Menopause Doctor: Saffron for Insomnia, Anxiety + Depression

January 31, 2024

Menopause Doctor: Saffron for Insomnia, Anxiety + Depression

Dr. Nicole Sundene

Holistic Psychiatry & Women's Health

Menopausal women recently reported in a June 2023 study feeling happier on saffron! Did you know that saffron has repeatedly been proven as safe and effective for anxiety, insomnia, and depression?

The world’s most expensive spice is not only delicious but important medicine. Saffron costs about twenty dollars per gram because the harvesting process is extremely tedious and each flower only produces three threads of saffron.  Saffron is most commonly used in expensive and exotic dishes, Morrocan and East Indian cooking. The herbal medicinal components of saffron contain powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, beta carotene and mental health benefits! 

The stigma is actually the female reproductive part of the plant which is why its pigments are full of nutrition and antioxidants to attract bees, butterflies, and pollinators. After the crocus blooms the red stigmas come out shortly after. 

Saffron is a warming spice used in risotto, boulibasse, and paella that is plucked from the crocus flower. The saffron stigmas are then dried for use in cooking or as medicine. 

Since so many of my mental health patients have been asking me about saffron, I wanted to share the latest saffron research. We have two new research studies on saffron released in June of 2023! These studies again confirm that saffron made menopausal women happier, and was also safe and effective for anxiety and depression.

Ever since 2014 I have been using saffron on my patients, when I read the research study showing saffron as effective as Prozac for depression. Another study found saffron was safe and effective when combined with the common antidepressants Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa, and provided a mood boosting synergistic effect.  This is important because there is often grave concern in the holistic psychiatry community that too many medications or herbal supplements may cause "Serotonin Syndrome" which can cause dangerous High Blood Pressure. This did not happen with these medications plus saffron!

Researchers also found saffron was as effective as Ritalin for children with ADHD, with less side effects and potential for stunting of growth. When I worked in conventional medicine, we were always measuring kids on ADHD medications for fear the medication would stunt their growth, and it often did. So this is a good first option to try along with my "ADHD Diet" as oftentimes kids don't need us to kill a fly with a cannonball when they cannot concenterate or hold still, and something gentle and safe like saffron plus an omega-3 rich diet, and food trigger removal is all a lot of the kids I treat for ADHD need. Then I work with their psychiatrist to taper them down from their Adderall, Ritalin, or ADHD medication.

My own experimenting with saffron on many patiens has resulted in it being a totally beneficial and benign substance that lifts mood with little side effects. 

It is so safe that researchers used it in breastfeeding women with postpartum depression and found it to be a safe and effective natural antidepressant for depressed new moms. This is important in my women’s health practice as many new moms are depressed yet also terrified of taking a prescription drug while breastfeeding. In mild to moderate cases of postpartum depression saffron is safe and effective. As well as beneficial when combined with Zoloft in severe postpartum depression. Although most of my mom's need saffron, along with correcting hormone imbalance and nutritional deficiencies that occur postpartum as I discuss on that blog.

The worst thing that happens with saffron that I see happening in my practice is that patients decide they feel fine on saffron, are no longer depressed, and then mistakenly think they don't need to take it anymore. 

Especially when  the saffron pharmacy doesn't text you a million times to refill your saffron, pick up your saffron, and then continuously threaten to put your saffron back on the shelf if you don’t pick it up today like our pharmacies do with prescription antidepressants. So within 1-2 weeks after forgetting to take saffron my patients do report going right back to their depressed blah slumpy state. 

So if you do choose to start saffron put it on autoship please! Saffron in capsules is not super expensive, so figure out how many capsules you need each month of it and put it on autoship when you order your Vitamins.

Other things to consider with saffron is that it shown to be effective for many conditions. Having a synergistic benefit is generally a good thing, except when the patient or their doctor is not aware of how saffron may be impacting certain medications and medical conditions.

Many research studies have been conducted on saffron safety and efficacy. Researchers also found saffron helpful for ADHD, Insomnia, Diabetes Type 2, Alzheimer’s, Stroke Recovery, Allergies, Asthma, Macular Degeneration, Diabetic Eye Disease, Poor Libido, Erectile Dysfunction, and improves Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, and Chronic Pain. The mechanism of action appears to be that saffron is a potent anti-inflammatory herbal medicine that likely works by improving optimal gene expression. 

So keep in mind that you should be supervised by a Naturopathic Doctor if you have medical conditions, or are taking any medications while using saffron as generally I DO need to adjust patient’s medications down. Especially for Anxiety, Depression, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, and Pain. While these are basically good problems to have, a Naturopathic Doctor should be monitoring blood work and blood pressure to ensure your numbers do not become too low as either extreme of too high or too low of blood pressure and blood sugar are not good. 

Now keep in mind another key point about using saffron, is that if you use it alone it is likely not powerful enough for the severe depression cases I treat. This is when I use it as an “Adjunctive Therapy” as it was found safe and effective to combine synergistically with Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa. It is afterall just a food. But still be careful, especially with things like depression. I would never want to give someone false hope with severe depression that this will be the only medicine they will need. 

Saffron is best for mild and moderate depression and safe as an adjunctive therapy to most prescription antidepressants. Which is important since I commonly hear that antidepressants help my patients somewhat, but do not get their mood to 100%. Until we add saffron! 

Saffron also helped reverse the poor libido side effects many patients on antidepressants experience which makes sense considering that it traditionally has been prescribed and studied for male erectile dysfunction. So things that help men's erectile dysfunction generally help women on antidepressants and/or in menopause that have zero libido.

With the epidemic of mental health issues plaguing the public I continue to regularly blog about mental health, thank you to everyone that follows me and shares my posts on their social media. It brings me great joy as a Women's Health Doctor to see my male friends even sharing this important news for women!

I have a lot of mental health patients in my practice that can look very well put together and can put on an amazing show. Only their doctor knows they are anxious, depressed, spinning out in constant panic attacks, battling PTSD or even suicidal. 

Together we can fight this mental health epidemic. I am asking for everyone’s help as I cant do it without you. Please help me by sharing my posts, text them to your depressed friends. This is free information. While I prefer everyone to work with me so I can properly help them, I also know many people are not aware of other options to prescription drugs, and do not feel "normal" on antidepressants, yet need to take something.

I do also understand that many people cannot afford medical care right now or are unemployed. I also want to bring awareness of this powerful yet gentle and safe natural remedy for depression. So to save our loved ones we all have to do this together.

The other dangers are using cheap fake forms of saffron. Please stick with doctor recommended reputable sources for your supplements, I prefer the Life Extension brand available to my patients in Fullscript, be careful with the Happy Saffron brand as it contains soy, a high dose of zinc, and carnuba wax. So the Life Extension "Optimized Saffron" choice is what I prescribe to my patients as it has 88.25mg of PURE saffron in it. Most depression studies used only 30mg of saffron. So this product is a healthy pure source of saffron, I see it effectively working for my patients, it is double the researched dose, and I trust Life Extension uses reputable sources that are not full of lead as many herbs from India and China are.

Most research studies I have listed below used 15 mg for children and 30mg for most adults. Some studies did use up to 100mg of saffron! So now I am buying myself several bottles and wondering how amazing I could feel mentally and sleep better at night by trying a full 100mg! Crocus petals were also studied to be effective for mental health, if you do grow this plant. 

Thank you for sharing my important holistic nutrition recommendations for depression, anxiety, and PTSD,  Everything is free to read and relatively inexpensive on my blog “Depression Tips” and my "ADHD Diet" is critical for all mental health patients to follow as it contains a high amount of Omega-3's while eliminating trigger foods.

Read more about “Anxiety Herbs”, like Schisandra and Ashwaghanda for more of my favorite mental health natural remedies.

Visit my SCHEDULE page to treat yourself to a Naturopathic visit, so we can get to the “Root Cause” of mental health and chronic disease. I would be happy to help!

Dr. Nicole Sundene, NMD

(480) 837-0900

Dr. Sundene is a Naturopathic Doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is considered a Female Hormone Specialist  in Women's Health and Bioidentical Hormones. She specializes in Holistic Women's Health for MenopauseThyroid, Hashimotos, PMS, PerimenopauseAutoimmune, Postpartum, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, Food Allergies, Digestion, Dermatology , Acne, Psoriasis, Eczema and Adrenal Hormonal Conditions. In 1999 she began working for a Hormone Doctor prior to starting Naturopathic Medical School. With over 22 years of experience in both Prescription and Natural women's health and hormones she presents to women the best integrated health solutions for their Chronic Disease. She has been an Herbalist for over 27 years and enjoys teaching women how to use herbs to balance their hormones, nutrition and optimize their health. Dr. Sundene relies on blood testing for her hormone metrics. The hormone testing is covered per the patient's insurance plan and conducted at certain points in the woman's menstrual cycle. To learn more about Hormone Testing for Women Visit: Bioidentical Hormones. Follow Dr. Sundene on InstagramTwitter and Facebook for more tips on Women's Health, Female Hormones and Naturopathy!

References:

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