Saffron has the distinction of being the most expensive spice in the world because of the labor involved in harvesting it. However, it also is known for helping women maneuver through some of their perimenopause and menopause symptoms. Here are some things you should know about this exotic spice.
What is saffron?
The crimson threads of saffron you can buy have been harvested by hand from the saffron crocus, or Crocus sativus flower. The term “saffron” refers to the thread-like structures, or stigma, of the flowers, which must be plucked by hand. That’s why one pound of saffron can cost between $500 and $5,000.
Saffron contains a number of antioxidants that have been identified as providing numerous health benefits, including an ability to help manage emotional and mental health issues and symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. The compound crocin is among the most bioactive, but the spice also provides crocetin, kaempferol, and safranal.
Saffron and menopause symptoms
Many of the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause are the same as those assigned to premenstrual syndrome (PMS); namely, food cravings, irritability, anxiety, depression, headache, and pain. Could saffron come to the rescue?
Several studies indicate that it can. In a placebo-controlled trial, women were assigned to take either 30 mg saffron daily or a placebo. Those who took the saffron experienced more relief from irritability, pain, food cravings, and headaches than those in the placebo group.
The healing qualities of saffron appear to extend to its aroma as well. One research team found that breathing in the aroma of saffron for 20 minutes helped reduce anxiety and lowered cortisol levels (and thus stress), two common issues in the menopause years.
Unwanted weight and abdominal fat are two more symptoms of concern in menopause, and saffron may help. In an eight-week study, women who took a saffron extract supplement showed a significant reduction in appetite, waist circumference, total fat mass, and body mass index (BMI).
Saffron, mood, and brain health
Mood swings, anxiety, stress, depression, memory problems, brain fog—sound familiar? The menopause years can take a toll on our brain and mental health. Saffron may help. After all, Daniel G. Amen, MD, author of Memory Rescue: Supercharge Your Brain, Reverse Memory Loss, and Remember What Matters Most, has called saffron “nature’s antidepressant.”
In a five-study review involving 2 placeboes and 3 antidepressant studies, for example, saffron supplements were significantly more effective than placebo in managing mild-to-moderate depression. In the three studies that compared saffron with antidepressants, the spice and the drugs provided similar benefits in reducing depression symptoms.
In another review, investigators evaluated how saffron fared in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions. They noted that “saffron and its active constituents possess antidepressant properties similar to those of current antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine, imipramine, and citalopram, but with fewer reported side effects.”
Saffron and especially its most active component, crocin, have also been found to help prevent spatial learning and memory impairment related to chronic stress, according to an animal study.
Saffron has demonstrated that it can help relieve symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, including those that affect emotional and mental health, such as stress, depression, memory, and anxiety. When using saffron supplements, follow package directions or consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider.