What’s the latest on treating depression with the spice saffron? Years ago, I covered a head-to-head comparison of saffron versus Prozac for the treatment of depression in my video Saffron vs. Prozac, and saffron seemed to work just as well as the drug. In the years since, five other studies have found that saffron beat out placebo or rivaled antidepressant medications.
It may be the spice’s red pigment, crocin, since that alone beat out placebo as an adjunct treatment, significantly decreasing symptoms of depression, symptoms of anxiety, and general psychological distress. Perhaps, its antioxidants played a role in “preventing free radical-induced damage in the brain.” The amount of crocin the researchers used was equivalent to about a half teaspoon of saffron a day.
If the spice works as well as the drugs, one could argue that the spice wins, since it doesn’t cause sexual dysfunction in the majority of men and women like most prescribed antidepressants do. SSRI drugs like Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft cause “adverse sexual side effects” in around 70 percent of people taking them. What’s more, physicians not only significantly underestimate the occurrence of side effects, but they also tend to underrate how much they impact the lives of their patients.
Not only is this not a problem with saffron, the spice may even be able to treat it, as I explore in my video Best Food for Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction. “In folk medicine, there is a widely held belief that saffron might have aphrodisiac effects.” To test this, men with Prozac-induced sexual impairment were randomized to saffron or placebo for a month. By week four, the saffron group “resulted in significantly greater improvement in erectile function…and intercourse satisfaction,” and more than half of the men in the saffron group regained “normal erectile function.” The researchers concluded that saffron is an “efficacious treatment” for Prozac-related erectile dysfunction. It has all been found to be effective for female sexual dysfunction, as well, as you can see at 2:35 in my video. Female sexual function increased by week four, improving some of the Prozac-induced sexual problems but not others. So, it may be better to try saffron in the first place for the depression and avoid developing these sexual dysfunction problems, since they sometimes can persist even after stopping the drugs, potentially worsening one’s long-term depression prognosis.
This includes unusual side effects, such as genital anesthesia, where you literally lose sensation. It can happen in men and women. More rarely, antidepressants can induce a condition called restless genital syndrome. You’ve heard of restless legs syndrome? Well, this is a restless between-the-legs syndrome. These PSSDs, or Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunctions, meaning dysfunctions that appear or persist after stopping taking these antidepressants, can be so serious that “prescribing physicians should mention the potential danger of the occurrence of genital (e.g., penile or vaginal) anesthesia to every patient prior to any SSRI treatment.” If you’re on one of these drugs, did your doctor warn you about that?
All hope is not lost, though. Evidently, penile anesthesia responds to low-power laser irradiation. After 20 laser treatments to his penis, one man, who had lost his penile sensation thanks to the drug Paxil, partially regained his “penile touch and temperature sensation.” However, he still couldn’t perform to his girlfriend’s satisfaction, and she evidently ended up leaving him over it, which certainly didn’t help his mood. But, before you feel too badly for him, compare a little penile light therapy to clitoridectomy, clitoris removal surgery, or another Paxil-related case where a woman’s symptoms only improved after six courses of electroshock therapy.
Pass the paella!
For more on the spice, check out:
- Saffron for Erectile Dysfunction
- Saffron vs Memantine (Namenda) for Alzheimer’s
- Saffron vs. Prozac
- Saffron for the Treatment of PMS
Those drug side effects sound devastating, but depression is no walk in the park. However, when one balances risk and benefit, one assumes that there are actually benefits to taking them. That’s why the shocking science I explored in Do Antidepressant Drugs Really Work? is so important.
What else may boost mood? A healthy diet and exercise:
- Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Depression
- Flashback Friday: Which Foods Increase Happiness?
- Flashback Friday: Plant-Based Diets for Improved Mood and Productivity
- Exercise vs. Drugs for Depression
- Aspartame and the Brain
- Coconut Water and Depression
- Benefits of Blueberries for Mood and Mobility
- Benefits of Rosemary for Brain Function
- Flashback Friday: Is Gluten Sensitivity Real? & Separating the Wheat from the Chat
- The Best Way to Boost Serotonin
- A Better Way to Boost Serotonin
- The Wrong Way to Boost Serotonin
For more on sexual health generally, see:
- Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death
- Do Men Who Have More Sex Live Longer?
- Best Foods to Improve Sexual Function
- Are Apples the Best Food for a Better Sex Life in Women?
- Viagra and Cancer
- Do Cell Phones Lower Sperm Counts?
- Dietary Pollutants May Affect Testosterone Levels
- Dairy Estrogen & Male Fertility
- Pistachio Nuts for Erectile Dysfunction
- 50 Shades of Greens
- Why Might Vegetarians Have Less HPV?
- Prostate vs. a Plant-Based Diet
- BPA Plastic & Male Sexual Dysfunction
- Male Fertility & Diet
What else can spices do? Here’s just a taste:
- Benefits of Fenugreek Seeds
- Cayenne Pepper for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Indigestion
- Which Spices Fight Inflammation?
- Ginger for Migraines
- Is Ginger Beneficial in a Diabetic Diet?
- Benefits of Turmeric for Arsenic Exposure
- Which Spices Fight Inflammation?
- Benefits of Garlic Powder for Heart Disease
Michael Greger, M.D.
PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:
- 2019: Evidence-Based Weight Loss
- 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers
- 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet
- 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food
- 2013: More Than an Apple a Day
- 2012: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death