Complementary and Alternative Medicine Study Show Two Popular Indian Super-Spices Can Help Fight Depression

Turmeric and Saffron are commonly used spices in Indian cooking. Ayurveda which is the sister-science of Yoga and Meditation have used these two spices as medicines for over 5,000 years.


Curcumin is the compound that gives turmeric its bright yellow colour. Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory pharmacological agent. Therefore, it is used in Ayurveda to treat a variety of conditions such as blood cleansing, immune support, joint support, cosmetics tonsillitis, wound healing and more.


Saffron (Crocus savitus) is an ancient Middle Eastern and Indian spice that is derived from the dried stigma of the flower from the saffron crocous. Saffron has strong antioxidant properties and its major constituents are safranal, crocin, and crocetin. Practitioners of Yoga and Meditation of use Turmeric and/or Saffron in recipes such as Golden milk for maintenance of good health.


There are approximately 350 million people affected by depression. Depression can be a serious health risk when it is long-lasting, and it can lead to suicide. Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Depression continues to escalate despite the billions of dollars invested by pharmaceutical companies for finding the ‘magic cure’. Drug antidepressants are now taken regularly, and the majority of patients who take them suffer at least one of the adverse side-effects. Scientists continue to seek safer and effective pharmaceutical medications, but to date, the struggle continues.

Saffron and Turmeric the Super Spices

Complementary and Alternative Medicine research by Sanmukhani et al in 2013 showed that curcumin has similar clinical efficacy to fluoxetin (Prozac). This was later confirmed by Lopresti et al in 2014 who recruited 56 people diagnosed with major depression for a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial lasting eight weeks. The results indicated that curcumin at a dose of 500 mg per day twice daily performs just as well as Prozac which is a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.
Other Complementary and Alternative Medicine studies have validated the use of Saffron as a medicinal spice by practitioners of Yoga and Meditation, and Ayurveda. A key research study by Akhondzadeh et al in 2004 looked at 30 adult outpatients who satisfied the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (criteria for depression). They were randomly assigned into two groups:

• Group 1 – capsule of saffron pistils 30 mg/day
• Group 2 – imipramine (tricyclic antidepressant) 100 mg/day

At the end of the 6-week double-blind randomised trial, the researchers found that saffron to be just as effective as imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

While both these traditional medicines are important alternatives to treating mild to moderate depression, a recent study has shown that combining both saffron and turmeric is effective in reducing depressive and anxiolytic symptoms in people with major depressive disorder. Lopresti et al 2016 carried out a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 123 individuals with major depressive disorder. They were treated with combined low-dose curcumin extract plus saffron for 12 weeks. The trial revealed that the drug treatments comprising of differing doses of curcumin and combined curcumin/saffron was effective in reducing depressive and anxiolytic symptoms in people with major depressive disorder. While this is a small trial, it validated the use of turmeric and saffron by practitioners of Ayurveda and Yoga and Meditation for treating mild depression. The combination of turmeric and saffron may also be more efficacious in those cohorts who cannot tolerate high doses of turmeric and/or PMS women with accompanying depression. Saffron should, however, be avoided in pregnant or breastfeeding women.