Saffron and PMS – harnessing the power of an ancient spice to tame the monthly cycle

Saffron and PMS – harnessing the power of an ancient spice to tame the monthly cycle

Whilst many of nature’s cycles such as seasonal changes and moon phases come and go with remarkable regularity, there exists another cycle experienced by women, the menstrual cycle which can be unpredictable and turbulent. The female menstrual cycle, though natural, often brings with it days and sometimes weeks of unpredictable and turbulent symptoms that many women dread each month. The symptoms can be physical and/or psychological which are referenced as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which occurs in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle which starts before menstruation and disappears at the onset.

What is PMS?

PMS affects millions of women across the globe, one study showed that the highest prevalence was in Iran, and lowest in France with the UK having greater severity and duration than that of women in other countries such as Hong Kong and Pakistan[i]

Irregular and fluctuating hormone patterns can lead to a host of undesirable symptoms especially leading up to the time of menstruation. Bloating, cravings, mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, tender breasts, headaches, and tearfulness can be very common which interferes with daily life and wellbeing.

PMS can appear at any point during a woman’s menstrual journey from menarche (the beginning) up until menopause. For some, it can be a short 2-3 days of symptoms but for others, it can be up to 14 days before menstruation.

The female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate throughout the month which are regulated by the endocrine system that keeps a natural rhythm. However, this delicate balance/rhythm can be interrupted leading to hormonal imbalances that can have an impact on a woman’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

Psycho-neuro-endocrine system

Our hormones need a conductor to know how much, when, and where to go, without guidance there would be chaos. The endocrine system plays a role in our health and well-being, made up of numerous glands such as the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, hypothalamus, pancreas, adrenal and ovaries which operate in a system of positive and negative feedback loops in a carefully orchestrated cycle. Our endocrine system is the conductor, receiving and sending signals to help regulate and keep balance.

Our endocrine system is also connected to the central nervous system (CNS), which can be affected by many of life stressors and outside influences such as diet, toxins, sleep, nutritional status, stress, smoking, drugs and more. The term psycho-neuro-endocrine refers to the interactions between these systems, they work together and are influenced by our internal and external environment.[ii] PMS symptoms may vary due to the imbalances in the endocrine system; therefore, we need to look at the whole instead of one small part.

PMS – Common should not mean normal

Whilst PMS is common, it should not be accepted as normal as many internal and external influences can affect our regulatory systems and hormonal rhythms that we can control.

Early naturopaths understood that the more natural living a woman followed, the more ease she experienced in her hormone health. Today, so much in our environment has changed with thousands of chemicals being introduced every year, our lives are busier, and more stressful, with excess exposure to unnatural light and EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies), and poor detoxification and elimination mechanisms. All of this can contribute to hormonal imbalances as it disrupts our internal systems, leading to symptoms such as PMS.

Stress management, adequate sleep, whole foods, optimal eliminations, hydration, less screen time, organic foods, reducing chemicals, natural light, and moderate exercise are all vital for a healthy cycle and a reduction in PMS.

Supplementing with magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, evening primrose oil (EPO) and others are known to be very supportive along with lifestyle changes. So too are many herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric as well as adaptogens such as Ashwagandha that have been shown to have a positive effect on endocrine system function.[iii]

One such spice is Saffron, a delicate spice derived from the flower Crocus Sativus that possesses powerful extracts that have been traditionally used as a natural, botanical remedy to bring joy and happiness, as well as relief for sleep disorders and PMS.

Saffron was also used for constipation, eye inflammation, joint pain, and indigestion. As research has followed, these indications of saffron benefits are now backed by published clinical trials and even pending EFSA claims including:[iv]

Saffron contributes to emotional balance, helps to support relaxation and to maintain a positive mood.”

“Saffron helps to maintain good comfort before and during the menstrual cycle”

When oestrogen and progesterone drop in the latter part of the luteal phase, it affects serotonin which is a neurotransmitter known as the happy hormone. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to PMS in particular, symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, emotional imbalance, and sleep disturbances.[v]

Serotonin-oestrogen regulation

Safranal is the main active component found in saffron which has been shown to support fluctuations in serotonin levels.  A decrease in oestrogen has been associated with serotonin dysregulation as oestrogen can limit its reuptake and degradation while potentiating its receptor. PMS symptoms such as anxiety, irritability and other emotional disturbances is strongly linked with oestrogen-serotonin regulation.

Safr’inside is a saffron extract with the highest safranal UHPLC content (Ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography) due to its extraction process, preserving the full profile of the saffron, guaranteeing all its health benefits.

Safr’inside may help to support optimal levels of the happiness neurotransmitter – serotonin as it can interact with essential serotonin receptors. This may ease the emotional disturbances experienced during PMS and create improved emotional balance.

Saffron’s rich history in Middle Eastern cuisine and traditional medicinal uses have been documented for centuries. It has been a long journey, but now scientific evidence is supporting its health benefits, especially for its role in hormonal imbalances such as PMS.

It has certainly evolved beyond its culinary origins.


References

[i] Hantsoo L, Rangaswamy S, Voegtline K, Salimgaraev R, Zhaunova L, Payne JL. Premenstrual symptoms across the lifespan in an international sample: data from a mobile application. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2022 Oct;25(5):903-910. doi: 10.1007/s00737-022-01261-5. Epub 2022 Aug 26. PMID: 36018464; PMCID: PMC9492621.

[ii] González-Díaz SN, Arias-Cruz A, Elizondo-Villarreal B, Monge-Ortega OP. Psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology: clinical implications. World Allergy Organ J. 2017 Jun 6;10(1):19. doi: 10.1186/s40413-017-0151-6. PMID: 28616124; PMCID: PMC5460476.

[iii] Wiciński M, Fajkiel-Madajczyk A, Kurant Z, Kurant D, Gryczka K, Falkowski M, Wiśniewska M, Słupski M, Ohla J, Zabrzyński J. Can Ashwagandha Benefit the Endocrine System?-A Review. Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Nov 20;24(22):16513. doi: 10.3390/ijms242216513. PMID: 38003702; PMCID: PMC10671406.

[iv] https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/6669

[v] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560698/

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Contributors:

Elisabeth Philipps

Karen Devine

Karen Devine

Shelley Harvey

Related Blogs:

ashwagandhaEFSAemotional resilienceendocrinehormonal imbalanceshormonesmagnesiumNervous SystemsaffronstressStress ManagementWomen's Health

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