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Ritalin vs Saffron for ADHD

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Recently a study compared the use of the spice, Saffron, for the treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) against the standard treatment of methylphenidate. (Nutrients. September 2022;14(19):4046) Methylphenidate, is the generic name for Ritalin, the most frequently prescribed drug for ADHD in the U.S. The results are interesting.

Almost always I have personal medical experience with the medicines and things I write about in this newsletter. Todays topic is an exception. I have never prescribed Saffron, or used it personally. And to the best of my memory, I don't believe I have ever prescribed Ritalin.

Although I have never prescribed Saffron I have been reading about it for the last 20 years. Saffron is a powerful spice which is very high in antioxidants. It has received a lot of attention and there are many reported health benefits, including antidepressant and anxiolytic effects, improved digestion, relief of muscle spasms, and enhanced weight loss.

It takes 75,000 Saffron flowers to make one pound of Saffron spice. Because it takes so many plants and it has to harvested by hand, the final product is very expensive. Current the cost in the U.S. is around $5,000 per kilogram, making Saffron the worlds costliest spice.

Methylphenidate goes under a number of different brand names. Ritalin and Concerta are probably the best known. Methylphenidate is recomended as the first line treatment for ADHD and is a Schedule 2 Controlled Substance, which means the federal government feels it has the highest level of abuse potential. Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant. In a worst case scenario, Ritalin can cause rapid or irregular heartbeat, delirium, panic, psychosis, and heart failure. About 2.5 million people here in the U.S. have prescriptions for Ritalin. I understand it costs $200+/month.

This study was done in Spain and included 63 kids that were 7 or older. All of these kids met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD and none had received medication or other treatment for ADHD during the preceeding 6 months. All of the kids were given "psychoeducation" and 27 of the kids took methylphenidate daily and 36 took Saffron each day. All of the kids were evaluated with standard testing before starting the treatment. After 3 months of treatment the baseline tests were repeated. There were no significant side effects in either group.

The researchers concluded that Saffron was safe and effective in treating ADHD and roughly comparable to methylphenidate in children and adolescents. However, Saffron appeared to be slightly more effective in treating the hyperactivity part of the ADHD syndrome, whereas methylphenidate appeared to be somewhat more effective in treating inattention symptoms. Finally, the researchers reported that both methylphenidate and Saffron improved the total amount of sleep, but only Saffron reduced the time needed to fall asleep.

Is this study important? Well, yes, because many parents don't want their children taking potentially dangerous drugs, if safer options exist. There are other non drug options and Parenting Strategies, which some parents find beneficial. But many parents do everything they can, and still feel their children need extra help, which is where medication comes in.

Does this study prove Saffron is a viable option? Not really. The study was very small, and only lasted 3 months. It wasn't randomized and the parents actually picked which medicine their child would be given. However all of the children were given standardized tests at baseline and at the end. You shouldn't just dismiss these results, but you should think twice before stopping a known effective treatment to try something based on this little amount of evidence.

Would it be wise to try Saffron with my child if they aren't currently taking any drug for ADHD? Perhaps. If your child has ADHD and you are not willing to consider an approved medication like methylphenidate, presumably because you feel the drugs are too dangerous, or you feel the ADHD is mild enough to not warrant drug therapy, then Saffron might be a reasonable option to consider. In that case the Saffron wouldn't be replacing a known effective treatment and Saffron does appears very safe, so a short trial might be worth considering. Based on parent and teacher observation a decision could then be made about long term use.

The main value of a study like this, is that it provides justification for a larger, better study, that could change the future treatment of ADHD.

Take care and BE HEALTHY!

CW Jasper

July 2023

©2023· Content is Property Created by CW Jasper


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Gerald Hacker
Gerald Hacker
Jul 06, 2023

Thank you for this information. I believe that some consumers worry about the cost of Ritalin verses that of Saffron. Is there a cheaper way to buy Saffron with the quality needed to be an effective remedy for ADHD? Thank you.

Doctor Jasper
Doctor Jasper
Jul 10, 2023
Replying to

The actual product they used was Saffr’activ, which I see online from Vitacost for $19.99 for a 2 month supply.


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Very interesting thanks

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