4 Promising Science-Backed Benefits Of Saffron For Parkinson’s

saffron for parkinsons

Name: Saffron, Crocus sativus
Active Compounds: Crocin, Safranal, Picrocrocin
Goes well with: Turmeric (Curcumin)
Number of scientific references: 41
Level of Evidence: Level I What is this?

Note: Saffron has anti-Parkinson’s effect as evidenced by pre-clinical studies; crocin and safranal improve dopamine levels and protect dopaminergic cells. It helps as an antioxidant and neuroprotective agent. Further research in human studies is required to confirm its efficacy.

Saffron or Crocus sativus is the world’s most expensive spice; it’s global annual production is 205 tons. In Iran, it is referred to as ‘Red Gold’, and 80% of the global harvest of this spice originates here.

It is cultivated in Europe and Asia, but most of the produce comes from Iran, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Turkey, Spain and Afghanistan. It tastes bitter but offers a lovely aroma and a bright yellow-orange colour to foods.

Traditionally it is used as an antispasmodic, expectorant, carminative, sedative, aphrodisiac, emmenagogue, to treat stomach aches, as an antidote etc. Today research has demonstrated multiple pharmacological properties of saffron: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, anti-nociceptive, anti-cancer, hypotensive, memory enhancer etc.

The principal constituents of saffron that offer these medicinal properties are:

  • Crocin- the compound that offers saffron its characteristic colour
  • Picrocrocin- the compound that offers bitter taste
  • Safranal- the volatile fraction that is responsible for the aroma

As per pre-clinical studies, saffron and its active constituents help in Parkinson’s disease by preventing alpha-synuclein deposits in the brain, improving dopamine levels, preventing dopaminergic cell death and reducing oxidative stress. Saffron also benefits as a natural neuroprotective in Parkinson’s.

These findings are limited to animal studies and still need to be proven in human studies. Saffron is proven to be therapeutic in clinical trials on Alzheimer’s disease, and these findings bind promise for its efficacy in other neurodegenerative disorders.

Suggested Saffron Supplements For Parkinson’s

Please consult a health practitioner before taking any health supplements.

Suggested Saffron Supplements For Parkinson’s

Please consult a health practitioner before taking any health supplements.

Saffron teas

saffron strandsConsuming saffron tea on a regular basis may aid in the prevention of neurodegenerative disease. Few of saffron’s active compounds are water soluble.

You can purchase saffron strands and infuse its extract in water or milk to prepare tea, or you can buy readymade saffron teas.

 

Some popular saffron tea brands are:

  • Krocus Kozanis Herbal Tea: It contains 1.1% Greek saffron,cinnamon and clove. (Buy from Amazon)
  • Vahdam Saffron Premium Spiced Black Tea: It contains saffron, cinnamon, clove, cardamom and almonds.(Buy from Amazon)
  • Taja Tea Saffron Tea: It contains cardamom and saffron.  (Buy from Amazon)

Saffron Supplements

If you are advised saffron supplements by a herbalist or a health practitioner well versed in natural medicine, then please go through the brands listed below.There are many saffron supplements available in the market that target weight loss and appetite control.

I was looking for saffron supplements designed for brain health, and those that contain only the spice in the right dose and not other herbs and these are what I found.

I will update the list when I come across new formulations.

Paradise Herbs Saffr-Tone The Naked Pharmacy SaffroSun
saffron supplement 1

Image credit:Paradise Herbs

saffron supplement2

Image credit: The Naked Pharmacy

These contain Saffr-Tone TM saffron extracts that are standardised to 2% safranal.

They are 100% vegetarian capsules with no fillers or allergens.

These contain Saffrosun® which is saffron extract containing a minimum of 3.5% of Lepticrosalides. Lepticrosalides is the term used to describe a combination of Crocin, Saffranal, Picrocrocin.

Additionally, they contain Vitamins B6, B12 and D3, which are essential for brain health.

Buy from Amazon

Buy from iHerb

Buy from Amazon

4 Promising Proven Benefits Of Saffron For Parkinson’s

Let’s go over the research studies that depict the various promising benefits of saffron in Parkinson’s disease.

1.It reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain

Saffron is known for its potent antioxidant action. Recently, researchers from CSIR-Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore demonstrated saffron’s action of mitigating oxidative stress in Parkinson’s.

In a fly model of Parkinson’s, saffron extract and crocin reduced death rate and ameliorated impairment of movement or locomotion. They reduced levels of oxidative stress markers.

The spice restored antioxidant defences to normal by elevating antioxidant enzyme levels.

Mitochondria are energy-producing units of the cells, and mitochondrial dysfunction is observed in Parkinson’s. The spice extract helped normalise mitochondrial function.

Increase in acetylcholinesterase activity initiates the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and this contributes to impaired memory and dementia. Saffron extract reduced this increase in acetylcholinesterase activity and improved dopamine levels to normalise acetylcholine function.

The extract delayed the onset of locomotor deficits and extended lifespan of the flies. Researchers concluded that saffron’s antioxidant action is responsible for its protective action in Parkinson’s.

Skladnev et al. conducted this interesting study highlighting saffron’s potential to prevent Parkinson’s. The animals were pre-conditioned to receive the spice extracts in water 2, 5 and ten days before being exposed to a neurotoxin that causes Parkinson’s like symptoms.

The five-day pre-treatment with Crocus sativus proved to be the best therapeutic mode. It helped protect from neurotoxicity and prevented cell death of dopaminergic brain cells in parts of the brain that control movement.

The researchers observed that dietary inclusion of saffron activates molecular pathways and certain genes that are neuroprotective or protect brain health from diseases.

In fact, the spice altered various aspects of the brain’s genetic material to confer such protection. Now that’s pretty amazing!

Safranal is one of the constituents of the spice that protects from Parkinson’s disease by suppressing formation of harmful reactive oxygen species that cause oxidative damage and by preventing cell death.

Crocin present in the spice is proven to protect the ‘molecular machinery’ from being damaged in Parkinson’s. It prevents mitochondrial dysfunction, preserves ATP or energy production and halts cellular events that activate cell death pathways.

High oxidative stress levels can pave the way for inflammation. Inflammation or neuroinflammation is the key feature of Parkinson’s pathophysiology.

Crocin and its derivative crocetin have anti-inflammatory property. They reduce inflammatory processes and prevent them from activating microglia or immune cells in the brain, which otherwise would lead to cell death of neurons.

Quick Gist: Saffron extracts elevate the level of antioxidant enzymes and strengthen antioxidant defences in the brain to mitigate Parkinson’s disease symptoms. It improves dopamine levels, prevents locomotor deficits and prevents cell death of neurons.

Crocin and safranal are the active ingredients present in the spice that contribute to this effect. Crocin also reduces neuroinflammation.

Dietary saffron may activate certain genes that protect brain health and aid in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s.

2.Saffron protects brain health and mediates anti-Parkinsonian effect

Saffron and its active constituent crocin help prevent locomotor deficits which are the major symptom of Parkinson’s disease. (Neurotoxicology, 2016)

Aggregation of protein structures in the brain is the hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases. The abnormal accumulation of proteins triggers inflammatory processes and leads to neuronal damage.

Research suggests that both crocin and safranal prevent the formation of such abnormal protein aggregates; crocin is more effective in this aspect.

Since saffron is proven to inhibit beta-amyloid aggregation in Alzheimer’s,  researchers at Tokyo Research Center, Kyushin Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. Japan, decided to investigate its effect of alpha-synuclein.

Abnormal aggregation of alpha-synuclein protein occurs in Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

Saffron dose-dependently reduced aggregation of the alpha-synuclein protein. Crocin and its natural derivative crocetin mediated these effects and crocetin was the most potent anti-aggregating agent.

Crocetin mediates an anti-parkinsonian effect by increasing levels of antioxidant enzymes as well as dopamine levels. It protects the neurons from the deleterious changes occurring in Parkinson’s.

Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that is of interest when it comes to Parkinson’s treatment. Death of dopamine-related or dopaminergic brain cells contributes to impaired movement and locomotion symptoms.

Researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia have found that pre-treatment with Crocus sativus helps in saving dopaminergic cells from Parkinson’s insult. In the study, the spice extract prevented reduction of dopaminergic cells by 25-30%.

In a recent study published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 2017, it was observed that crocin protects from the Parkinson’s like symptoms caused by pesticide, malathion. Alone or in combination with levodopa, the spice improved antioxidant defences and reduced inflammation to prevent locomotor deficits.

Quick Gist: Saffron’s active constituents crocin and safranal help reduce Parkinson’s symptoms in multiple ways: by improving antioxidant defences, increasing dopamine levels, preventing accumulation of protein deposits in the brain and preventing the death of dopaminergic cells.

Crocin even protects from the toxicity of environmental pollutants which can cause Parkinson’s like symptoms.

3.It is a natural neuroprotective agent that protects the ageing brain

Saffron mediates its neuroprotective property primarily by boosting cellular antioxidant defences. By reducing oxidative stress, it can help protect memory and cognition.

In Parkinson’s disease, it improves dopamine levels, reduces inflammation and protects dopaminergic neurons from cell death.

Environmental toxins and heavy metal exposure lead to neurotoxicity (toxicity of nervous system). Experimental studies demonstrate that the spice protects from such toxicity by regulating neurotransmitters and increasing levels of antioxidant enzymes.

Including saffron in diet can activate genes that offer neuroprotection and aid in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.

It even protects the brain from age-related changes. By activating antioxidant enzymes, it protects the brain from age-related oxidative damage. (Recent Patents on Food, Nutrition & Agriculture, 2017)

The antioxidant activity of the spice also contributes to memory enhancement in ageing. Rajaei and colleagues have proven that crocin works as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent in the hippocampus (part of the brain dealing with memory) and improves memory in Parkinson’s.

Quick Gist: Saffron’s natural neuroprotective action helps in prevention of Parkinson’s disease. It can also help prevent neuronal cell death and serve as an effective adjunct to conventional therapy for protecting brain health in neurodegenerative diseases.

The spice also protects the brain from age-related changes and enhances memory.

4.Saffron can prevent mood-related disturbances

Mood disorders can occur at early and late stages of Parkinson’s disease; alterations in dopamine levels may cause mood disturbances.

Aqueous extracts of saffron regulate levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate to mediate antidepressant effect.

Talaei et al. conducted a study to assess the effect of crocin (from Crocus sativus) on major depressive disorder. 40 patients with major depressive disorder were enrolled in the study.

One group was treated with one SSRI and 30mg crocin per day while the placebo group was treated with SSRI and a placebo. The study lasted for four weeks.

It was observed that the crocin treatment improved the antidepressant action of the SSRIs and brought a better reduction in symptom score than SSRI treatment alone.

A recent study published in Pharmacopsychiatry, 2017 reported that saffron is as effective as citalopram in reducing depressive and anxiety related symptoms.

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is a protein that is vital for development and survival of neurons. Reduced BDNF levels correlate with cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease.

Crocus sativus extracts are proven to increase BDNF levels and thus exerts an antidepressant and memory-enhancing effect.

These medicinal properties of the spice can help reduce mood disturbances in Parkinson’s disease.

Quick Gist: Saffron is an effective and safe natural antidepressant; it is as effective as conventional antidepressants in reducing depressive and anxiety symptoms. Its ability to regulate neurotransmitters and neurotrophins (proteins that protect neurons) can help prevent mood disturbances in Parkinson’s.

Dosage of Saffron For Parkinson’s

Since there have been no human studies assessing the effect of saffron in Parkinson’s disease there is no exact dose of the spice prescribed for the same. Other studies on neurodegenerative disorders and mood disorders have used 15mg of saffron extract or capsules twice a day.

Saffron can be included in the diet as well. Soak a few strands of saffron in water or milk, and you can use the extract while preparing meals. You can purchase saffron strands and infuse them in black tea for your homemade saffron tea.

Precautions with Saffron Use

Dietary use of saffron is safe. It’s active constituents crocin and safranal are proven to be non-toxic. Purchase good quality saffron; do not confuse with Indian saffron or American saffron.

Doses up to 1.2g are found to be safe in clinical studies. Doses higher than 1200mg can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding.

A dose of 200-400mg of the Crocus sativus extract was reported to cause uterine bleeding in two women. Doses of 5g and above can be toxic.

The most common side effects of saffron supplementation are a headache, nausea, anxiety and changes in appetite. Other lesser-known side effects are sedation, sweating, tremor, hypomania, insomnia.

Prolonged supplementation with the spice (26 weeks) was found to cause sedation, hypomania, drop in blood pressure and change in appetite in patients with male infertility.

Please consult a health practitioner before taking saffron supplements.

Conclusion

The neuroprotection offered by saffron can assist in the prevention of Parkinson’s disease. The spice improves dopamine levels, boosts antioxidant defences, prevents dopaminergic cell death to reduce Parkinson’s symptoms.

It also has a memory-enhancing effect and can alleviate mood disturbances. It can activate genes to protect the brain.

However, these findings need to be confirmed by human studies. Also, further research is required to understand long-term safety of the spice.

Despite certain evidence that have noted side effects with high dose saffron use, researchers state that the spice has a good short-term safety profile and is safer than conventional medicines for brain disorders.

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