Saffron supplement, exercise combo may ease depression in MS women

Dual treatment improved quality of life more than either one alone

Margarida Maia, PhD avatar

by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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Combining a saffron supplement and an exercise program for three months was seen to significantly ease depression and improve quality of life for women with multiple sclerosis (MS), a study in Iran found.

The combination of the two treatments worked better than either approach alone.

“Although … the corrective exercises program and saffron consumption alone were effective in reducing depression and enhancing the quality of life in MS patients, the consequences will be more beneficial in [cases where] these two interventions are used together,” the researchers wrote.

“Therefore, it is necessary to encourage MS patients to consume saffron supplement along with doing physical activities in caring and rehabilitation programs,” the team wrote.

The study, “The effect of saffron and corrective exercises on depression and quality of life in women with multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled clinical trial,” was published in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

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MS occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the protective myelin coating around nerve cells, leading to a range of symptoms from numbness and fatigue to pain and difficulty walking.

Such symptoms can affect how patients go about their daily lives, their mood, and how they manage relationships with friends and family, or at work. As a result, mental health problems such as anxiety or depression have been seen in MS patients from a very early stage and are much more common than in the general population.

Exercise is known to help patients stay healthy and manage symptoms, including fatigue and depression.

But it is unknown whether coupling such efforts with changes in nutrition — such as taking a saffron supplement — may bring further benefits. Saffron is a cooking spice from the Middle East that contains crocin, a natural antioxidant that can help protect nerve cells from damage.

The researchers acknowledged that their aim was to test whether “the general belief that saffron is related to happiness is not just an old and superstitious belief.”

To that end, the team examined the effects of combining corrective exercises with saffron versus each of the approaches alone, or no intervention. Their study enrolled 80 women with MS at a single center in Iran. The participants had mild to moderate levels of disability, depression, and quality of life. All continued to receive their standard MS treatments during the study.

Participants in the exercise groups underwent sports training and corrective exercises three times a week for 12 weeks, or about three months. Each session included stretching and strength movements selected by a specialist trainer to correct posture, and weight-bearing exercises done without equipment for strength training.

Those assigned to the combination or saffron groups received supplements of saffron, given as 15 mg oral capsules twice daily, also for 12 weeks.

Over the duration of the interventions, patients were asked to score their depression and quality of life using the Beck’s Depression Inventory (BDI) and the 29-question MS Impact Scale (MSIS-29).

The average depression scores were similar across all four groups at the study’s start, falling in the range of moderate depression.

The results showed that the each of the interventions significantly eased depression after 12 weeks compared with the no intervention group.

Patients in the combination group, however, fared significantly better than the saffron group, and tended to be better than those doing exercise alone, although this latter comparison failed to reach statistical significance.

The results of this study showed that the consumption of saffron is effective in reducing depression and increasing the psychological aspect of the quality of life in people with MS.

Similar findings were observed for the psychological dimension of quality of life. All interventions were better than the control or non-intervention strategy at improving this domain of quality of life. Again, the combination treatment was significantly better than exercise or saffron alone.

Exercise was as good as the combination therapy at improving physical quality of life, and both together were significantly better than saffron alone or the control group. Yet, saffron was still better than no intervention (as seen with the control group) at improving the physical domain of quality of life.

“Depression is common in MS patients and can be life-threatening,” the researchers wrote.

“The results of this study showed that the consumption of saffron is effective in reducing depression and increasing the psychological aspect of the quality of life in people with MS,” the team wrote.