Saffron is a spice commonly used as a seasoning and coloring agent in food. It is sometimes found in dietary supplement products marketed to control appetite, boost mood, aid weight loss, support eye health, and reduce stress and anxiety.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), saffron is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) when used as a spice or color additive in foods. As a dietary supplement, saffron is usually sold as an extract or powder, either alone or in combination with other ingredients.

Currently, there is not enough evidence regarding the effectiveness and long-term safety of saffron when used in dietary supplements.

Saffron is derived from the plant Crocus sativus. Saffron is grown in only a few countries around the world, and it is expensive to harvest and process, which makes it one of the highest priced spices. Due to its high cost, manufacturers often adulterate (by adding or mixing) food and dietary supplement products containing saffron with less expensive ingredients such as beetroot, red-dyed silk fibers, safflower, paprika, turmeric, and other substances.

What does the latest research say about saffron as a dietary supplement?

A review of the literature revealed that saffron extract (20–100 mg) administered for 10 days to several weeks could be effective for reducing symptoms of depression. A few studies indicated that the antidepressant effects of saffron were similar to those of current antidepressant medications and resulted in fewer side effects. However, larger, more well-designed clinical trials are needed to confirm these effects. Little reliable information is available regarding the safety or effectiveness of saffron for its other touted health benefits such as mood improvement, weight loss, and stress relief. So without strong evidence to support a clear benefit, saffron could be a very expensive experiment.

Can saffron supplements negatively affect your health?

In general, small doses (less than 100 mg) of saffron extract, taken short-term, appear to be well tolerated. However, side effects such as vomiting, dizziness, vertigo, bloody urine, nausea, decreased appetite, and headache have been reported, especially when saffron was taken in large doses (5 grams or more). In addition, pregnant women should not use saffron in amounts exceeding those commonly found in foods as it could result in uterine stimulation. There is also insufficient evidence regarding the safety of saffron use long-term (more than 26 weeks).

Can Service Members take saffron?

Saffron is not prohibited for use by Service Members, and should not cause a positive result on a routine military drug test. However, we suggest you talk with your healthcare provider before considering any dietary supplement products.


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