Saffron – The Breakdown
Saffron, the dried red stigma from the Crocus Sativa flower, offers a myriad of potential health benefits, including support for the immune system. (1) Saffron has many important components that contribute to these healthful effects, including over 150 volatile compounds, carotenoids, and vitamins. (1)
Bioactive Constituents - The main bioactive compounds of saffron are crocin, crocetin, and safran, and these constituents have been shown to protect the immune system, and have anti-inflammatory properties. (1) Numerous studies have shown that these compounds have antioxidant effects and can assist the immune system in various disorders associated with inflammation, oxidative stress, and immune system imbalance. (2)
Carotenoids - Carotenoids are the yellow, orange and red pigments that give certain foods their colours, as is present in saffron. They have proven antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunological properties, and several studies have confirmed carotenoids as useful in disease management. (2) In fact, most of the pharmacological benefits of saffron are associated with the presence of carotenoids. (2)
Other Elements - Saffron is rich in other vital macro and micro elements including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, copper, iron, zinc and manganese. (3) It also contains important vitamins such as vitamin A, folic acid (B9), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and vitamin C. (3)
Safety profile of Saffron
The safety profile of saffron is favourable, with only minimal, well-tolerated side-effects being recorded in some studies. (1) These include dry mouth, dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, daytime drowsiness, constipation and sweating. (1) In most study participants, even at 100mg of saffron per day there were no recorded side effects. In general, up to 1.5 grams per day is considered safe to take, and is more than was needed for therapeutic effect. (1)
Saffron - Immune support, and how it all works
Many recent studies have shown that saffron consumption is positively associated with a decreased risk for various diseases, mainly thanks to the carotenoid constituent. (2) There is plenty of evidence that inflammation and the immune system play a very important role in the development of certain diseases; including cancer, metabolic syndrome, asthma, allergy, atherosclerosis, and neurodegenerative disease; and an increasing body of evidence supports the existence of immunoregulatory properties in saffron. (1) Saffron has the ability to regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation through modulation of innate immunity (neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells), and acquired immunity (inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, B cells, and Th1/Th2 balance). (2)
There is clear evidence that saffron consumption can decrease the pro-inflammatory responses, such as IL-6, TNFa and IL-1b, with multiple studies confirming saffron’s anti-inflammatory effects in the cytokine pathways. (1) Saffron consumption has also been shown to diminish oxidative damage, helping to fight infections and inflammation, and performing as a free radical scavenger. (2, 3) Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, leading to disease, and therefore this is an important immune-supporting capability of saffron. (2)
With these confirmed antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties emerging from the research, saffron can be considered an effective treatment for many disorders. (2) Research supports the use of saffron for the treatment of disorders including, but not limited to, asthma, bronchitis, colds, fever, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, and coronary heart diseases, but also as a preventative compound to help lower the risk of developing future disease. (2)
1. Zeinali M, Zirak MR, Rezaee SA, Karimi G, Hosseinzadeh H. Immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory properties of Crocus sativus (Saffron) and its main active constituents: A review. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences. 2019;22(4):334-44.
2. Boskabady MH, Farkhondeh T. Antiinflammatory, Antioxidant, and Immunomodulatory Effects of Crocus sativus L. and its Main Constituents. Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2016;30(7):1072-94.
3. Qadir S, Bashir S, John R. Chapter 15 - Saffron—Immunity System. In: Sarwat M, Sumaiya S, editors. Saffron: Academic Press; 2020. p. 177-92.