Study: Saffron (2010-2016) and Macular Degeneration
Learn more about support for macular degeneration.
One study focused on saffron's impact on P2X purinoceptor 7 (P2RX7). A P2RX7 receptor is a type of protein found in genes that occurs in retina as well as other parts of the nervous system. It is a cause of cell death, is part of receptor communication and is linked to inflammation. In the eye it is associated with vision loss, and in other parts of the body it is tied to osteoporosis, nerve pain and possibly diabetes.
Researchers have reported that saffron protects the photoreceptors of the retina from damage from sunlight.
In macular degeneration patients P2RX7 degrades retinal flicker sensitivity. This refers to the frequency at which flickering appears to be steady to the human eye. The rods of the photoreceptors are responsible for detecting movement, and so retinal flicker sensitivity becomes a means of measuring the health of the photoreceptors.
In this 2016 study the scientists found that saffron improves the health of retinal and retinal photoreceptors cells. The support appears to come through saffron's ability to inhibit certain types of bioelectrical currents that cause damage.
Researchers: L. Corso, A. Cavallero, D. Baroni, et al
Published: Saffron reduces ATP-induced retinal cytotoxicity by targeting P2X7 receptors, Purinergic Signaling, March 2016.
The study reviews addition of saffron and vitamin D to the AREDS and AREDS2 formulas. It finds that saffron contains safranal, crocin and crocetin which are similar to the carotenoid zeaxanthin, and which are strong antioxidants. These components may be helpful in treatment of a wide range of conditions including macular degeneration, Alzheimer's, and cardiac conditions.
Researchers: G.K. Broadhead, et al.
Published: Dietary modification and supplementation for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration, Nutrition Reviews, July, 2015; Efficacy and Safety of Saffron Supplementation: Current Clinical Findings, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, April, 2015.
This study also found that saffron improved retinal flicker sensitivity which ties saffron's neuroprotective capacity to improved vision in retinal degenerative conditions such as macular degeneration. Researchers found an improvement of 2 lines measured by the standard Snellin chart in patients taking 20mg daily saffron over a 14 month period.
The researchers reported that although the reason that saffron components worked was still being investigated that it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that the components are able to reduce cell death and preserve vision.
Researchers: S. Bistri, R. Maccarone, B. Falsini
Published: Saffron and retina: neuroprotection and pharmacokinetics, Visual Neuroscience, September, 2014.
Another study published in 2014 noted that crocetin, one of the potent colorants of saffron, has value as an antioxidant, tumor fighting carotenoid, memory enhancer and depressant and anxiety fighter. At the same time it presents no major toxicity.
Researchers: S. H. Alavizadeh, H. Hosseinzadeh
Published: Bioactivity assessment and toxicity of crocin: a comprehensive review, Food and Chemical Toxicology, February, 2014
This study evaluated the benefit of saffron in patients with early macular degeneration with respect to different risk genotypes. The researchers measured macular sensitivity and flicker sensitivity. 36 patients were given 20 mg/daily over an average of 11 months. After 3 months of such supplementation improvements were noted for both measurements without any difference based on the risk genotype. In other words, improvement was found without respect to type of hereditary risk.
Macular sensitivity was measured via the snellen chart, the standard vision chart. After three months of taking the saffron supplement subjects had a significant increase in visual acuity (improvement in sharpness of vision) of one full line on the snellen chart (14.3% improvement from baseline test).
Researchers: D. Marangoni, et al.
Published: Functional effect of Saffron supplementation and risk genotypes in early age-related macular degeneration: a preliminary report, Journal of Translational Medicine, September, 2013.
Saffron contains crocin and crocetin which are carotenoids that act as powerful antioxidants. In traditional ayurvedic medicine saffron is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
The researchers wanted to follow-up on previous studies that suggested that saffron could have benefits for patients with macular degeneration. In a 14 month long clinical trial 29 patients were given saffron tablets, 20mg daily. They were evaluated every three months during the trial and improvement was noted after three months. The improvement continued until the study was ended and treatment stopped, when macular changes tended to revert to the previous weakness.
Researchers: M. Piccardi, et al.
Published: A longitudinal follow-up study of saffron supplementation in early age-related macular degeneration: sustained benefits to central retinal function, Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, July, 2012.
This 2010 exploratory study of 25 early AMD patients found that short term supplementation with saffron improves flicker sensitivity. This research was further explored and replicated with more recent research. The patients were given 20mg/daily saffron or placebo, with baseline measurements of focal electroretinograms.
Of particular interest was that the researchers commented that saffron may support vision in ways in unexpected ways beyond their antioxidant properties. For example later research with saffron and memory finds that the crocin in saffron apparently acts to protect nerve synapses in the brain.
Researchers: B. Falsini, M. Piccardi, et al.
Influence of saffron supplementation on retinal flicker sensitivity in early age-related macular degeneration, Investigations in Opththalmological and Visual Science. 2010