Background: Throughout the past three decades, increased scientific attention has been given to examining saffron's (Crocus sativus L.) use as a potential therapeutic or preventive agent for a number of health conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and depression.
Objective: The purpose of this systematic review is to examine and categorize the current state of scientific evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) regarding the efficacy of saffron on psychological/behavioral outcomes.
Search strategy: Electronic and non-electronic systematic searches were conducted to identify all relevant human clinical research on saffron. The search strategy was extensive and was designed according to the "Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA)." Reference lists of articles that met the inclusion criteria were searched. Only English language studies were reviewed.
Inclusion criteria: Saffron trials in combination with other substances and saffron safety studies were considered, in accordance with the PRISMA statement. Included studies must have a control group. Included studies must measure a physiological and/or a behavioral outcome.
Data extraction and analysis: The methodological quality of all included studies was independently evaluated by two reviewers using the Jadad score. Mean scores and P-values of measures were compared both inter- and intra-study for each parameter (i.e., depression).
Results: Twelve studies met our inclusion criteria. These studies examined the effects of saffron on psychological/behavioral outcomes of: major depressive disorder (n=6), premenstrual syndrome (n = 1), sexual dysfunction and infertility (n=4), and weight loss/snacking behaviors (n=1). The data from these studies support the efficacy of saffron as compared to placebo in improving the following conditions: depressive symptoms (compared to anti-depressants and placebo), premenstrual symptoms, and sexual dysfunction. In addition, saffron use was also effective in reducing excessive snacking behavior.
Conclusion: Findings from initial clinical trials suggest that saffron may improve the symptoms and the effects of depression, premenstrual syndrome, sexual dysfunction and infertility, and excessive snacking behaviors. Larger multi-site clinical trials are needed to extend these preliminary findings.