What are the health benefits of saffron supplements?Small studies with saffron extracts have shown very modest and limited benefits for sleep, anxiety, and depression, and for visual acuity in people with macular degeneration. There is very preliminary evidence of a benefit in Alzheimer's disease. Saffron extract may also reduce snacking, but not body weight. More research is needed to confirm these potential benefits (see What It Does).
What did ConsumerLab's tests of saffron extracts show?Our tests revealed large differences in the amounts of key saffron compounds (safranal, picrocrocin, and crocins), ranging more than 50-fold on some measures. One product contained so little picrocrocin as to suggest adulteration. Only 4 of 6 products could be fully Approved for their quality. The cost to get an equivalent amount of safranal (free + bound) ranged from just 9 cents to as much as $2 (see What CL Found).
Among the Approved supplements, CL selected two as its Top Picks for saffron — one providing a high dose and the other a moderate dose.
What to look for in saffron supplements?It can be tricky choosing a saffron supplement. A major reason is that they're made of saffron extracts and vary widely in strength (dose) and how they are standardized (see What It Is). For example, some products are standardized to "safranals" or "lepticrosalides" but these terms are not well defined and may not be accurate. Nevertheless, supplements that provide about 14 mg of extract standardized to 2% safranals (free + bound) or 3.5% lepticrosalides, or about 88 mg of extract standardized to 0.3% to 0.4% safranals are most consistent with products used in clinical trials — assuming they contain what they claim, which is not always the case. These doses are typically taken twice daily (see ConsumerTips).
Saffron supplement safety and side effects:At standard dosing, significant side effects have not been reported with saffron supplements, but studies have been short-term and safety in children and pregnant or nursing women has not been evaluated. There is a bleeding risk with very high-dose saffron (see Concerns and Cautions).