The following article has been written by Kevin Leivers from The Naked Pharmacy.

New research in the field of food science (Nutriceuticals) has potentially opened up a natural way to help some of the most significant health challenges of this century – nervousness, sleep problems and emotional balance. ‘Nutraceutical’ is the term used to describe food-based supplements that are made using modern agricultural and manufacturing technologies to develop highly effective products for specific health conditions. It is part of the growing trend to use nutritional approaches which can be used alongside conventional medicines to help improve clinical outcomes. This research supports the view that diet and nutrition have a significant impact on mental as well as physical health. It also supports the principle that nutritional imbalances in the body increase the risk of illness in the mind and visa versa.

As a pharmacist, I have worked with natural medicines and food supplements for over 25 years. The acceleration in learning and innovation in the area of nutraceuticals, (food as medicine), over the last decade has impressed most. I have seen how specific, highly concentrated foods can offer new and effective natural ways to help improve health. It is after all, the founder of modern medicine, Hippocrates who said, ‘Let your food be your medicine’, nearly 2500 years ago!

The latest studies on Saffron use modern double-blinded trials with placebo controls and human subjects in statistically significant numbers. The results show a clear clinical benefits that are statistically significant for the nervous system, sleep and emotional balance. In addition, there are a number of controlled studies which support this data demonstrating that saffron can be a useful support for these conditions without significant side effects.

So how could we have missed these health benefits after centuries of traditional saffron use? Very easily actually! Firstly the studies show that you need a very high daily intake of the highest quality Saffron – 28-30mg a day. Recent studies have also demonstrated that the clinical benefits are optimised when the saffron extract contains 3.5% Lepticrosalides (collective term for the three most important carotenoids; crocin, picrocrocin and safranal). These intakes need to be repeated every day to achieve the required health benefits.

In addition, the saffron has to be grown in a region where the active carotenoids are naturally high in concentration. They then need further concentration using a special filtration system to reach the optimum level of 3.5% Leptocrosalides. Lower levels of these specific carotenoids will reduce the effectiveness significantly. The best Saffron to achieve these levels are grown in the more extreme climates and drier soils of northern Spain, southern Italy, and specific areas within the cultivating regions of Iran (where 90% of the world’s Saffron is grown). The importance of the growing conditions, batch to batch testing for the actives and the quality of the manufacturing processes should never be underestimated for saffron or any other natural food supplement or medicine.

Saffron is hand picked from the stamen of the crocus flower. The fact that it flowers and is harvested while approaching the darkest and coldest time of the year, provide clues to its health benefits. The unique carotenoids peak at this time of year, produced as a stress reaction by the plant to protect itself from the lack of light and colder weather. Saffron spice has such a long history of use within traditional health systems for a wide variety of conditions. A scientific review of Saffron published by Journal of Dietary Supplements in 2011 (8(1):58–114, 2011) gave the following assessments of the quality/level of clinical evidence for the main listed indications for which Saffron could be of potential benefit:

Scientific Evidence for Common/Studied Uses 

Mood B, Memory C, Breathing problems C, Libido C, Exercise performance enhancement C, Fertility (male) C, Skin Problems C

Level of Evidence Grade

A (strong scientific evidence), B (good scientific evidence), C (unclear or conflicting scientific evidence), D (fair negative scientific evidence), F (strong negative scientific evidence)

Since this review of evidence was carried out, a significant number of new clinical trials have been published supporting and strengthening the claims of efficacy for the nervous system, sleep and emotional balance. A selection of these references are available on request.

We are only just starting on the journey to discover the full potential of food as medicine – both for treatment and prevention.

About the Naked Pharmacy

The Naked Pharmacy is a new online Pharmacy specialising in natural medicines and supplements supported by expert pharmacist advice. Find out more here.