Saf­fron

Focus-Science and Technology - - HEALTH -

Per­haps best known as the world’s most ex­pen­sive spice, saf­fron has an al­lur­ing yel­low colour and a sub­tly flo­ral, slightly bit­ter taste. The golden strands are the dried stig­mata (part of the fe­male re­pro­duc­tive sys­tem) of Cro­cus sativus flow­ers. With a health­boost­ing rep­u­ta­tion to match its price tag, saf­fron is packed full of an­tiox­i­dants and many stud­ies point to its can­cer-fighting prop­er­ties. It’s also said to be good for the brain. Some hu­man stud­ies sug­gest that tak­ing 30mg per day may help to ease mild de­pres­sion; oth­ers show that a daily dose may im­prove cog­ni­tive func­tion in the early stages of Alzheimer’s dis­ease. And that’s be­fore we get to saf­fron’s famed aphro­disiac qual­i­ties, il­lus­trated by an Ira­nian study show­ing that a month’s saf­fron treat­ment gave a boost to sex­ual func­tion in women who had been treated for de­pres­sion.

The spice con­tains hun­dreds of com­pounds, but its main bi­o­log­i­cal com­po­nents are safranal, crocin and pi­cro­crocin, which de­liver its aroma, colour and bit­ter taste. Of these, crocin and a re­lated chem­i­cal called cro­cetin are largely re­spon­si­ble for its su­per­pow­ers. Crocin has been shown to pro­tect brain cells and act as an an­tide­pres­sant, and also has a record of in­hibit­ing tu­mour growth for a range of can­cers in ro­dents, in­clud­ing breast and prostate.

At United Arab Emi­rates Univer­sity, Dr Amr Amin’s team claims to have de­vel­oped a method for treat­ing can­cer­ous liver cells us­ing mag­netite (iron) par­ti­cles coated with crocin. “Our group pro­vided ev­i­dence that saf­fron ex­erts a sig­nif­i­cant chemo­pre­ven­ta­tive ef­fect against both liver and col­orec­tal can­cer through dif­fer­ent molec­u­lar mech­a­nisms,” he says. Mean­while, sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Kansas sug­gest that cro­cetin can in­hibit pan­cre­atic can­cer cells, both in a petri dish and in mice. The team re­cently made cro­ce­tinic acid, which ap­pears to have even more po­tent can­cer-fighting

abil­i­ties.

“A month’s saf­fron treat­ment gave a boost to sex­ual func­tion in women who had been treated for de­pres­sion”

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