Crocin & Saffron for Women’s Health

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Women have some unique health issues. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is one of the most common problems for women during their reproductive age. PMS includes physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms that occur during the luteal phase of every menstrual cycle and usually disappears quickly, a few days after the beginning of menstrual bleeding. Around 80-90% of women experience PMS before menstrual bleeding. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), or sertraline (Zoloft), are the first line treatment for PMS. However, these drug treatments usually cause various side-effects including sleep problems, weakness, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, etc. Many menopausal women are challenged by decreases in energy, mood, cognitive function, and memory. With increasing age, women also face increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Some health issues that happen in both men and women can affect women differently. Evidence suggests that women are more prone than men to have anxiety, depression, and some complaints that are unable to be explained medically. There is also an approximately 2:1 ratio of women to men among Alzheimer’s disease patients. Studies in recent years indicate that some of the traditionally used herbs and their active constituents may offer as a safe, effective and natural alternative to help women with many of their challenging health issues.

Saffron (Crocus Sativus L), one of the most expensive spices and medical herbs treasured by the Royal, Nobles and Riches for thousand years, is gaining new attraction due to its wonderful health benefits. Human clinical studies in recent years are revealing “miracle” effects of this spice and, particularly, its main active constituent crocin. Crocin is identified as the secret ingredient that endowed saffron with such amazing health effects1. Although majority of human studies were carried out with saffron so far, the number of clinical studies with crocin is increasing and demonstrating its multi-target effects.

Since 2000, more than 20 randomized clinical studies have reported saffron effects on depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. Studies evaluated saffron effects on depression, depression associated with coronary artery disease, breastfeeding mothers, post-menopausal women with clinical diagnosis of hot flashes, etc2-5. Findings of these clinical studies support that saffron (30-100mg/day) is a safe and effective treatment for depression and anxiety with similar antidepressant properties to those of current antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine, imipramine and citalopram, but with fewer reported side effects.  Saffron intervention also improved hot flashes in post-menopausal healthy women5. Since 2015, crocin (30mg/day) from saffron was found in 4 clinical studies as a treatment or adjunctive treatment to effectively improve depression and quality of life6-9.

In recent years, saffron (30mg/day) treatment was also found in clinical studies to significantly improve severity of PMS symptoms10,11 and sexual dysfunction in women12, 13. Pre-supplementation of saffron (30mg/day) was found to reduce inflammatory and lipid peroxidation markers induced by intensive exercise in sedentary women14. Since 2010, four (4) clinical studies evaluated the effects of saffron on patients with mild cognitive impairments (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease1. Saffron treatment at 30-125mg/day resulted significant improvements in memory, cognition and brain functions. Treatment with saffron (30mg/day) resulted improvements comparable to standard medications such as donepezil (Aricept) or memantine (Namenda), but with fewer reported side effects in patients with Alzheimer’s. In the one-year study of saffron (125mg/day) in patients with MCI, the treatment significantly improved cognitive scores, brain activities, and brain structure16. Through volumetric MRI analysis, a small volume increase in an area close to medial temporal lobe and hippocampus was observed after the one-year treatment, a possibility of enhanced brain cell regeneration in the critical area of the brain still need to be further confirmed. More recently, clinical studies found supplementation of saffron provide strong preventive effects in pain, ischemic stroke, age-related macular degeneration, delay onset of muscle soreness against eccentric exercise, improve quality of sleep, reduce anxiety and fatigue, etc. With the growing clinical evidence published in scientific journals, saffron and particularly the active constituent crocin seem to be a great choice of natural remedy for women’s health.

That said, it is wise to differentiate saffron from “saffron extract” products on the market:

  • As one of the most expensive spices/herbs, currently, 1 gram of saffron costs $11.89 at Costco. Saffron is a well known a subject of high frequent adulation since the Middle-Age. Quality of saffron and content of crocin also vary significantly.
  • Because crocin is the secret and main active constituent that gives saffron these amazing and multi-target effects, products with high crocin content are recommended.
  • If a bottle of “Saffron Extract” is priced at $12 to $30 and offers 50-60 capsules with each capsule containing 88.5mg “saffron extract” or Satiereal”, it could mean the product offers far less a content of saffron. Can a bottle contain 4.4 - 5.28g of the material be priced much lower than saffron? In facts, “saffron extract” or “Satiereal” is a highly diluted ingredient and doesn’t match the effects of saffron itself according to its research publications17,18.

Crocin, the only water-soluble carotenoid in nature and one of the most potent antioxidant and anti-inflammation agents, is clinically studied and found to improve age-related eye disease19, burning mouth syndrome, prooxidant-antioxidant balance in subjects with metabolic syndrome20. The number of clinical studies with crocin is expected to grow significantly in coming years, that will further prove its multi-target health effects.

Other herbs or dietary ingredients, such as curcumin and piperine, have similarly been indicated in studies to provide beneficial effects. Under special formulation with multiple natural ingredients, they could potentially exert synergistic effects for women’s health.

Reference:

  1. Finley JW & Gao S. (2017) Perspective on Crocus sativus L. (Saffron) Constituent Crocin: A Potent Water-Soluble Antioxidant and Potential Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2017, 65, 1005−1020.
  2. Marx W, et al. (2019) Effect of saffron supplementation on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews, 2019, 77(8): 557–571.
  3. Tóth B, et al. (2019) The Efficacy of Saffron in the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Depression: A Meta-analysis. Planta Med 2019; 85: 24–31.
  4. Shafiee M, et al. (2018) Saffron in the treatment of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders: Current evidence and potential mechanisms of action. Journal of Affective Disorders 2018, 227: 330–337.
  5. Kashani L, et al. (2018) Efficacy of Crocus sativus (saffron) in treatment of major depressive disorder associated with post‑menopausal hot flashes: adouble‑blind, randomized, placebo‑controlled trial. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics 2018, 297(3): 717–724.
  6. Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2015, 174: 51–56.
  7. Abedimanesh N, et al (2017) Effects of Saffron Aqueous Extract and Its Main Constituent, Crocin, on Health-Related Quality of Life, Depression, and Sexual Desire in Coronary Artery Disease Patients: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Clinical Trial. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2017; 19(9): e13676.
  8. Jam IN, et al (2017) The effects of crocin on the symptoms of depression in subjects with metabolic syndrome. Adv Clin Exp Med. 2017, 26(6): 925–930
  9. Khalatbari-mohseni A, et al. (2019) The effects of crocin on psychological parameters in patients under methadone maintenance treatment: a randomized clinical trial. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. 2019, 14: 9
  10. Agha-Hosseini M, et al (2008) Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG. 2008, 115(4): 515-9.
  11. Beiranvand SP, et al. (2016) The effect of Crocus sativus (saffron) on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Eur J Inte Med. 2016, 8(1): 55-61.
  12. Kashani L, et al. (2013) Saffron for treatment of fluoxetine‐induced sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double‐blind placebo‐controlled study. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. 2013, 28(1): 54-60.
  13. Rahmati M, et al (2017) The effect of saffron on sexual dysfunction in women of reproductive age. Nurs Pract Today. 2017, 4(3): 154-163.
  14. Hosseinzadeh M, et al. (2017) Pre-supplementation of Crocus sativus Linn (saffron) attenuates inflammatory and lipid peroxidation markers induced by intensive exercise in sedentary women. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science 2017, 7(5): 147-151.
  15. Asadollahi M, et al. (2019) Protective properties of the aqueous extract of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in ischemic stroke, randomized clinical trial. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Available online 23 March 2019, 111833
  16. Tsolaki M, et al. (2016) Efficacy and Safety of Crocus sativus L. in Patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment: One Year Single-Blind Randomized, with Parallel Groups, Clinical Trial. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2016; 54: 129–133.
  17. Gout B, et al. (2010) Satiereal, a Crocus sativus L extract, reduces snacking and increases satiety in a randomized placebo-controlled study of mildly overweight, healthy women. Nutrition Research, 2010, 30: 305–313
  18. Gonzalez AM, et al. (2018) Effect of Multi-Ingredient Supplement Containing Satiereal, Naringin, and Vitamin D on Body Composition, Mood, and Satiety in Overweight Adults. J Diet Suppl. 2018, 15(6): 965-976.
  19. Sepahi S, et al. (2018) Effects of Crocin on Diabetic Maculopathy: A Placebo-Controlled Randomized Clinical Trial. Am J Ophthalmol. 2018, 190: 89-98.
  20. Nikbakht-Jam I, et al. (2016) Effect of crocin extracted from saffron on pro-oxidant–anti-oxidant balance in subjects with metabolic syndrome: A randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. European Journal of Integrative Medicine 2016; 8(3): 307-312.

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