Afghan women collect saffron flowers in the Karukh district of Herat, Afghanistan, November 5, 2016. Picture taken November 5, 2016. .
(photo credit: REUTERS/ MOHAMMAD SHOIB)
Iranian scientists have shown that consuming saffron can safely alleviate mild to moderate postpartum depression in nursing mothers.
Researchers at Mashhad University of Medical Sciences conducted the study on 60 new mothers who were first scored on the Beck Depression Inventory, a widely used test for measuring the severity of depression.
The women were randomly assigned to two groups, with one getting a daily dose of placebo and the other getting 15 mg. of saffron. After eight weeks, the saffron group appeared to show a more significant change in the depression index. The average score decreased from 20.3 to 8.4 compared to a decrease from 19.8 to 15.1 in the placebo group. (A higher score reflects a greater level of depression.)
The final evaluation of the study claimed that 96% of the saffron group were in remission vs 43% of the placebo group. The research can be found at Sciencedirect.com.
About 15% of new mothers reportedly suffer from postpartum depression, but there are many unreported cases. Many nursing mothers are reluctant to take antidepressant drugs for fear that they will affect their babies through breast milk.
Saffron is a spice derived from the Crocus sativus flower. It appears in the form of threads and has been used since ancient times in Greece for seasoning and coloring food. The effects on mood are thought to be the result of a contribution to the balance of brain neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood – serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. A comparison of the efficacy of saffron to pharmaceutical antidepressants found the effects of the spice to be identical to the drugs, without any side effects or fear of withdrawal symptoms when stopping the saffron.
Iran is responsible for over 90% of global saffron production, with much of that being exported.
Natural saffron threads are very expensive, but a dietary supplement with natural extracts sold in Israel under the brand name Saffrox, was found to be just as effective. The product, costing NIS 129.90, is based on an extract of saffron and other spices, as well as a derivative of folic acid, magnesium and vitamin B.
It is estimated that about one-third of Israelis take drugs to improve their moods. Last year, 34% of Israeli adults over the age of 20 frequently or sometimes felt depressed. The feeling was even more common in the Arab sector, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics
Psychotropic drugs that block the absorption of serotonin are given by prescription only and can cause side effects. Previous public research has shown that saffron extract can relieve depressive symptoms in adults, but those studies did not examine nursing mothers.