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Almost every week, a new spice or herb is said to delay mental decline in patients who have contracted Alzheimer’s dementia. Saffron is an exotic and expensive spice, used chiefly to flavor food. The spice is extracted from the crocus flower and has been used to treat a variety of medical ailments by both Asians and people who live in the Mediterranean region. Cultivation of saffron is very demanding and labor intensive. The yield is small and this accounts for its high price.
Saffron has a distinct smell and is widely used in Spanish dishes. The use of saffron to treat medical disorders dates back 4,000 years. It has been used to treat arthritis, cough, liver disorders, poor eyesight, dermatitis and asthma. Now, some people believe that saffron is a brain-boosting agent and can enhance memory.
Recently two studies showed that saffron could prevent decline in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia. The study revealed that patients who took saffron had better overall mental function. The individuals took 30 mg of saffron everyday from 16-22 weeks. Using standard cognitive function tests, researchers were able to show that regular saffron use provided mental benefits to Alzheimer’s patients. Individuals who took the saffron fared better mentally than those who did not. Saffron was also compared to Aricept, a drug that has been widely used for treatment of early Alzheimer’s dementia. How saffron improved mental function is not known but these researchers speculate that it may help reduce formation of beta-amyloid plaque, a substance that often builds up in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s dementia.
So should people starting consuming saffron on a regular basis?
Experts say these studies were poorly designed, the number of patients followed was small and the length of follow up of 16 weeks is inappropriate. Alzheimer's dementia can remain stable for many years and the decline is gradual. Besides the mental decline, many behavior changes also occur in these patients- none of which were looked at. Second, saffron is prohibitively expensive. Taking 30 mg of saffron on a daily basis can easily costs more than $300-$600 a month.