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Improving mood balance with your spice rack

January 2019 Print
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Help support your mood naturally with help from the exotic saffron

Widely used in Indian cuisine[1] and renowned for its intensely vivid crimson hue, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice – and it lives up to its pedigree. It boasts a long history of traditional use in Persian herbal medicine to support healthy mood balance, while modern scientific evidence also supports the use of saffron to promote a positive mood.[2]  

So, does the supermarket spice aisle provide an easy clue to combatting depression?

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Saffron is notoriously expensive due to the labour-intensive process of handpicking and drying threads from the Crocus sativus flower to create saffron for cooking. But, let’s face it. We can’t eat saffron rice or a paella every day and the spice itself is at a premium too. Australia produces around just 10 kilograms of saffron annually so must import around 3,500 kilograms from Spain and Iran each year[3] just to keep up demand. It is an expensive delicacy.

The good news is that Australian studies have found that the exotic spice has shown antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in youth on mild-to-moderate symptoms[4]. Those studies also found it is well-tolerated with no adverse effects[5] meaning supplementation may be a cost-effective on-going support. And if you’re suffering depression, this could be a breakthrough for added support.

Depression has a major impact on a person’s emotional and physical wellbeing

It is more than just mood changes – it’s a serious illness with several types of depressive disorders that has an impact on both physical and mental wellbeing. Depression is common and symptoms can range from minor through to very severe, but often it is an untreated affliction for around one million Australian adults in any one year. On average, one in eight men and one in five women will experience depression in their lifetime.[6]

There are many different approaches to treating depression from medical treatments and psychological therapies to complementary and alternative therapies.[7] The first and most important step is to develop a treatment plan with your chosen healthcare professional, but for many, a combination of therapies may be helpful supported by diet and lifestyle management. And there’s plenty you can do to support your medical treatment.

  • Enjoy good food: There is a link between poor diet and increased risk of poor mental health[8] so include lots of colourful vegetables, some fruit, and good quality proteins and fats for a varied healthy diet. It can’t hurt to cook with saffron too or try other colourful spices like turmeric.
  • Keep on moving: With strong evidence supporting the benefits of exercise for improving mood[9], even a simple walk can help clear your head. Dance, swim, hit a ball or walk the dog – just find your favourite way to move and make time for it every day.
  • Make time to meditate: Research supports use of relaxation techniques, in particular mindfulness practices[10] to help people with mental health conditions. A great place to start is through an app to guide your practice like Headspace. Or speak to your healthcare practitioner for a referral.
  • Get your zzz’s: Poor quality sleep and reduced sleep time are associated with increased risk of low mood.[11] Check out seven sleep hygiene hacks to support better health and wellbeing and tips on how to relieve insomnia.
  • Supplement with saffron: Saffron contains many bioactive compounds, and it is thought that two of its components – crocin and safranal – affect the levels in the brain of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Studies reveal that saffron stigma or petals reduce depression more than placebos while other research comparing saffron with antidepressants found no difference in effectiveness between the two.[12]

If you’re interested in trying saffron to support you in managing your mood, its important you do so in conjunction with your healthcare practitioner. If you have a diagnosis or are concerned about bipolar disorder, please do not try any saffron supplementation due to possible adverse side effects. Also, please avoid saffron if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and always speak with your healthcare practitioner before taking any supplement.

References available on request

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