Saffron is a spice that’s been used for centuries that also has potent effects as an antidepressant, a treatment for sexual dysfunction, and powerful antioxidant effects.
Famed for being difficult to grow and time-consuming to harvest, saffron has emerged recently as a promising supplement that has a broad range of benefits supported in clinical trials.
If you want to fight off depression, battle back against sexual dysfunction, maintain cognitive function in old age, or just improve your antioxidant status, saffron might be the right supplement for you.
We’ve reviewed the science and ranked the ten best saffron supplements on the market.
1. Life Extension Optimized Saffron
Life Extension Optimized Saffron is the best pure saffron supplement out there thanks to its standardized dose, strong reputation, and purity of the saffron used in manufacturing.
It’s standardized to contain 0.3% safranal per vegetarian-friendly capsule, which contains 88.25 mg of saffron extract total.
2. Genius Diet Pills
While saffron’s benefits extend far beyond weight loss, Genius has harnessed the power of saffron along with the neurotransmitter precursor 5-HTP to modulate your brain’s appetite sensations.
This combination appears to be far more effective than saffron alone in battling hunger cravings during the day.
3. Bio Nutrition Saffron Extract
Bio Nutrition goes an extra step to make sure that their saffron extract (the usual 88.5 mg dose per capsule) is standardized to contain 0.3 mg of safranal, which is one of the ingredients though to be important in the biological effects of saffron.
While this is good to see, don’t make the mistake of thinking that saffron is the only important compound. Saffron, like many other plant-derived supplements, likely relies on the interplay between several different molecules in the plant material.
4. 2 Healthy Saffron Extract
2 Healthy makes a simple and straightforward saffron extract that’s got 88.5 mg of saffron extract in a vegan-friendly cellulose capsule, with only rice flour as an additional ingredient.
The dosage is solid and there’s nothing fancy about it, but it does get the job done.
5. iPro Organic Supplements Saffron Extract
iPro Organic Supplements offers a saffron supplement that contains 88.5 mg of saffron per cellulose-based capsule.
It’s a solid choice, as it only uses rice flour as a binder and doesn’t have any other extraneous ingredients.
6. Floraceutical Naturals Optimum Saffron Extract
Floraceutical Naturals makes a saffron extract that’s pretty typical in its dosage and composition, and doesn’t really distinguish itself from the competition.
Without much in the way of defining features, it’s hard to rank this saffron extract much higher.
7. Re-Body Saffron Hunger Caps
Re-Body specifically markets this saffron supplement to treat hunger and reduce appetite, but there isn’t anything special about this preparation that would make it any more effective at doing so than another saffron extract.
Hyping up the appetite suppressing effects of saffron (which are not nearly as impressive as its other biological effects) likely explains the disappointment that results for many users when they find that it is not the appetite suppressant it’s cracked up to be.
8. 1 Body Saffron 8825
1 Body makes a saffron supplement that’s somewhat lower in the concentration of the active ingredients than its competitors.
Though it too contains 88.25 mg of saffron per capsule, it’s only standardized to a 0.1% saffron extract versus the 0.3% of many of the other saffron supplements out there.
9. Lean Nutraceuticals Saffron Extract
Lean Nutraceuticals has a pretty standard saffron supplement with the usual 88.5 mg dosage per capsule, but it’s not as well-reviewed as some of the other saffron supplements on the market.
Whether this is because of the extra ingredients included as binders and stabilizers or whether it is a quality control problem is hard to say, but users tend to have more success with other saffron supplements.
10. NutriNatures Pure Saffron Extract
NutriNatures makes a saffron extract that has many supporters, but it lands low in the rankings because of a few key details.
First, the company is not explicit about how (or whether) their saffron extract is standardized, and second, they use a gelatin capsule instead of a cellulose capsule, which prevents this supplement from being an option for vegetarians and vegans.
Saffron benefits and side effects
While saffron was historically used as a medicinal remedy, dye, and cooking spice, it’s now the target of serious clinical research into its use as an antidepressant, immune system booster, appetite suppressant, and a treatment for sexual dysfunction.
This wide range of effects is impressive, especially considering the mechanism of action is not well-understood. While the biology of how saffron can improve your health and wellness are not known, the direct benefits have been researched fairly extensively.
We’ll dive into the science to see exactly how this ancient spice is becoming a modern treatment for a wide range of afflictions.
Saffron can help treat erectile dysfunction. Saffron spice has long been rumored to be an aphrodisiac, but its use for sexual dysfunction wasn’t tested until fairly recently.
A study published in 2009 in the journal Phytomedicine described the initial results of a pilot study into saffron’s ability to help men with erectile dysfunction (1).
In the study, a group of twenty men took a 200 mg saffron supplement every day for ten days. By comparing metrics of erection strength and results from a questionnaire on erectile dysfunction, the researchers found a statistically significant improvement in symptoms.
This was only a pilot study, and it had no placebo group, but it provided some indication of saffron’s ability to help with sexual dysfunction.
Saffron can reverse the negative sexual side effects of antidepressants. A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the journal Psychopharmacology in 2012 compared a 30 mg saffron supplementation routine to a placebo in a group of men who had been prescribed antidepressants and were suffering from sexual dysfunction as a side effect (2).
The researchers found that, after a month-long supplementation, the men taking the saffron supplement had significantly improved their erectile and sexual function compared to the placebo group. Consequently, saffron has also found itself in some testosterone boosters.
Saffron can be used by women with sexual dysfunction as well. Don’t think that the sexual health benefits of saffron are limited to men—similar research published in 2012 investigated the effects of saffron on women who had antidepressant-caused sexual dysfunction over a four-week period (3).
Similarly, the researchers found that, compared to a placebo, the saffron supplement resulted in improvement in a number of sexual health related measures.
This means that saffron likely affects something fundamental when it comes to sexual arousal and sexual function, which, as we’ll see, is in keeping with other evidence of its strong effects on the brain.
Saffron can be used to treat depression. In addition to being useful for treating some of the negative side effects of traditional selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), saffron appears to be a useful treatment for depression in its own right.
A study published in 2014 by a team of researchers at Murdoch University in Australia reviewed the current state of the scientific literature with respect to saffron’s utility as an antidepressant (4).
The researchers evaluated six large, high-quality, placebo-controlled trials on saffron as a treatment for depression. They found that saffron had a significant effect on reducing symptoms of depression, and among the trials that compared saffron to a traditional antidepressant, the effects of saffron were comparable to the effects of the traditional antidepressants.
The researchers cited saffron’s ability to fight inflammation, upregulate serotonin production, and protect neural tissue as possible explanations for the strong observed effect.
Saffron can keep your dopamine and serotonin levels high. A review article in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology summarized the potential pharmaceutical applications of saffron and its extracts, noting that it had a strong effect on these two neurotransmitters in animal models (5).
Both serotonin and dopamine are critical to keeping your mood well-regulated, and indeed, these neurotransmitters are often targets of drug treatments for depression and anxiety. While further research is needed in humans, the clinical trials done thus far are very promising.
Saffron could protect your brain from aging. The strong antioxidant properties of saffron, combined with its clear benefit on the function of neurochemicals, led researchers to examine saffron’s ability to protect the brain as it ages.
One study by researchers at the University of Patras in Greece published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research used saffron as a neuroprotectant in aging mice (6).
The study involved giving mice a saffron supplement and studying their cognitive function, then correlating the results to levels of antioxidants in the brain.
The researchers found that the saffron supplement enhanced the cognitive function of the mice, and furthermore, that this enhancement was strongly related to the production of antioxidants in the brain.
Saffron’s antioxidant properties could fight back against cancerous cells. Though research so far has been confined to animal models and cell cultures, there is emerging evidence that the antioxidant properties of saffron could provide anti-cancer effects.
That’s according to a review article by Azam Bolhassani and other researchers in Iran (7). Their review cited numerous studies that showed that saffron and its extracts were able to regulate cell division, stop damage from free radicals, and modulating the effects of the immune system.
While there’s a lot more to be learned about how saffron interacts with cancer cells, this initial research is very promising.
Saffron is largely well-tolerated among the clinical trials that have used it as a supplemental treatment thus far; in the scientific articles cited above, there were no major side effects noted.
Saffron as a plant material does have some side effects which could transfer to supplements as well. Exposure to large amounts of saffron has caused skin irritation, though this comes from reports of laborers who manually pick and dry the plant material (8).
They are undoubtedly exposed to a tremendous amount of saffron compared to the dosage usually encountered in a supplement, so it’s hard to connect this with any side effects you may experience.
One case report has also noted the (rare) possibility of developing a severe allergic reaction, like with any plant material (9).
Given that saffron has such wide ranging effects on your body, it’d be wise to consult with your doctor if you are taking any medication, as broad-spectrum supplements have a tendency to interact with some medications and cause unexpected side effects.
The most effective clinical research studies on using saffron for medicinal purposes have employed doses ranging from 15 to 40 mg per day.
Occasionally these are divided into two doses, taken in the morning and the evening. Given that virtually all commercially available saffron supplements contain 88 mg of saffron per capsule, dosage should be pretty straightforward in most cases.
There’s a small handful of studies that have used higher doses (circa 200 mg per day), so if you aren’t getting the desired effects, you could try increasing your dosage to that level.
This higher dose appears to be effective for sexual dysfunction, so it may be that a higher dosage is necessary to reap these benefits.
Saffron is a versatile and powerful supplement with an impressive range of benefits. It can treat sexual dysfunction in both men and women, even when it’s a side effect of antidepressant drugs.
Saffron also appears to be an effective antidepressant in its own right, thanks to its ability to raise the levels of dopamine and serotonin in your brain.
This appears to make it comparable in efficacy to traditional selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, at least according to a few clinical trials.
Saffron also offers strong antioxidant effects, which might be able to protect the functioning of the brain as you get older, improving cognitive ability. Aside from rare cases of allergy to saffron plant material, saffron appears to be quite safe in terms of side effects.
Saffron supplements appear to work best at dosages of 30 to 200 mg, with the high end of the dosage perhaps only needed to treat sexual dysfunction.
There’s plenty of research currently underway that will expand our knowledge of how saffron can be used to improve health, but we already know that this ancient spice can have some very powerful health benefits.