Although the word saffron conjures images of a deep orange-red color, the flower that it comes from has purple-blue petals, and at first glance, looks much like any crocus that might emerge from your flowerbeds in early spring. The orange-red color comes from the three stigmas in the flower. This is the spice and color that we know as saffron, and that is what is also used as a natural medicine.
There has been exciting research showing that saffron can help relieve symptoms of depression, this ancient spice may also be effective in preserving our amazing gift of sight.
A clinical trial of individuals struggling with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) found that after three months of supplementation, saffron improved visual acuity and ability to focus and refocus more quickly. Even participants who were already taking some form of vision-improving supplement saw a further improvement with addition of saffron.
In most research, regardless of the condition, very small dosages of saffron appear to yield big results. In this study, only 20 mg per day improved vision in only three months.
Broadhead GK, Grigg JR, McCluskey P, Hong T, Schlub TE, Chang AA. Saffron therapy for the treatment of mild/moderate age-related macular degeneration: a randomised clinical trial. Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2019;257(1):31-40.
Purpose: To assess the efficacy and safety of oral saffron, a natural antioxidant, in treating mild/moderate age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Methods: Randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled crossover trial of 100 adults (> 50 years) with mild/moderate AMD and vision > 20/70 Snellen equivalent in at least one eye. Exclusion criteria included confounding visual lesions, or significant gastrointestinal disease impairing absorption. Participants were given oral saffron supplementation (20 mg/day) for 3 months or placebo for 3 months, followed by crossover for 3 months. Participants already consuming Age-Related Eye Diseases Study (AREDS) supplements or equivalent maintained these. Primary outcomes included changes in best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA) and changes in multifocal electroretinogram (mfERG) response density and latency. Secondary outcomes included safety outcomes and changes in mfERG and BCVA amongst participants on AREDS supplements.
Results: Mean BCVA improved 0.69 letters (p = 0.001) and mean-pooled mfERG latency reduced 0.17 ms (p = 0.04) on saffron compared to placebo. Amongst participants on AREDS supplements, mean BCVA improved 0.73 letters p = 0.006) and mean-pooled mfERG response density improved 2.8% (p = 0.038). There was no significant difference in adverse event occurrence (p > 0.10).
Conclusion: Saffron supplementation modestly improved visual function in participants with AMD, including those using AREDS supplements. Given the chronic nature of AMD, longer-term supplementation may produce greater benefits.
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