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by Matthew Hicks
Integrative Psychiatry Review

002 - Saffron for ADHD


Saffron for ADHD

  • Baziar S, Aqamolaei A, Khadem E, et al. Crocus sativus L. Versus Methylphenidate in Treatment of Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind Pilot Study. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2019;29(3):205-212.
  • The standard of care in treating ADHD is the use of stimulant medications, the most popular of which is methylphenidate (Ritalin).
    • It works by blocking the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine in presynaptic neurons in the cerebral cortex and subcortical structures.  NE and DA are the primary neurotransmitters responsible for learning, rewards, memory formation, and stimulation.
    • Side effects include insomnia, nausea, loss of appetite, anticholinergic effects (dry mouth, pupil dilation and blurred vision, hyperthermia), orthostatic hypotension, and arrhythmias. 
  • Saffron (Crocus sativus) has been known as the world’s most expensive spice. About 90% of the world’s supply comes from Iran. In addition to its culinary application it is also used for its antispasmodic, antiseptic, antidepressant, anticancer, memory enhancement, anxiolytic, neuroprotective, and anticonvulsant effects. 
    • The primary mechanisms of saffron are thought to be reuptake inhibition of NE and DA, antagonism of NMDA receptors, and agonist of GABA-α.
  • How the study was done
    • Randomized, double-blind, parallel-group clinical trial. 
    • Tehran University of Medical Sciences
    • 50 Males and females between the ages of 6 and 17 with ADHD completed.
    • Patients were randomized to receive standard-dose methylphenidate (tid, at 30mg/day for kids >30kg) on a titration schedule or 30mg/day of saffron in three doses.
    • Outcome measure was a parent and teacher rating scale measure at baseline, week 3, and week 6 of treatment.
  • Results:
    • There was no statistically significant difference between parent or teacher ratings of either inattentive or hyperactive behaviors between the two groups. In other words, both saffron and methylphenidate improved ADHD symptoms equally well. 
    • The saffron group reported fewer although not significantly fewer side effects.

My thoughts:

  • Stimulants lead to significant improvement in the quality of life for many people, however, they don’t work in everyone and many have undesirable side-effects.
  • Coming down for the medication is hard and can lead to mood disturbances
  • People can become tolerant to stimulants
  • They can become dependent on them in place of developing skills to manage their symptoms
  • This study was small, the first and only study of saffron for ADHD, and there was no placebo group
  • More studies should be done to confirm the findings
  • Saffron is safe, give it a try, and let me know what you think

Disclaimer: topics discussed on the podcast are for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Consult with your medical provider about the appropriateness of these interventions in your individual case.

Music credit: American Vernacular by RAGE

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by Matthew Hicks