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Some doctors and alternative medical practitioners recommend the spice saffron for depression relief. Why would saffron help?
One theory is that saffron supports, even helps heal the digestive system, and most neurotransmitters are manufactured in the digestive tract. Healthy intestines will naturally produce more mood-lifting neurotransmitters.
Studies on saffron for depression are scarce, but they indicate it is effective for mild to moderate depressive symptoms and may help with severe ones. In one double-blind study pitting saffron against Prozac, 60 clinically depressed people took either saffron or Prozac for six weeks. The drop in symptoms over the six-week period was significant and nearly identical for both substances.
Although saffron is an expensive spice, reputable brand supplements of whole ground saffron start at around $10.00 for a bottle of 60 capsules. (It is always a good idea to check with your doctor or psychiatrist before adding supplements to your treatment regimen.)
Saffron, or Crocus sativus, is part of the iris plant family. It is mentioned in the writings of early physicians such as Hippocrates as a treatment for stomach problems, colds and coughs, heart trouble, insomnia, and scarlet fever.
This Persian spice is pricey because it is cultivated and harvested today as it was centuries ago. Village women remove three saffron stigmas or “threads” from each flower and it takes 50,000 to 75,000 flowers to create a pound of saffron spice. Fortunately, in an airtight container it remains fresh several years.
The first use of saffron by humans might have been to dye cloth. Just one grain of saffron can turn ten gallons of water yellow. The distinctive orange robes of Buddhist monks are colored by Saffron. Most of us in the West are familiar with saffron as a pungent kitchen spice.
An ounce of saffron provides 400 percent of our daily requirement for manganese, plus the following:
These nutrients are important for calcium absorption, blood glucose regulation, carbohydrate metabolism, fighting infection, fluid balance, healthy sex hormones, and tissue formation. However, most recipes require an eighth to a half teaspoon of saffron. It is unlikely we would consume an ounce at one meal. Still, it is an impressive and intriguing spice.
Note: If you plan to purchase saffron, watch out for pretenders. Indian safflower (or compositae) and “meadow saffron” (Colchicum autumnale) are saffron look-a-likes but have different chemical qualities.
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