Saffron for mild cognitive impairment and dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials

BMC Complement Med Ther. 2020 Nov 9;20(1):333. doi: 10.1186/s12906-020-03102-3.


Background: Saffron (stigma of Crocus sativus L.) from Iridaceae family is a well-known traditional herbal medicine that has been used for hundreds of years to treat several diseases such as depressive mood, cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Recently, anti-dementia property of saffron has been indicated. However, the effects of saffron for the management of dementia remain controversial. The aim of the present study is to explore the effectiveness and safety of saffron in treating mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

Methods: An electronic database search of some major English and Chinese databases was conducted until 31st May 2019 to identify relevant randomised clinical trials (RCT). The primary outcome was cognitive function and the secondary outcomes included daily living function, global clinical assessment, quality of life (QoL), psychiatric assessment and safety. Rev-Man 5.3 software was applied to perform the meta-analyses.

Results: A total of four RCTs were included in this review. The analysis revealed that saffron significantly improves cognitive function measured by the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale-cognitive subscale (ADAS-cog) and Clinical Dementia Rating Scale-Sums of Boxes (CDR-SB), compared to placebo groups. In addition, there was no significant difference between saffron and conventional medicine, as measured by cognitive scales such as ADAS-cog and CDR-SB. Saffron improved daily living function, but the changes were not statistically significant. No serious adverse events were reported in the included studies.

Conclusions: Saffron may have the potential to improve cognitive function and activities of daily living in patients with Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). However, due to limited high-quality studies there is insufficient evidence to make any recommendations for clinical use. Further clinical trials on larger sample sizes are warranted to shed more light on its efficacy and safety.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Dementia; Iridaceae; MCI; Saffron; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Dysfunction / drug therapy*
  • Crocus*
  • Dementia / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Mental Status and Dementia Tests
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic