Anticancer Properties Of Saffron
As more positive data accumulates about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, researchers are uncovering new applications for the spice saffron, which is a Mediterranean diet constituent.
In multiple studies, scientists are finding that saffron has the unique ability to both slow and reverse cancer growth!1
Saffron’s cancer-preventive properties include inhibiting the promotion of tumors and preventing chemical modifications to DNA that can activate cancer genes or induce new cancer-causing mutations.2-4
Additionally, saffron has been shown to help reduce the harmful effects produced by chemotherapy drugs.
Chemo drugs can induce genetic damage that may lead to new cancers, making standard chemotherapy a double-edged sword and limiting its effectiveness.5 Research has found that the abundant carotenoids in saffron offer direct protection against chemotherapy-induced DNA damage.5
Along with its chemoprevention abilities, saffron contains a host of beneficial, biologically active compounds that have been shown to protect heart and blood vessel tissue,6 ease the impact of diabetes and other metabolic disorders,7 and slow or even reverse cognitive and mood disorders associated with aging.8
This spice with ancient origins is finding new use in the battle against the onslaughts of aging.
Saffron consists of the dried dark red or yellow “stigmas” of the crocus flower, Crocus sativus.9 In addition to its culinary uses, saffron has a long history as a potent component of traditional medical systems.2,5,10-13
Like most plant derivatives, saffron contains a multitude of bioactive molecules, many of which have been shown to have specific benefits in the body. Chief among these molecules are crocin, crocetin, and safranal, members of the carotenoid family of molecules that also includes forms of vitamin A.4,14
These compounds have been shown to exert multiple favorable effects in laboratory studies, including improved oxygen diffusion (which enhances lung performance and brain oxygenation), improved treatment of atherosclerosis and arthritis, protection of liver tissue against damage by chemical toxins, and protection of bladder tissue against chemical damage.3
Let’s now take a closer look at how saffron and its constituents beneficially effect cancer, heart disease, metabolic disorders, and cognitive disorders.
Comprehensive Cancer Chemoprevention
Cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death, killing about 8 million people each year.2,10,14 While the bulk of mainstream medical research has been aimed at treating cancers once they appear,12 wiser researchers search for natural molecules that might derail the development of cancer very early in its development. This admirable goal is known as chemoprevention, as opposed to chemotherapy.
In this search, saffron has emerged as a contender for effective chemoprevention because it acts at multiple stages in the complex set of events that lead to a full-blown tumor.10,15,16 Let’s look at how saffron works as a chemopreventive agent one stage at a time:
The first step in cancer development, or carcinogenesis, is some kind of trigger that initiates malignant transformation. This may be an environmental toxin, a stray oxygen radical, or invasion with certain viruses. Saffron components have been shown to help prevent carcinogenesis caused by each of these triggers.
In one study, the saffron derivatives crocin and diglucosylcrocetin were shown to inhibit tumor cell markers emerging on the surface of virally infected cells in laboratory experiments.17 In another study, when hamsters were orally treated with saffron prior to administration of a powerful chemical carcinogen, tumor formation was completely prevented, demonstrating its ability to prevent the initial stage of cancer.18
Saffron extracts and specific components have also been shown to potently prevent DNA damage caused by free radicals, radiation, and inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of new cancer formation.5,19
Inhibits The Rapid Spread Of Cancer Cells
Once a cell has been triggered to become malignant, it then proliferates, or reproduces rapidly and without normal controls, to produce a developing tumor. Studies show that saffron is able to suppress—and in some cases reverse—the proliferation of certain human cancer cells in culture.
For example, one compelling study found that colon cancer cells that were treated with either saffron extract—or its major component, crocin—displayed sharp and significant reductions in proliferation, to as low as 2.8% of the rate seen in untreated cells.4 A similar reduction in proliferation was demonstrated in non-small cell lung cancer and breast cancer cells in culture. 4,9 It is important to note that in none of these studies did saffron or its constituents display damage to healthy, normal cells.4,9
Crocetin, another major saffron constituent, has been found to inhibit proliferation of pancreatic cells in culture as well.20 And in live animal studies, crocetin produced marked regression of pancreatic tumors that were induced when aggressive pancreatic cancer cells were directly injected into mice. Importantly, in this study, the crocetin was given orally, and only after the tumors were already detectable, demonstrating crocetin’s potent ability not only to slow, but to reverse cancer growth!20
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Saffron: Systemic Protection For Your Body
- Saffron, the ancient spice from the Middle East and Asia, contains a host of beneficial, biologically active compounds.
- In particular, saffron and its extracts demonstrate anticancer effects, making saffron a promising cancer chemopreventive agent.
- In addition to preventing and mitigating cancer development and progression, saffron provides protection for heart and blood vessel tissue, eases the impact of diabetes and other metabolic disorders, and slows or reverses cognitive and mood disorders associated with aging.
- Saffron’s multiple beneficial effects act at levels fundamental to the proper function of all body cells, making it a true “whole-body” supplement and validating its centuries-old use as a protector of human health.
Triggers Programmed Cell Death
Another important way in which developing cancer cells can be stopped in their tracks is through the mechanism known as apoptosis, or programmed cell death. All normal body cells contain a genetic program that induces the cell to die under specific conditions. This is a vital means of removing damaged cells and preventing overgrowth of normal tissues. Cancer cells, however, typically lose their responsiveness to the apoptosis signal, effectively becoming “immortal,” and hence, deadly.
Saffron has been shown to trigger apoptosis in a variety of cancer cell lines, which is seen as an essential component of any cancer-control or cancer-prevention method.11,19-21 In fact, all three major components of saffron—crocin, crocetin, and safranal—have shown powerful apoptosis-inducing properties.2,22,23
If a cancer cell survives attempts to quash it by blocking proliferation or apoptosis, it may go on to produce specialized molecules that help it degrade the protein matrix between healthy cells, allowing it to invade otherwise-healthy tissue.24 This is how cancers spread locally, and it is also a major mechanism in metastasis, the spread of malignant cells throughout the body.25-27
The saffron constituent crocetin has now been shown to downregulate production of one such protein-degradation molecular type, known as matrix metalloproteinase.24 This action has been shown to prevent breast cancer cells from penetrating and invading both local tissues and those in other parts of the body by metastasis.24
Still another means by which growing tumors are able to thrive is through the induction of new blood vessel growth, a process known as angiogenesis. Considerable scientific effort has been devoted to developing drugs that can block angiogenesis, thereby starving a developing tumor of the nutrients and oxygen it needs to sustain growth.28
Recent studies support the use of saffron extracts in reducing levels of a vital signaling molecule called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which markedly reduces new blood vessel formation in the tumor mass.29
Studies Show Saffron Prevents The Deadliest Human Cancers
As you just read, extensive data has provided persuasive evidence that saffron can prevent, mitigate, and even reverse many of the changes that lead a healthy cell to turn cancerous. As a result, a growing body of literature now supports the use of saffron for the prevention of several of the most aggressive and deadly human cancers, including liver, lung, and stomach cancers.
Liver cancer is an increasing public health threat, partly the result of the growing number of toxins in our environment and partly the result of increasing prevalence of the hepatitis C virus, especially in people born in the Baby Boom generation.30
In rats given a powerful chemical that produces liver cancer, a two-week pretreatment course of saffron significantly reduced the number and size of cancerous nodules developing in the animals’ livers.15 Sub-microscopic study of the affected cells showed that saffron achieved this effect by sharply reducing the levels of oxidant and inflammatory signaling that contributes to malignant cell growth and also by inducing apoptosis, which helped to stop tumors from growing.15
Lung cancer is another major cancer that continues to be a leading cause of death, even as rates of smoking decline. Saffron extracts have now been used to reduce the viability of lung cancer cells in culture, inducing cell death by apoptosis.31
In studies of stomach cancer, another rapidly increasing cancer worldwide, crocetin enhanced apoptosis and slowed tumor progression, while boosting blood levels of protective compounds that further suppress cancer development.32 In one study, a water extract of saffron produced similar effects in an animal model of stomach cancer. 33
To date, saffron, its extracts, and its individual components crocin, crocetin, and safranal have demonstrated compelling preventive effects against cancers of the lung, liver, colon, breast, pancreas, stomach, bone, and blood.9,32,34-39 Saffron has an impressive safety profile, with no evidence of toxic effects on healthy tissues or harmful effects on blood coagulation.5,40