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Saffron vs. Prozac for Depression

Millions of Americans suffer from depression every year, a disabling disease that can end up fatal (due to suicide).  In my last blog post, Treating PMS with Saffron, I noted remarkable benefits of the spice saffron on the emotional and physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. The researchers noticed a significant drop in symptoms of depression as well, and so decided to put saffron to the test. See my 2-min. video Saffron vs. Prozac for the head-to-head test of the simple spice versus the drug Prozac for the treatment of clinical depression.

Remember saffron from my videos Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s and Saffron Versus Aricept? See my blog Natural Alzheimer’s Treatment for some context and my post on other natural remedies: Amla: Indian Gooseberries vs. Cancer, Diabetes, and Cholesterol.

If one little flower can do that, what might a diet full of plants achieve? Studies have found less depression among vegetarians, but maybe people who are happier go on to eat healthier rather than the other way around. One can’t prove cause and effect unless you put that to the test too, which was done last year. Researchers found that by removing all meat, fish, poultry, and eggs from people’s diets they could significantly improve mood scores after just two weeks! It can take drugs like Prozac a month or more to take effect.

The way drugs like Prozac work is by elevating levels of serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone.  Did you know there’s serotonin in plants? I certainly didn’t, but there’s serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, and all sorts of human neurotransmitters in plants. So much so that there’s been a call to start treating depression with “high-content sources of serotonin” such as pineapples, bananas, kiwis, plums, and tomatoes. And what are the side effects–maybe you’ll get a tomato seed stuck in your teeth or something?

For more, check out my videos on the wrong way to boost serotonin by taking potentially dangerous tryptophan supplements, better ways to boost serotonin to fight disorders like premenstrual depression, and perhaps the best way exemplified by findings from a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the successful use of butternut squash seeds to treat social anxiety disorder.

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

26 responses to “Saffron vs. Prozac for Depression

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  1. Can you please tell us where to find Saffron that isn’t an extract or an extract that doesn’t throw away the best parts? Is a Saffron extract for weight loss likely to be better or worse than a Saffron extract for depression?

    1. They are both antidepressants, but Prozac acts via serotonergic pathways, while Cymbalta acts via both serotonergic and norephinephrine pathways.

    2. I agree with KT. Relating to the prescribing of antidepressants which I did a fair amount in my career you might be interested in viewing an interview with Robert Whitaker, the author of the book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, at the McDougall Advanced Study Weekend earlier this month. If you go to the McDougall website under Important Links, Watch McDougall Medical Experts you can view his brief interview. It is clear that we need to develop other ways to treat mental illness which guarantees the appropriate use of medications based on both short term and long term studies. Currently I don’t write as many of these prescriptions and mainly for short term use. Of course you need to work closely with your physicians as everyone has a unique situation. Good luck.

  2. just not to forget about St John wort as an effective natural antidepressant which is as efficient as common SSRI drugs with way less side effects – for mild and medium cases of depression

    1. St. Johns Wort gave me horrible headaches…I stopped taking it, now I wonder if Saffron is the way to go..How does one take it? Number of Threads? Extract or the threads? Taken as tea or in a capsule? I wish there was more info about this…I am about on my last ‘thread’ of hope.

      1. Hi Piper,

        I have been drinking a nut based saffron powder for 10 years and its amazing! It has kept me looking younger even after 4 kids. I am just starting to do research on this because I want to share this secret with everyone. The fact that saffron is not only a beauty agent but also a treatment for depression is giving me goose bumps. This is amazing!! If you are not allergic to nuts and have a genuine interest in trying a saffron product, send me an email and I’ll send you a sample. Thanks and good luck!

        1. Hi Anita…

          Its funny you mention depression….i saw a counselor today (first time appointment)….
          I would be overjoyed to try your recipe… i tried to private message you, but the server said ‘not deliverable’…so, here is my email address below..will delete this when you reply :)

          Thank you! Piper

        2. I would be interested in knowing what you are using please?

          I am not interested in the weightloss part – but I do like the healthy attributes.

          Thank you.

        3. Hi trying to do a little research on anti-depressant, and cravings suppression effects of saffron, when I came across this article. I never heard of a nut based saffron, only the plant kind. Could you please provide some info? Many thanks!

        4. Hi, Anita. Thank you for your reply. I am looking for help with very tough depression pms symptoms i had for years. Could you please, send me the link to the drink you use. Best regards, Julia.

  3. I can’t find an exact relelvant blog related to my issue, but wanted to find out if you have any helpful information. I am trying to wean off Cymbalta and it has been the most difficult, traumatic process-physically and emotionally. My questions are 1) Do you have any reccommendations on how to reduce the symptoms naturally? 2) Do you plan to look at the efftects of these pharmaceuticals-the benefits vs long-term effects and the lack of education in the industry to properly educate doctors and patients on the risks and provide a meaningful ‘detox’ plan. Thanks you, any help would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Once patients are on anti-anxiety or anti depressant meds for greater then 6 weeks it is difficult to get off. The best option is to find a good psychiatrist who uses cognitive behavior techniques and is committed to getting patients off medications. It might be helpful for you to read Robert Whitaker’s book, The Anatomy of an Epidemic. Good luck.

  4. According to the clinical studies you need 30 mg of the saffron extract 2% safranal. There are a couple companies selling this supplement, one is OMAMISTORE.COM and the other is the VITAMINWORLD.COM I’m taking it for the last 10 months and my Citalopram dosage has gone down from 40 mg to 10 mg. I’m hopping to be drug free in the next couple of months. Saffron is the best natural alternative to treat depression and anxiety with no side effects. I know it works and I just hope more companies will offer this product.

  5. In the beginning, this stuff seemed like magic. Three weeks ago, my world fell out from under me. Well…Dr. Gregor was WRONG. It DOES have side effects. My skin is glow-in-the-dark-yellow, which is a sign that it is poisoning me. Other symptoms of saffron poisoning are vomiting, dizziness, and numbness, all of which I’ve developed. In bipolar people, it may trigger excitability and impulsive behavior. Don’t take saffron if you have this condition. AND THE BIG ONE for me–it may lower blood pressure, making blood pressure TOO LOW in people with low BP. I’m so weak I can hardly get off the couch. I sure hope I don’t have to go through withdrawal to get off this stuff.

  6. I am so sorry GC! That sounds awful!

    I am only using the supplemental extract and only 1 daily. Some bottles say twice daily but I am using it mainly to flavor my rice – I just love Saffron Rice.

    I hope you don’t have any withdrawal problems – I went through withdrawal from Aspirin and it was extremely uncomfortable. I suffered for about a week.

    I do hope and pray you feel better soon.

  7. Is it safe to eat saffron if you’re on an antidepressant such as Cymbalta?

    I’ve been eating 2-3 strands a day, but yesterday I developed a migraine that lasted all night. I’m not sure if it was from the saffron since the migraine started several hours after taking the saffron. Then again last night I ate 2 strands of saffron and took Cymbalta and woke up this morning with some nausea (but no migraine or headache).

    Does adding saffron to food while taking Cymbalta put me at risk for developing serotonin syndrome?

  8. I could not find cases of serotonin syndrome in your situation. Apparently, the active compounds in saffron mainly affect the dopamine and glutamate pathways. I did see reports of headache possibly associated with saffron ingestion. May I suggest you halt the saffron to see if doing so affects your migraine pattern or the nausea? If those symptoms resolve after no longer taking saffron, they may have been related to its use. -Dr Anderson Health Support Volunteer

  9. Hi, Cat. I scanned the references from this article, and did a quick Pubmed search for adverse effects of saffron. While this is not an exhaustive search, nothing significant came up. What I did find was related to allergic reactions or drugs derived from saffron rather than saffron itself. Some people may be allergic to almost anything, but those allergenic substances may be safe for everyone else.
    I think the key is to use saffron the way it is typically used in cooking, rather than taking larger amounts. Saffron is an expensive spice, and is used sparingly for that reason, if nothing else. It would be nice if the authors provided more information in the article you linked. That way, people would not be frightened without sufficient evidence provided. I hope that helps!

  10. Can you please provide some options for purchasing saffron? I keep reading reviews that many saffron products on amazon are scams. Hoping you can help navigate the system.

    Also, can you also recommend a daily dose for depression?

  11. Hi, Chelsea VanAllsburg! Saffron is the stigma and styles, basically the reproductive parts, of the flower Crocus sativa. If you have the space, and live in the right climate, you could try growing and harvesting your own. Saffron is expensive, because it takes a lot of flowers to produce a little bit of it, and it is labor intensive. Saffron supplements are probably scams, so I would avoid those, but you can buy saffron itself and use it culinarily. It is used in cooking paella, and often added to rice when cooking. You could add a little bit to any food. I hope that helps!

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