Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Wham: Herbal Products for Depression Include Saffron

In the fall of 2007, Sham vs. Wham reported on the new clinical trial published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry about the herb Rhodiola rosea. In that trial, there was a significant mood elevation shown for the herb, on a par with SSRI antidepressants. Now, another trial has been reported on which uses the spice Saffron.

Depression is a common health problem worldwide; it is estimated that depressive disorders will represent the second largest disease burden by the year 2020. Unfortunately, the side effects associated with many of the drugs for depression make these therapies intolerable for some. In addition, many patients do not respond to these agents adequately. That's why there is such an interest right now in exploring herbal options.

Unfortunately, St. Johns Wort (one of the major herbs in this category) has been found to have significant cross-interaction with pharmaceutical products, which makes it unusable for many patients.

Recent clinical trials have shown that extracts from the petal and stigma of saffron (Crocus sativus) are effective in the treatment of mild-to-moderate major depression. The objective of the most recent study was to compare the antidepressant effect of a conventional antidepressant (Prozac) with that of the petal of saffron (the least expensive part of this rather expensive spice.)

Forty-eight patients aged 18-55 years with major depression were enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, clinical trial, which was conducted at the University of Tehran (Tehran, Iran). The patients had a Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) of between 17 and 25. The patients were randomly assigned to receive a 15-mg saffron petal extract capsule (standardized to 0.30-0.35 mg safranal) or a 10-mg Prozac capsule twice daily (morning and evening) for 8 weeks.

A significant effect for both saffron and Prozac was observed. The difference in scores between the 2 treatment groups was not significant at week 8. The main finding of this study was that extract from the petal of C. sativus "may be of therapeutic benefit in the treatment of mild to moderate depression." This finding agrees with that of previous studies, which showed that extracts from the petal and stigma of this plant have antidepressant effects.

Unfortunately, this trial wasn't as modern and sophisticated as the Rhodiola trial, which had a Placebo element and much more detail paid to statistical analysis. Still, it is good to see that researchers are working on safe and effective herbal treatments for a growing worldwide health concern.


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