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Cancer-Fighting Spice Has Multiple Health Effects

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Antioxidants in the diet may help prevent cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute's web site. Fruits, vegetables, and spices are natural sources of antioxidants. Saffron is a spice made from the Crocus sativus flower that has received much attention in recent lab studies.

A research group led by S. A. Ordoudi in Greece reported that “saffron extracts exhibit a remarkable intracellular antioxidant activity” that may account for some of its health effects. Nathan Seppa reported in Science News that saffron may be beneficial in preventing cancer.

M. H. Modaghegh and colleagues at the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Iran, conducted a study of saffron's safety in humans. At doses of 400 mg per day, changes were noted in blood pressure and blood chemistry. “However, these alterations were in normal ranges and they were not important clinically,” Modaghegh concluded.

Saffron has been tested in humans at lower doses for a number of indications. Successful tests include the following:

1.Obesity. In a study of mildly overweight women, 176.5 mg per day of Crocus sativus extract reduced snacking behavior. This work was performed by B. Gout and colleagues in France.

2.Alzheimer's disease. In a study of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, 30 mg per day of saffron had effects similar to the drug donepezil. This work was performed by S. Akhondzadeh and colleagues in Iran.

3.Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). In a study of women aged 20 to 45 years, 30 mg per day of saffron was significantly more effective than placebo in treating PMS. This work was performed by M. Agha-Hosseini and colleagues in Iran.

Currently, saffron is in clinical trials for two eye conditions: age-related macular degeneration and Stargardt's disease. Both studies are led by Benedetto Falsini of Rome, Italy. The dosage is 20 mg per day in each case.

Saffron recipes are widely available online. This versatile spice adds flavor and color without adding calories. It may also help protect us from cancer, neurological degeneration, and possibly other conditions.


1. National Cancer Institute. Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention: Fact Sheet

2. Ordoudi SA et al, “Further examination of antiradical properties of Crocus sativus stigmas extract rich in crocins”, J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Apr 22; 57(8): 3080-6.

3. Seppa N, “Saffron fights liver cancer”, Science News 2011 Oct. 8; 180(8): 14. Online version: Saffron takes on cancer. Web. Oct. 8, 2011. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/333911/title/Saffron_takes_on_cancer

4. Modaghegh MH et al, “Safety evaluation of saffron (Crocus sativus) tablets in healthy volunteers”, Phytomedicine 2008 Dec; 15(12): 1032-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18693099

5. Gout B et al, “Satiereal, a Crocus sativus L extract, reduces snacking and increases satiety in a randomized placebo-controlled study of mildly overweight, healthy women”, Nutr Res. 2010 May; 30(5): 305-13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20579522

6. Akhondzadeh S et al, “A 22-week, multicenter, randomized, double-blind controlled trial of Crocus sativus in the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease”, Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2010 Jan; 207(4): 637-43. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19838862

7. Agha-Hosseini M et al, “Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial”, BJOG 2008 Mar; 115(4): 515-9.

8. Effect of Saffron Supplementation on Macular Cone-mediated Function in Age-related Macular Degeneration. Web. Oct. 9, 2011.

Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.

Reviewed October 19, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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