macular degeneration, saffron improves/reverses AMD

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Saffron May Save Aging Eyes

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 7:00 AM

By Sylvia Booth Hubbard

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Australian researchers call saffron "nature's sunglasses" and say the aromatic spice "may hold the key to preventing the loss of sight in the elderly."

They discovered that saffron, which is often used in curries and Mediterranean dishes, helps shield the eyes from damages caused by bright sunlight, and may reverse age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in the elderly.

Saffron, which lends food a characteristic yellow color, has long been used in folk medicine. This is the first time, however, its effects on AMD have been explored. AMD typically occurs in older adults, and causes a loss of vision in the middle of the visual field due to damage to the retina. Although peripheral sight is not affected, many sufferers are classified as blind due to the loss of central vision.

Using saffron in pill form, the researchers carried out the study in Italy, where saffron is widely grown. One group of elderly people with AMD took a daily saffron pill for three months, followed by a placebo for three months. A second group took the placebo for three months, followed by the actual saffron pill for three months. In all, 25 subjects participated.

"Patients' vision improved after taking the saffron pill," study leader Professor Silvia Bisti of the University of Sydney said in a statement. "When they were tested with traditional eye charts, a number of them could read one or two lines smaller than before, while others reported they could read newspapers and books again."

Researchers attributed the improvement directly to the saffron. "All patients experienced improvements in their vision while taking the saffron pill," Bisti said. "But when they stopped taking it, the effect quickly disappeared." She believes saffron may regulate the fatty acid content of vision cells, making them "tougher and more resilient."

The Telegraph online reported that the researchers in Australia and Italy are now engaged in a year-long trial to find out more about how the spice works and the best dosage.

According to the National Eye Institute, age-related macular degeneration affects more than 1.75 million people in the U.S. By the year 2020, this number will increase to almost 3 million because of the aging of the American population.

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