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Saffron: Is This Spice the Secret to Better Vision?


Having sharp and reliable eyesight is a precious gift, but as we age our risk for eye complications and vision loss generally increases. And while a wide variety of lifestyle factors certainly play a role in mitigating this risk, our diets are an important piece of the puzzle. And now, new research into this field is suggesting something very interesting—saffron supplementation may be an effective, natural solution in treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and vision loss.

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New Research on Saffron and AMD

With a history of use going back at least 3,000 years, saffron has long been recognized as an important spice with significant health benefits. First and foremost, its anti-inflammatory properties make it an option to consider as treatment against a number of conditions, including boosting mental health and immune system function, and even curbing certain neurological disorders.

So researchers out of Australia sought to investigate another potential health benefit of saffron: its capabilities as treatment for AMD.

In a randomized, controlled study design, the researchers recruited 100 older adults who had detectable AMD and compared the effects of daily oral saffron supplementation against a placebo, giving half the participants three months of one treatment and then swapping roles. Measuring the participants’ ability to identify letters using the Best Corrected Visual Acuity (BCVA) test and utilizing multifocal electroretinography (mfERG) to examine retina damage, they found encouraging results. Namely, on average the participants improved the number of letters they were able to correctly identify, while also scoring better as measured by the mfERG test.

In conclusion, the researchers were able to determine that saffron supplementation provided a modest improvement of visual function in the AMD patients. Moreover, they went on to suggest that long-term supplementation might produce better results; a clear indication that more research is needed.

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration is a serious – and fairly common – eye condition, and it’s one of the leading causes of vision loss for people age 50 and over. AMD involves three stages: early AMD in which people typically experience no symptoms, intermediate AMD which may result in some vision loss but is generally only detectable via exam, and two types of late-stage AMD (also known as dry AMD and wet AMD), in which swelling and damage occur, normally leading to some degree of vision loss. AMD does not always progress through all three stages, but when it does, treatment is traditionally complicated and invasive, with injections and laser treatment being common methods. Ouch.

As AMD progresses over time—moving through its three defined stages—people generally do not notice its presence until it reaches a serious level. Therefore, regular eye exams are important for detecting the disease in its earlier stages, giving people the best chance to prevent its development to advanced stages. In addition, as alluded to in the opening, lifestyle choices have the potential to reduce your risk of developing AMD or at least slow its progression. Essentially, all of the general recommendations you are probably familiar with come into play here—exercise regularly, consume a healthy diet that includes a focus on green, leafy vegetables and fish, maintain optimal levels of cholesterol and blood pressure, and avoid tobacco use. Wearing the proper protective eyewear in bright sunlight is another simple action to take.

Beyond these protective lifestyle approaches, people with AMD – or a general desire to protect their vision – should consider saffron supplementation as another method that could be effective in warding off eye-related complications later in life. Much more research is needed to better understand the role that saffron plays in this regard, and it would be foolhardy to claim that there is indisputable evidence of benefits for people with AMD. Even so, given that saffron has a number of other known or probable health benefits, there’s absolutely no reason not to use it to fight disease, quite possibly including AMD.

Derek Noland, MPH Contributing Writer
Derek is a researcher, trainer, and community liaison at the Behavioral Health & Wellness Program at the University of Colorado, specializing in promoting health systems change and combating health disparities. Including his background as a technical writer and editor, he has over 15 years of experience working in the health care field. His past experience includes serving as a contributing author on several textbooks in the medical field, running a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and writing a variety of didactic pieces ranging from online training courses to medical software manuals. Personally, Derek pursues his passion for health and wellness by playing multiple sports, hiking, and running marathons, and through extensive travel, having visited or lived in over 60 countries.

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