Saffron for Macular Degeneration - Eye Health
We’ve written about the many health benefits of saffron before. This amazing little plant has been shown to help with everything from depression to weight loss—and newer studies point to even more remarkable possibilities, with saffron currently being evaluated as a promising therapy for Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
So it’s no surprise that saffron is now being looked at as a powerful aid to eye health. In particular, recent studies have demonstrated that saffron may be able to help with one of the most serious of all eye conditions: age-related macular degeneration.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of visual impairment in industrialized countries, affecting more than 1.75 million adults in the US alone—with those numbers predicted to increase in the next few years. In Australia, it is the leading cause of blindness in older adults.
So what is AMD? Simply put, it is the degeneration of the central portion of the retina (called the macula) which results in a blurring or loss of sight in the centre of the field of vision. At present, doctors are still working to pinpoint the exact cause of AMD and say that there is no definitive cure for the condition.
The Science So Far
Despite that somewhat bleak picture, recent studies of saffron’s effect on AMD have given us the reason for optimism.
One study on a group of AMD sufferers showed significant improvement in retinal function after 3 and then 6 months of daily (30mg) saffron supplementation. The control group in the study showed no such improvement, so the researchers were fairly confident that the changes observed could be attributed to the effects of saffron.
They hypothesize that the biochemical compounds in saffron, considered powerful natural antioxidants (in particular crocin and crocetin), may have reduced the oxidative stress affecting the eye’s photoreceptors and thereby improved retinal function.
Another study, aimed at evaluating the long-term effects of saffron supplementation on a group of early-stage AMD patients, found that the effects of daily saffron supplementation produced sustained and stable retinal improvement over a period as long as 15 months—which suggests that saffron may be a good long-term treatment of early and moderate stage AMD.
Taking Saffron for Health
When taking saffron as a health supplement, it is important to remember two cardinal rules.
First, buy the highest quality saffron you can—and be sure that it comes from a supplier committed to natural production methods.
This means organic farming practices (i.e. no pesticides or harsh chemical fertilizers) as well as traditional nighttime harvesting to ensure that the saffron is only picked at the peak of its potency.
It also means avoiding saffron from big industrial producers, as these often take shortcuts in the processing of saffron in the form of heat dehydration, which breaks down the delicate biochemical compounds that give saffron its healing properties.
Secondly, when preparing saffron as a health supplement, be sure to use a cold brewing method to protect the heat-sensitive bio-compounds crocin and crocetin—otherwise, you’ll just end up with a beautifully coloured placebo! If you don’t have time to brew your own saffron daily, you can also purchase ready-to-use liquid saffron prepared with a cold-brew method.
Have a question about how to use saffron as a health aide? Browse our articles on the health benefits of saffron, or simply send a question to our nutrition scientist using this contact form.