Perhaps you or someone you love has experienced a period of depression. According to the World Health Organization: more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.
The numbers in the United States might actually be higher. A study published in Pediatrics in 2016 found that teens who reported an major depressive episode in the previous 12 months jumped from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014. That’s a 37% increase!
The commonly accepted pharmaceutical answer to depression are SSRIs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Lexapro. Essentially, they work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, then block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, making more serotonin available.
SSRIs also come with a number of side effects. The most common are sleep disturbances, weight gain, and an inability to reach orgasm. SSRIs can sometimes trigger serotonin syndrome, a buildup in serotonin in the brain. Serotonin syndrome can cause agitation and restlessness, nausea, rapid heartbeat and heart failure, and extreme cases of serotonin syndrome can result in death. But for some, using SSRIs can actually make them more likely to attempt suicide.
According to Drugwatch.com, in 2014, a study by Danish researchers assessed 13 previous clinical trials of adults who take antidepressant drugs. They found that: the medications could double the likelihood of a patient becoming suicidal if that person was not truly clinically depressed before taking the medications.
The researchers, from the Nordic Cochrane Centre and the University of Copenhagen concluded that, when these types of patients were given antidepressants, side effects such as anxiety and nervousness doubled, acting as “precursors to suicidality or violence.”
But suicidal tendencies due to use of SSRIs can be a risk for those correctly diagnosed with depression, especially children and adolescents. According to a 2012 report, a 2005 study comparing SSRIs with placebo or other antidepressants found almost a two-fold increase in the odds of suicidal attempts, but not in completed suicides, in SSRI users, was found compared to placebo or other therapeutic interventions.
Studies have also found that, for those who have used SSRIs for an extended period of time, it is almost impossible to live without them. According to an article in the New York Times, many people stop the medications without significant trouble. But the rise in longtime use is also the result of an unanticipated and growing problem: Many who try to quit say they cannot because of withdrawal symptoms they were never warned about.
Not every person who deals with depression chooses to use pharmaceuticals. Diet, exercise, mindfulness, or cognitive behavioral therapy are all viable solutions. Nutritional supplements and nootropics can also be an effective way of dealing with depression. One of the most effective herbs to use is saffron.
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus or saffron crocus. The crimson colored stigmas, called threads, are collected, dried, and sold to be used mainly as a seasoning and coloring agent for food. It is the world's most costly spice by weight. Many other plants are often passed off as saffron by sellers wanting to take advantage of those who are looking for a lower price on this expensive spice.
But saffron isn’t just for cooking. In ancient Persian medicine, saffron was often used to treat ‘melancholy’. In the past 30 years, more and more people are using saffron as a way to deal with depression and anxiety. Recent studies have demonstrated that saffron is as effective as some antidepressants when it comes to relieving symptoms – and offering a viable alternative to those wanting to avoid pharmaceuticals – and the cost involved in using them.
According to a 2014 review of 12 studies on the effectiveness of saffron in relieving symptoms of depression (compared to a placebo) saffron also relieved depression and was effective in reducing excessive snacking behavior associated with depression and anxiety. Another study, comparing saffron use with use of antidepressants resulted in findings that suggested saffron was just as effective as SSRIs while avoiding the most troubling side effect – sexual dysfunction and inability to achieve orgasm.
Saffron’s effectiveness is thought to be due to increased serotonin action in the body and is not without its own side effects. However, Reddit users report very mild side effects such as vision changes that are negated by the benefits – and saffron actually improves visual acuity for those suffering from age-related macular disintegration. In addition to its effectiveness as an antidepressant, saffron is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, can regulate blood sugar in diabetic thanks to its large amount of manganese, and increase circulation due to its iron content. And, as it relaxes the muscle in the stomach, it is thought to create a more hospitable environment for the serotonin produced in the stomach.
The accepted daily amount of saffron to combat depression and anxiety is 30 mg. As with many natural remedies, buying the highest quality saffron you can is important, as is keeping track of its effects over time so that you can adjust your dose as necessary. And you may want to have a conversation with your doctor, especially if you plan to transition from a current prescription.