Saffron: a natural product with potential pharmaceutical applications

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Recently, a great deal of interest has been developed to isolate and investigate novel bioactive components from natural resources with health beneficial effects. Saffron is the dried stigma of Crocus sativus L. and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine mainly for its healing properties, as well as for the treatment of various pathological conditions. Objectives of the present review are to unravel its therapeutic properties and investigate the potential applications of saffron in contemporary therapy of a wide spectrum of diseases and summarize previous and current evidence regarding the biological/pharmacological activities of saffron and its active ingredients and their possible therapeutic uses.

Key findings

Recent phytochemistry and pharmacological experiments have indicated that crocin and safranal, the major active ingredients of saffron, exert important actions, such as antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-atherosclerotic. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those data derive from in vitro studies, whereas a limited number of in vivo experiments support the aforementioned effects. In addition to studies with mechanistic implications, very few clinical trials provide preliminary evidence of saffron potentiality to alleviate depression and increase cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer's disease.


The history and structural features of saffron constituents are given in the first part of the review, followed by a comprehensive and critical presentation of the published preclinical and clinical studies and review papers on the pharmacology and possible therapeutic uses of saffron and its main active components crocin and safranal.

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