There is some anecdotal evidence that saffron may be good for you, but there doesn’t seem to be strong evidence to support this in animal research. However, a case report from South Africa in 2014, supports the idea that saffron may be a good thing when taken as directed. In this case study, saffron consumption was associated with decreased kidney disease. This is of particular interest when it comes to saffron’s purported health benefits. In this case study (see link below), two doctors in different rural areas of South Africa randomly assigned patients to saffron treatment (15 daily grams daily for six weeks, then six months if they were still healthy) or a control group (not treated with saffron, and having normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels). The study showed that the saffron group showed a 44% decrease in kidney disease compared to the control group. The researchers concluded that this reduction in kidney disease was likely due to saffron, saying “Saffron can improve cardiometabolic and cardiovascular disease, decrease the chances of cardiovascular failure and blood pressure, and reduce blood clotting rates.”
However, as this study is very small – with a few hundred participants taking part – the conclusions have been criticized for several reasons. For instance, while we know that low-dose saffron supplementation could reduce risk of colon cancer and other types of cancer in humans, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to get cancer. Studies have shown that low-dose saffron may increase the risk of bowel cancer in rats (see link below). If saffron caused colon cancer, we’d’ve seen it over the years.
Additionally, the researchers didn’t measure blood pressure. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends that people with a history of cardiovascular disease or who are being treated for cardiovascular disease take a blood pressure test every month. If saffron could have some impact in decreasing blood pressure, we probably would’ve seen it over the past 100 years. We probably wouldn’t have seen it as recently as 2013. We may not have seen that the association between saffron and reduced rates of prostate cancer could be due to saffron just because it would have been a good cause for doctors to research.
Lastly, the study didn’t measure diet, and there may have been some other confounding factors (such as physical activity patterns and dietary habits) that could have contributed to the lower kidney disease rate in the saffron group.
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