Saffron Benefits Uses And Side Effects

Saffron Benefits Uses And Side Effects


Popularly known as ‘red gold’, saffron is the most valuable spices in the world. It comes from the flower called Crocus Sativus. Saffron, as we known it, is actually the dried orange-red stigma of the crocus flower. The saffron plant is believed to have its origin in the Mediterranean area. Iran is the largest producer of saffron, accounting for more than 94% of the world’s total saffron production. In India, saffron is cultivated in Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, with Jammu & Kashmir being the largest producer of the plant in the country.


Harvesting saffron from the flower is a tedious task. Saffron is harvested only once in a span of a few years. 1 kg of saffron consists of approximately 1,60,000 to 1,70,000 tiny flowers. The intense labour required for the production of saffron makes it one of the most expensive spices in the world. The best saffron is recognized by its uniformly long threads and an all-red colour. Mixing saffron with water or any liquid gives the liquid a golden yellow colour, making it look rich and attractive.


The bright colour and sweet aroma of saffron can easily be picked out from various Mughlai recipes. Saffron is commonly used in the preparation of a number of Indian sweets, especially kheer and payasam to add extra flavour. It is also used for seasoning dishes such as biryani, cakes, and bread. Being an aromatic plant saffron is commonly used in perfumes and cosmetics. Saffron is known to have been used in China and India as a fabric dye and also as a sacred item, often being used for religious purposes


Saffron has been used in traditional, alternative systems of medicine for ages. It is rich in antioxidants and other plant-derived compounds which benefit the immune system and promote good health. They can also be used as antiseptics, digestives,  antidepressants and anticonvulsants due to their therapeutic properties. This spice is also rich in minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron and essential vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C etc.

Saffron Benefits Uses And Side Effects


Some basic facts about Saffron:


Botanical Name: Crocus sativus

Family: Iridaceae

Common Names: saffron, kesar, zafran

Sanskrit Name: केशरः (Kesara), कुङ्कुमति(Kunkumati)

Parts Used: The saffron spice sticks that we use come from the stigmas of the flower which are harvested by hand and then dried and stored for future usage.

Native region and geographical distribution: Saffron is believed to have its origin in Southwest Asia. Greece was the first to cultivate it. Later it spread to Eurasia, Latin America, and North Africa.

Interesting Fact: The first colour of the tricolour Indian flag is inspired by the colour of saffron.

  • Saffron nutrition facts
  • Saffron health benefits
  • Saffron side effects
  • Takeaway


Saffron nutrition facts

Saffron hosts a variety of essential minerals and vitamins. It is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and iron. Saffron is also high in vitamins such as vitamin A, B1, B2, B9 and C. Saffron has many plant-derived chemical components. Crocin, Crocetin and Safranal are the three main components of the spice that contribute to its colour, taste and aroma. 


As per the USDA Nutrient Database, 100 g of saffron provides the following nutrients:


Nutrients Value per 100 g

Water 11.9 g

Energy 310 kcal

Protein 11.43 g

Fat 5.85 g

Ash 5.45 g

Carbohydrate 65.37 g

Fibre 3.9 g

Minerals  

Calcium 111 mg

Iron 11.1 mg

Magnesium 264 mg

Phosphorus 252 mg

Potassium 1724 mg

Sodium 148 mg

Zinc 1.09 mg

Copper 0.328 mg

Manganese 28.408 mg

Selenium 5.6 µg

Vitamins  

Vitamin A 27 µg

Vitamin B1 0.115 mg

Vitamin B2 0.267 mg

Vitamin B3 1.46 mg

Vitamin B6 1.01 mg

Vitamin B9 93 µg

Vitamin C 80.8 mg

Fats/Fatty acids  

Saturated 1.586 g

Monounsaturated 0.429 g

Others  

Kaempferol 205.5 mg


Saffron health benefits

For immunity: Due to the presence of carotenoids, saffron has been evidenced to have a positive effect on individual immunity.

For athletes: Saffron helps to improve athletic performance and enhances muscle mass and strength.

For cholesterol: The use of saffron has been evidenced to reduce total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides’ levels.

For the brain: saffron has several compounds which make it a potential anti-depressant. It also helps to improve brain health and neuronal function aiding in the prevention of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

For stomach ulcers: Saffron aids in providing relief from stomach ulcers due to its antioxidant properties.

For the eyes: Saffron has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it great for the eyes. It helps in improving vision and helps in the protection of the eyes and prevention of age-related macular degeneration.

As anti-toxins: Saffron has several compounds which function as anti-toxins as they aid in the elimination of toxins from the body. It even has a potential against snake venom, pesticides and industrial toxins, thus working as an antidote.

  • Saffron benefits for immunity
  • Saffron for athletic performance
  • Saffron for cholesterol
  • Saffron for depression
  • Saffron prevents cancer
  • Saffron as an anti-toxin
  • Saffron for macular degeneration
  • Saffron for brain health
  • Saffron for stomach ulcers

Saffron benefits for immunity

Immunity system comprises several cells and natural compounds which protects our body from the invasion of harmful microorganisms and infections. So, a healthy immune system is essential to maintain optimal body functions. Research shows that saffron has a positive effect on immunity. This effect is attributed to the presence of carotenoids. A clinical study done on men who consumed 100 mg of saffron every day, for a period of 6 weeks, showed an increase in the number of white blood cells  (WBCs) which are responsible for eliminating pathogens from the body.



Saffron for athletic performance

Research indicates that saffron can help enhance the performance in athletes. In a clinical study, 28 athletes who consumed saffron every day reported a significant increase in physical force and reaction times.


Saffron also helped improve muscle strength in these athletes. Additionally, saffron was found to increase the flow of oxygen through the body which in turn enhanced performance.


Saffron for cholesterol

Cholesterol is needed for the production of new living cells but too much cholesterol in the body could increase the risk of heart diseases and stroke. According to research, the antioxidants and polyphenols present in saffron can help reduce the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body. A preclinical study, done for a period of six weeks, showed that the crocetin and crocin present in saffron can reduce the level of triglycerides and total cholesterol level (TC). Crocin also helped reduce the level of LDL cholesterol in the body by inhibiting the absorption of fat and cholesterol.


Saffron for depression

Depression is a mental disorder that is characterized by a feeling of sadness, loneliness and a lack of interest in simple day-day activities. Sometimes, these thoughts can even lead someone to commit suicide. Clinical studies indicate that saffron has the potential to act as an antidepressant. The mood-enhancing properties of saffron have been compared to popular antidepressants such as fluoxetine and imipramine. Several preclinical studies reveal that saffron extract contains compounds such as crocin and safranal that can act as effective antidepressants. An extract made from the petal of the saffron flowers can also help treat mild to moderate depression.


Saffron prevents cancer

Cancer is characterized by an abnormal growth of the body cells. In an extensive research on chemoprevention, scientists are now searching for natural sources such as plants, vegetables, and fruits with anti-cancer properties. Research indicates that saffron has a preventive action against various types of cancer such as stomach cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, cervical cancer and breast cancer. The anticancer properties of saffron are attributed to the presence of carotenoids such as crocin and crocetin. These carotenoids can inhibit the abnormal growth of cells and regulate normal cell growth.


Saffron as an anti-toxin

Toxins are substances that are either produced and collected naturally in the body or are procured from the outside. External toxins might result from different pesticides and insecticides. Processed foods, pollution, and chemical ingredients in the soaps and shampoos may also contribute to an elevated toxin levels in the body. Research indicates that the ingredients present in saffron can help remove these toxins out of the body.


Several preclinical studies have reported that crocin, crocetin and safranal can act against toxins including snake venoms. This is primarily attributed to the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiapoptotic properties (that can prevent cell death) of saffron plant. Safranal in saffron has the most toxicity and therefore can act as a potential antidote against several pesticides, chemical and industrial toxins.


Saffron for macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a serious eye disease that usually occurs in people after 50 years. This disease causes progressive vision loss by affecting the macula, a small portion near the centre of the retina. Saffron is rich in crocin and crocetin which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds help in protecting the eyes. Another clinical study done on patients with AMD showed that consuming tablets with saffron as one of the main ingredients showed a significant improvement in vision. These results hint that consumption of saffron could help protect the eyes and also prevent diseases such as AMD.


Saffron for brain health

Neurodegeneration refers to the condition wherein the neurons (brain cells) start to lose their function slowly. This condition can lead to many diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson's disease and memory loss. Studies indicate that saffron can be used to prevent neurodegenerative diseases. A clinical study done on 54 patients who suffered from mild to moderate AD showed improvement after consuming a small amount of saffron every day for a period of 22 weeks.


A preclinical study done to access the effect of crocin in saffron showed that crocin has a potential to treat AD and can help prevent cognitive disorders.


Saffron for stomach ulcers

Gastric ulcer is a sore that occurs in the lining of the stomach. It is often associated with a burning sensation the stomach, heartburn and nausea. Animal-based studies suggest that safranal and crocin components of saffron have antioxidant properties and are effective against the formation of gastric ulcers. A higher dose of crocin even completely prevented the occurrence of gastric ulcer. These results indicate that regular consumption of saffron could be helpful in the prevention and mitigation of the symptoms of gastric ulcer.


Saffron side effects

It is widely believed that daily consumption of saffron is good for your health. However, people who are allergic to saffron might have side effects such as nasal congestion, difficulty in breathing, nausea, and anxiety. Although these side effects are rarely seen, it is better to be cautious.

Though consumption of saffron was found to be beneficial in the last cycle of pregnancy, another study showed that women during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy have more chances of a miscarriage if they consumed saffron in large quantities. Uterine contraction and bleeding caused by saffron are considered to be the main factors for this effect.

Takeaway

Saffron has been in use for its health benefits and medicinal properties for ages. Extensive research has been done to study the health benefits of this spice and it has been shown to be highly effective against several disorders such as cancer, gastric ulcer, neurodegeneration and depression. Most of the health benefits of saffron are attributed to the presence of useful compounds such as crocin, crocetin and safranal. Saffron does not have too many side effects but some people could be allergic to it.

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