Sperling Prostate Center

How A Common Spice Fights Prostate Cancer

“Considered one of the most prized and covetable plants on the planet, saffron is the 24-karat gold of spices,” states the food blog MasterClass. It adds, “With a history spanning back millenniums, saffron has been used by kings, pharaohs, and chefs alike for medicinal, aesthetic, and culinary purposes.”

How would you like to be in the company of kings, pharaohs, and chefs? More to the point, how would you like to help safeguard yourself against prostate cancer thanks to a spice recognized for thousands of years as having medicinal properties? Are you ready to indulge in heady, saffron-based culinary delights like Spanish paella, Kashmiri chicken, or Swedish saffron buns to please your palate while protecting your prostate?

A newly published laboratory study, “Mechanism of Antitumor Effects of Saffron in Human Prostate Cancer Cells,” confirms the cancer-fighting properties of saffron.[i] For their study, the research team used two different prostate cancer cells lines, LNCaP and PC3, treated with saffron metabolites derived from extracts of powdered crude saffron.

Several biological effects were noted that led to the deformity or death of the cells, or the failure of their genomic pathways to function as malignancies. In some cases, the cells were unable to repair damage to their DNA caused by the chemical properties of saffron. According to a news story, “After a day of treatment, LNCaP cells showed morphological alterations, including a decrease in live cells. After two days of treatment, cytotoxic [cell killing] impacts were evident, with virtually all cells granulating, cell proliferation halted, and considerable cellular separation.”[ii] In other words, saffron led to the self destruction of this cell line.

The authors identified numerous specific impacts on the upregulating or downregulation expression of genes that affect both healthy cells and cancer cells. These demonstrable effects were more prominent in cancer cells that are hormone sensitive (that is, would respond to androgen deprivation therapy) than those that are hormone resistant. Even so, the evidence from this study offers potential to develop saffron’s potential as an adjunct therapy to conventional prostate cancer treatments—a hopeful note.

The authors conclude, “Our observation of the antitumor effects of saffron extracts in prostate cancer cells supports previous studies of the multiple molecular pathways that saffron metabolites use to exert biological effects upon cancer. Given the potential health benefits of saffron extracts, more studies are needed to fully elucidate the antitumor properties of saffron in prostate carcinogenesis.”[iii]

Some studies that suggest dietary saffron may help prevent prostate cancer. For examples, consider an analysis of cancer statistics in the Middle East where cancer rates on are the rise but on average, rates of cancers like prostate and breast cancer are lower than in western nations like Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. The authors of the analysis posit several theories that might account for this, such as the anti-inflammatory effects of religious fasting among Arabs, less smoking and alcohol use, genetic predisposition, and spices. Among the spices, the writers call out saffron:

It has selective toxicity against cancer cells, through inhibition of (ribonucleic acid) RNA and (deoxyribonucleic acid) DNA synthesis and increasing apoptosis [programmed cell death]. Crocin is considered the most important anticancer drug in saffron, which plays an important role in gene expression and apoptosis in cancer cells.[iv]

I hope that this news whets your appetite for some exotic saffron-containing dishes that perhaps you have not previously tried. If you’re a home chef, consider ways to add saffron to your favorite dinner recipes. It’s a delicious way to add to the health of your prostate. If saffron could talk, it would surely say Bon Appetit!

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Khan M, Hearn K, Parry C, Rasid M, Brim H, Ashktorab H, Kwabi-Addo B. Mechanism of Antitumor Effects of Saffron in Human Prostate Cancer Cells. Nutrients. 2023 Dec 28;16(1):114.
[ii] Pooja Toshniwal Paharia. “Spicing up the fight: Saffron’s powerful impact on prostate cancer revealed.” News Medical Life Sciences, Jan. 3, 2024. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20240103/Spicing-up-the-fight-Saffrons-powerful-impact-on-prostate-cancer-revealed.aspx
[iii] Khan et al. Ibid.
[iv] Arafa, M.A., Farhat, K.H. Why cancer incidence in the Arab counties is much lower than other parts of the world?. J Egypt Natl Canc Inst 34, 41 (2022).


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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