There are various medicinal plants and herbal medicine such as curcumin, Carica papaya, ginger, black seed, etc. and all of them can have a therapeutic effect in the management of diseases. Saffron and its constituents play an important role in the inhibition of different kinds of disorders.
The dried stigma of Crocus Sativus plant is called saffron. It is mainly found in Asian and European countries. Iran is known as a country with the most cultivated area of saffron. It is estimated that over 80 percent of this crop, cultivated in Iran. Mediterranean countries are in second place of harvesting this product. In the past, not only saffron was used in traditional medicine as a treatment of different disorders, but also it was used in industrial applications as a natural color or dye, flavoring agent, perfume, preservative, etc. It is known as the most expensive spice in the world and “Red Gold” in Iran.
Today, saffron is used in various industries and has many applications including pharmaceutical, food and beverage, industrial, chemicals, supplements, etc. because it has various constituents and components. Since saffron is a new source of therapeutic agent it could be used more for the pharmaceutical industry.
These days, many types of research have been done on pharmaceutical and medicinal applications of saffron; the data and analysis of the red stigma of crocus sativus flower in the laboratories demonstrated that saffron has many components and vitamins. Its pharmacological components are crocin, picrocrocin, safranal which are responsible for the color, bitter taste and the aroma of saffron, respectively. The components of saffron could be applicable for different uses and actions. Crocin is the main substance of the stigma which is water soluble. This property of Crocin has been affected to be used as a combination of different medicines, cosmetics, food, etc.
Totally, there have been more than 150 compounds in the stigma of saffron including colored carotenoids named Crocin and Crocetin. Crocin could be used as a color additive; its weight is almost 6-16 % of dried saffron stigmas. There are other main substances including the bitter components called Picrocrocin and Safranal. There are also so many other compounds in saffron which are known as color compounds and include: α-carotene, lycopene, carotenoids, and glycosidic, β-carotene, Zeaxanthingentiobioside, glycoside, di-glycoside, beta-crocetin, gamma-crocetin and gentio-glycoside.
Safranal as a fat-soluble substance and Crocetin are bitter, however, the bitterness of saffron caused by another component called Picrocrocin.
Studies indicated that those flavonoids such as proteins, resins, amino acids, lycopene, starch, and other compounds are present in saffron stigmas.
Water is the principal component of saffron, it constitutes 14 to 16 percent of the stigma, other substances of this plant include nitrogenous matters, extract soluble, sugars, fibers, volatile oil, total ashes which forms 11 to 13 %, 41-44 %, 12-15 %, 4-5 %, 0.6-0.9 %, 4-6 %, respectively. There are two substantial vitamins in the stigma of saffron includes riboflavin and thiamine and a small amount of β-carotene. There are also other carotenoids in the chemical structure of Crocus Sativus which include zeaxanthin, mangicrocin, xanthone-carotenoid, glycosidic conjugate.
It has been proved that Ethanolic and aqueous saffron extract, Saffron petal extract and the main constituents of saffron; Crocin and Safranal have an antidepressant effect in experimental studies. The effect of saffron capsules on depression has been investigated in another study. The results showed no side effects.
The stigma of saffron and its component administered in a dose-dependent manner, it raised the dopamine and glutamate levels in the brain and decrease withdrawal syndrome by interacting with the opioid system. Another study has been done and the results of using Crocin showed that it decreased withdrawal signs; Saffron extract had the same effect.
C. sativus and its main constituent Crocin solution and saffron extract have an important role in cognition. Saffron and saffron extract in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in patients with mild, moderate and severe AD. For the treatment of Parkinson as a disorder of neural processes in the brain, Crocetin was administered in animal models. The results demonstrated a certain anticonvulsant activity of the active saffron components.
Up to one percent of the worldwide population has been affected by Schizophrenia which is known as a serious mental disorder. Symptoms in Schizophrenic patients could be divided into three main types: cognitive disturbances, positive and negative symptoms that affect the attention and memory, disorders which created in the thinking process and social withdrawal, respectively. The results of the clinical studies on Schizophrenic patients showed that crocin and saffron extract administered were safe if they are taken twice daily.
Anxiety is a behavioral disorder that body shows to respond to threatening and stressful stimuli; it has different types from mild to moderate. It is generally known as an important public health issue around the world. The experimental evidence demonstrated that Crocin as one of the main components of saffron has a vital role in reducing the anxiety effects. Moreover, the aqueous extract of saffron and Safranal could have positive effects on this problem, too. It has been proved that crocin saffron may decrease the stress level.
Based on the findings of different studies, it has been proved that Crocin as a major constituent of saffron could decrease the glucose level of blood. Therefore, it would be beneficial for patients with blood disorders.
The researches demonstrated that the Ethanolic saffron extract, Crocetin, Crocin, Safranal, and Picrocrocin has positive effects on cancer and tumor cells growth inhibition. But more studies should be done to prove their effect on various cancer and tumors.
The researches on the second-degree burn wounds on the animals showed that saffron extract has a positive effect on treating this kind of burning. It is supposed that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity of saffron is responsible for it. To make it brief, saffron and its main constituents such as Crocin and Safranal indicate considerable medicinal properties, including anticancer, antioxidant, etc. which may be applied to a wide range of disorders in the body.
Different studies have been done related to the therapeutic and pharmacological applications of saffron; all of them demonstrate the antioxidant activity of saffron due to the unique carotenoids of crocin. Researchers investigated saffron constituents including Picrocrocin, Crocin, and Safranal among the countries that are known as the most famous saffron manufacturers; the results in their laboratories showed that Iranian saffron has higher concentrations of the main components which might be due to the location of the country; the degree of purity is inevitable. Saffron stigma contains various substances and active ingredients that play an important role in management disorder and has positive effects on health improvement. Due to different activities of saffron includes anti-tumor, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-diabetic, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective; it could be used for various purposes of cure and prevention of diseases. Saffron and its active ingredients especially pure crocin are safe and have no side effects in different proportions based on clinical studies.
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