Saffron effectively complements antidepressant medications

Summary: Patients reported a greater reduction of depressive symptoms when taking saffron extract in addition to antidepressants.

Source: Murdoch University

New research has shown that saffron may assist adults with depression when it is taken in conjunction with pharmaceutical antidepressants.

Murdoch University researchers Dr. Adrian Lopresti and Professor Peter Drummond, and UWA researcher Professor Sean Hood found greater reductions in depressive symptoms when adults with persistent depression, and currently taking a pharmaceutical antidepressant, complement their depression medication with saffron capsules.

Dr. Lopresti said that the trial was the largest of its kind to date and the first study looking at the effects of saffron as an add-on to pharmaceutical antidepressants. Previous research has only investigated the antidepressant effects of saffron as a stand-alone treatment.

“In our research, depressive symptoms decreased more in participants taking saffron compared with a placebo, with reductions of 41 and 21%, respectively on the clinician-rated scale,” Dr. Lopresti said.

“In addition, improvements occurred in sleep quality, initiative and motivation, and interest and pleasure in activities.”

Dr. Lopresti said that the study indicated that saffron could be used as a natural supplement given at the beginning of antidepressant treatment to increase its effectiveness and to possibly reduce potential adverse effects which are sometimes experienced when one is prescribed antidepressants.

“Saffron can be used at the outset in conjunction with antidepressants or it can be added to antidepressants if symptoms do not fully resolve,” Dr. Lopresti said.

“At the moment, if pharmaceutical antidepressants aren’t working the options are to increase the dose or to try a new antidepressant. This increases the likelihood of side effects. Now a new option is to take antidepressants and saffron together.”

This shows a bowl of saffron

Previous research has only investigated the antidepressant effects of saffron as a stand-alone treatment. The image is in the public domain.

Background

  • Participants in the survey were randomly allocated to one of two trial groups, one taking a placebo and one taking a standardized saffron extract.
  • Participants were required to be physically healthy, aged 18–65 years and were taking a stable dose (at least eight weeks) of a single pharmaceutical antidepressant
  • More research needs to be undertaken to replicate these findings and to determine the longer-term benefits of saffron in treating symptoms of depression.
  • The findings do not mean the addition of saffron to cooking would necessarily promote antidepressant effects given the significant variance associated with the quality of saffron stigmas and the variability in extracts available on the market.

Funding: This study was funded by the manufacturer of the saffron extract, Pharmactive Biotech Products SL. However, Pharmactive Biotech Products was not involved in the design of the research, analysis of data, or in the writing of the report.

About this neuroscience research article

Source:
Murdoch University
Media Contacts:
Adrian L Lopresti – Murdoch University
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Open access
“Efficacy of a standardised saffron extract (affron®) as an add-on to antidepressant medication for the treatment of persistent depressive symptoms in adults: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study”. Adrian L Lopresti et al.
Journal of Psychopharmacolog doi:10.1177/0269881119867703.

Abstract

Efficacy of a standardised saffron extract (affron®) as an add-on to antidepressant medication for the treatment of persistent depressive symptoms in adults: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study

Background:
As a stand-alone intervention, saffron has efficacy for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression. However, research as an adjunct agent is limited.

Aims:
The effects of saffron as an adjunct to pharmaceutical antidepressants in adults with persistent depression was investigated.

Methods:
In this eight-week, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, adults with persistent depression, currently taking a pharmaceutical antidepressant were given a placebo or a saffron extract (affron®, 14 mg b.i.d.). Primary outcome measures included the clinician-rated Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) and self-rated MADRS (MADRS-S). Secondary outcome measures included the Antidepressant Side-Effect Checklist (ASEC) and Short Form-36 Health Survey (SF-36).

Results:
Of the 160 participants enrolled, 139 provided usable data. Based on the MADRS, depressive symptoms decreased more in participants taking saffron compared with a placebo, with reductions of 41 and 21%, respectively (p = 0.001). However, scores on the MADRS-S decreased 27 and 26% in the saffron and placebo conditions, respectively (p = 0.831). Saffron was associated with a greater reduction in adverse effects of antidepressants (p = 0.019), although this was non-significant after covarying for baseline values (p = 0.449). Quality of life improved in both groups with no significant between-group differences (p = 0.638).

Conclusion:
Adjunctive administration of a standardised saffron extract (affron®) for eight weeks was associated with a greater improvement in depressive symptoms as measured by the clinician-rated MADRS but not the self-report MADRS-S. Given the conflicting results, further research is needed to clarify the clinical benefits of saffron as an adjunctive treatment for adults with persistent depressive symptoms despite antidepressant drug treatment.

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