Is Saffron Equal to a Prescription Drug for ADHD?

Good Health Lifestyles Research Roundup

The Study Abstract:

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):205-12.

OBJECTIVE: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neuropsychiatric disorders of childhood and adolescence. About 30% of patients do not respond to stimulants or cannot tolerate their side effects. Thus, alternative medication, like herbal medicine, should be considered. The aim of this trial is to compare the safety and efficacy of Crocus sativus (saffron) versus methylphenidate in improving symptoms of children with ADHD.

METHODS: In a 6-week randomized, double-blind study, 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.

RESULTS: Fifty patients completed the trial. General linear model repeated measures showed no significant difference between the two groups on Parent and Teacher Rating Scale scores (F = 0.749, df = 1.317, p = 0.425, and F = 0.249, df = 1.410, p = 0.701, respectively). 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.

CONCLUSION: Short-term therapy with saffron capsule showed the same efficacy compared with methylphenidate. Nevertheless, larger controlled studies with longer treatment periods are necessary for future studies.


Statistics compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services show that over six million children are diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). About half contend with behavior issues, and a third deal with anxiety. Many children in the United States receive treatment, either in the form of behavior-focused therapy or with medications, or some combination of both. However, medications can affect sleep patterns and appetite, and about 30 percent of children simply don’t respond to them at all. Additionally, parents may feel reluctant to use them due to worries about side effects.

Fortunately, saffron (Crocus sativus) may provide an option. Although the word saffron conjures images of a deep orange-red color, the flower that it comes from has purple-blue petals, and at first glance, looks much like any crocus that might emerge from flowerbeds in the spring. The three stigmas in the flower supply the spice and color that we know as saffron, and along with it, compounds that can benefit mood, focus, and overall mental well-being.

In fact, saffron has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression, and to help individuals reduce habitual stress-related overeating, so it is not surprising that it may help balance other aspects of health as well. Combined with curcumin from turmeric that has been blended with turmeric essential oil for enhanced absorption and bioavailability, saffron extracts have shown to provide strong results.

This clinical study found that in just six weeks, saffron alone was equally effective as the prescription drug methylphenidate (Ritalin is one brand name) in reducing ADHD symptoms in children aged 6 to 17 years old, providing hope for parents looking for a safe, natural, and effective option.

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