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Effects of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on cognitive function. A systematic review of RCTs

Abstract

Introduction

Improvement of cognitive function may be desirable for healthy individuals and clinically beneficial for those with cognitive impairment such as from Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The aim of this systematic review is to investigate the cognitive effects of oral saffron intake, in patients with MCI/AD and/or in non-demented individuals, by following the PRISMA guidelines.

Methods

We performed a literature search on MedLine, Cochrane library, and ClinicalTrials.gov to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) investigating the effects of oral saffron administration in patients with MCI/AD and/or in non-demented individuals.

Results

Five studies (enrolling 325 individuals) met our inclusion criteria. Four studies included patients with MCI/AD, and one study included cognitively normal individuals. Saffron was well-tolerated in all groups. Regarding cognitively impaired patients, scores on Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-cognitive subscale or Mini mental state examination were significantly better when saffron was compared with placebo and did not differ significantly when saffron was compared with donepezil or memantine. Saffron effects on functional status were similar with its effects on cognition.

Conclusions

Saffron was shown to be equally effective to common symptomatic drugs for MCI/AD and resulted in no difference in the incidence of side effects, when compared with placebo or drugs. The promising results should be seen cautiously, since the evidence was derived from studies with potentially high risk of bias (ROB). RCTs with larger sample sizes and low ROB are required to definitively assess the potential role of saffron as an MCI/AD treatment.

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Funding

The present study was supported in part by the Intramural Program of the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Dimitrios Kapogiannis.

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There was no need for informed consent before conducting the present study, since it was a systematic review of literature.

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Avgerinos, K.I., Vrysis, C., Chaitidis, N. et al. Effects of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on cognitive function. A systematic review of RCTs. Neurol Sci 41, 2747–2754 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10072-020-04427-0

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Keywords

  • Saffron
  • Crocus Sativus L.
  • Cognitive
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Systematic review