall mental and physical health."


Source: Nutrients
doi: 10.3390/nu15234855
“Effects of Saffron Extract (Affron®) with 100 mg/kg and 200 mg/kg on Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal Axis and Stress Resilience in Chronic Mild Stress-Induced Depression in Wistar Rat”
Authors: Chae-Young Kim et al.

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