In a very surprising research study just published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Pharmacology in April 2019, they found that saffron was as effective as the brain stimulant Ritalin in treating ADHD symptoms.
Bazziar & colleagues decided to examine alternatives to stimulant medication like Ritalin, given that about 30% of patients do not respond to stimulants or cannot tolerate their side effects. Additionally even in the 70% that do respond, there often is only a partial benefit with many symptoms still remaining high (even if slightly improved). Over the past sveeral decades due to the lack of knowledge about long term negative side effects of these strong stimulant, alternative therapies have been researched. Whilst doctors often prescribe medication as a first line treatment, many parents do not wish for their children to start with such an extreme measure, and prefer to trial more natural therapies to enhance attention.
In this study Crocus sativus (saffron) versus methylphenidate in improving symptoms of children with ADHD was examined.
A 6-week randomized double-blind study was conducted, 54 patients (children 6–17 years old) with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) diagnosis of ADHD were randomly assigned to receive either 20–30 mg/d (20 mg/d for <30 kg and 30 mg/d for >30 kg) methylphenidate (MPH) or 20–30 mg/d saffron capsules depending on weight (20 mg/d for <30 kg and 30 mg/d for >30 kg). Symptoms were assessed using the Teacher and Parent Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Rating Scale-IV (ADHD-RS-IV) at baseline and weeks 3 and 6.
The results amazingly showed changes in Teacher and Parent ADHD Rating Scale scores from baseline to the study end were not significantly different between the saffron group and the MPH group (p = 0.731 and p = 0.883, respectively). The frequency of adverse effects was similar between saffron and MPH groups.
The researchers concluded that short-term therapy with saffron capsule showed the same efficacy compared with methylphenidate. This study will need replication but it is amazing that a natural herb like saffron could produce such strong results. It is unclear as to what level adverse effects were present and whether saffron has any negative side effects. This is however very promising for people who wish to look at alternatives to medication, or do not benefit from medication.