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Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s

In a double-blind study, the spice saffron beat out placebo in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease dementia symptoms.

September 6, 2011 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Images thanks to cskk, Henna, and Amira.


. The top killers in the United States  are heart disease, cancer, and stroke.  Number 5?  Accidents.  Number 9?  Kidney disease.  Number 13?  High blood pressure.  Now at 15?  Parkinson's dosease. Over the last 50 years they’ve all stayed relatively stable.  Except this one.

Started out of nowhere just a few decades ago and now is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States of America. Whoa, what’s that one, coming from out of nowhere to become our 6th leading cause of death.  Alzheimer’s disease. Last year it was the 7th leading cause of death. It keeps creeping up.  Over the last decade or so been making some progress on some of the other top killers, but not Alzheimer’s.

Enter…  The saffron crocus. Saffron in the treatment of patients with Alzheimer's disease. It was a double blind, randomized trial measuring cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimers patients, comparing saffron to placebo. Saffron  is the female reproductive organs of the saffron flower,  which you can buy as a spice.

So  what did they find? You give Alzheimer's patients placebo capsules,  and as you can see, their cognitive dysfunction gets worse over time. That’s what happens in Azheimers, you get worse and worse, until you die. Unless, it appears, you  spice up your life with a little saffon

 Conclusion: “This double-blind, placebo-controlled study suggests that at least in the short-term, 16 weeks, saffron is both safe and effective in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Larger confirmatory randomized controlled trials are called for.” Urgently, given the devastation wrought by this disease.

But even if this study was a total fluke, what’s the downside of adding a little saffron to your diet, a spice that’s been cooked with for 3500 years. I don’t know about you, but if, God forbid, anyone in my family were ever to be diagnosed with this disease horror,  I’d be cooking them paella.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Leave any questions you have about this exciting research below. In tomorrow's video-of-the-day, saffron is pitted against one of the leading Alzheimer's drug treatments.

For more context, please check out my associated blog posts: Natural Alzheimer’s Treatment, Amla: Indian gooseberries vs. cancer, diabetes, and cholesterol , Eating To Extend Our Lifespan,Is Caffeinated Tea Really Dehydrating?, Alzheimer's Disease: Up to half of cases potentially preventable, Saffron vs. Prozac for Depression,  Increasing Muscle Strength with FenugreekIs Coconut Oil Bad For You?Hibiscus Tea: The Best Beverage?, and Cinnamon for Diabetes

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    See the corresponding blog post, Natural Alzheimer’s treatment, and leave any questions you have about this exciting research below. In tomorrow’s video-of-the-day, saffron is pitted against one of the leading Alzheimer’s drug treatments.

  • hermanzaum

    By looking at the numbers, I would guess it’s related to something we introduced in our environment, water or food supply in the last 30~50 years.
    While it’s great to know that we have a natural treatment, it’s imperative that we keep searching (and very hard at that!) for the real causes behind Alzheimer’s disease. I’m very concerned about the subject as my uncle passed away last month from Alzheimer’s.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      I absolutely agree. It’s something that I will make sure to keep covering. See Dietary Theory of Alzheimer’s for one such theory.

      • hermanzaum

        Thanks a lot Dr. Greger! I’ll it check out.

    • couriouse

      I belive the cjd is the culprate for altzimers as it seems to have rased its ugly head at the time the farming industry finaly admited it had a problem with cjd but the governments decided that it must debunk the incidents of cjd in the developed world, just what caused cjd in cattle??? and what was the trigger for the outbreak of cjd and for how long was this condition in cattle??? and when was it realy identified if this was disclosed then we could back track and isolate the trigger and maybe reverse the problem but was it introduced wilfully to rid society of a rising aged population that governments could see as a burdon on the finances of countries and once there is a balance of young to aged then will these governments suddenly find a treatment ?????

  • MsAdventuress

    Love, love, love this. It continues to make the startling revelation that animal products are the cigarettes we never knew we were smoking. ♥

    • Toxins

      You should make this into a quote, i really like that “Animal products are the cigarettes we never knew we were smoking.”

  • Karen Hyde

    So if Alzheimer’s started to escalate in 1980, what does this co-incide with? CJD and prions maybe? Environmental or viral factors? It is great that saffron helps, but something is affecting the population in the first place that wasn’t around before. This is very interesting.
    It can’t just be eating meat, dairy, eggs because people were eating all these things long before the 1980s. Is it the way food is processed now and the increase in fast food consumption, pesticides?
    I do hope there is much more research on this subject.

  • erinly520

    This is very interesting to me, as I work in home health care and hospice, often with Patients diagnosed with dementia. It’s sad how little the medical community focuses on diet and nutrition when it comes to disease and overall health. This is definitely a topic I’ll continue to follow up on. Thank you!

  • Karen LaVine

    The only possible downside I see to this might be the cost, verified by the wikipedia entry: saffron is “the world’s most expensive spice by weight”. As per the info on the graph in this video, 30 mg/day is the dose. I can buy 1 Gm on for a little under 20 bucks. This would provide about 33 doses. I’m sure that’s cheaper than Aricept!

  • eileenmcv

    What is the recommended amount of saffron one should consume on a daily basis for it to be considered theraputic in the prevention of AD?

  • Mike Quinoa

    The top “Sources Cited” link is dead. Here is the study summary:

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Thanks Mike–fixed!

  • rcaiken

    Terrific work here and throughout your site!

    I think there could be a “bean counting” effect here (no pun) in that small changes in the way in which one interrupts causes of death could influence these numbers – how does one actually die of Alzheimer’s – there are usually so many physical complications happening, death of a person with Alzheimer’s could potentially be placed under a number of categories. What could affect categorization? Alzheimer’s awareness, great funding needs for study of this terrible disease, political-legal reasons (if one dies of pneumonia for example, it could be the physician’s or hospital’s “fault”, right?)

    Then of course the population overall is getting older so naturally the rate of death per 100,000 people is “favoring” deaths of the aged. The logarithmic ordinate in the video is somewhat misleading in that the top three or four causes of death are so much larger, that a slight decrease in them has to be made up by some other category in the top ten (as the overall death rate is rather similar). I noted that “influenza and pneumonia” dropped down the most of any category (8.5% 2009 to 2010 by the latest CDC info from January 11, 2012 ) so I wonder perhaps if some of those deaths now appear as “Alzheimer’s”).

    What surprised me in that recent CDC data were the differences in causes of death by sex. Alzheimer’s is #3 for women and #10 for males – again an artifact of the difference in the age distributions? (Parenthetically incredibly #3 cause of death in males are accidents and #7 suicide across all age groups – anyone know dietary effects to reduce those categories?)

    So I don’t see convincing evidence that the disease process of Alzheimer’s is somehow accelerating by some new mechanism but certainly this is one common insidious devastating disease effecting patient and extended family without known cause or cure that needs a lot more attention.

    • rcaiken

      To illustrate the effect of “bean counting” on disease data, recently revised guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease would reclassify nearly all patients who are currently diagnosed with mild or very mild Alzheimer’s as having “mild cognitive impairment”, a new study finds announced this morning by TIME magazine’s Healthland: So if you see numbers in the near future with Alzheimer’s disease essentially eradicated, it wasn’t necessarily a result of saffron mania.

      • Toxins

        Saffron is only one component and merely a suggestion. If one is eating a whole foods plant base diet Alzheimer’s typically does not occur. It is a disease of diet.

  • rcaiken

    A recent 2011 study ( ) shows, in vitro and in vivo (mice), it’s the antioxidant properties (rather than acetylcholine acetylhydrolase inhibition) of saffron that has the cognitive enhancing effect; crocetin, a crocin metabolite in saffron, appears to be a unique and potent antioxidant capable of combating oxidative stress.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Alzheimer’s Disease: Up to half of cases potentially preventable!

  • Dorothy

    Thanks for sharing this video. My mom reacted badly with Aricept, hence I have been looking for alternatives. This is a good lead. Would you know how much saffron to provide therapeutic value for people with dementia? Thanks!

  • Elley77

    I love spices

  • Sebastian Tristan

    Does Saffron prevent Alzheimer? Does Saffron have any side effects?

  • fineartmarcella

    Most saffron comes in the tiny dried sprigs from the flower, any idea how many of those I should add to my mother’s smoothie?

  • fineartmarcella

    Ok, they toke 30mg / day in two divided (15mg) doses. A gram (1,000mg)
    of Saffron than would have 33 doses. I believe that works out to 10
    threads/dose of Saffron, or 5 threads twice a day. Does anyone else
    agree, can confirm, or have a better number?

  • Ellen Jaffe Jones

    Thanks for another great one! Yup, in addition to my mom, aunt and both sisters with breast cancer, and most all adults with heart disease and diabetes, Alzheimer’s was the cause of death for my mom and grandma, and though other cousins/uncles were diagnosed, they didn’t actually die from the disease. All while I have placed in 65 5K or longer races since ’06, 7th in the US in age group in 1500 meters. Go plants! All these dots are so connected, aren’t they?

  • Bob Carlile

    I want to buy saffron capsules or tablets. Could you give me a good recommendation of the best ones to get?