Vision Loss | Saffron and Macular Degeneration

Most of us know saffron as the cooking spice in the tiny package with the unbelievably high price tag. It’s use as a culinary spice, medicine, perfume ingredient, dying agent and fact that so many flowers are required to harvest a good yield has made saffron the most expensive spice in the world. One pound of dried saffron stamens require the harvesting of 50,000 to 75,000 flowers. Something less commonly known about saffron is it’s rich history of medicinal use that spans 4,000 years. It can be found in herbal formulas in many different cultures traditionally used to treat over ninety diseases. Recently, there have been several studies showing it’s beneficial effect on vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).

The Research: Saffron’s affect on vision loss

Dr. Xuan and his research team at the Texas A&M College of Medicine discovered in 1999 specific molecules known as croicins found in saffron that were found to significantly increase the blood flow in the retina and choroid and to facilitate retinal function recovery. Increased blood flow due to vasodilation has the affect of improving oxygenation and nutrient supply of retinal structures.¹

Yu Dao Yi, at the Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Lions Eye Institute, The University of Western Australia, states:

“Maintenance of an adequate oxygen supply to the retina is critical for retinal function… The high-oxygen demands of the retina, and the relatively sparse nature of the retinal vasculature, are thought to contribute to the particular vulnerability of the retina to vascular disease. A large proportion of retinal blindness is associated with diseases having a vascular component, and disrupted oxygen supply to the retina is likely to be a critical factor.”²

Professor Silvia Bistia of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science and University of L’Aquila in Italy, has shown that saffron powerfully affects the genes which regulate the performance of the eye’s key vision cells³. Her research shows that it not only protects these vision cells from damage, but also has the potential to slow and possible reverse the course of macular degeneration. It is also suggested that it may have a positive impact on the genetic disease retinitis pigmentosa as well, however, more research is needed to confirm this.

Research out of Australia and Italy indicates that ARMD patients given a daily dose of 20 mg of saffron per day reported partial restoration of vision. Professor of neurology, Jonathan Stone, of Sydney University, gave 25 patients suffering from macular degeneration 20 mg of Saffron for 3 months, and then tested their maculas and retinas for neuron electrical conductivity. 23 of the 25 patients showed significant improvement, as well as reporting that they could see much better.

Listen to an audio interview with Professor Jonathan Stone about his research on saffron.

Where can I find a good Saffron supplement?

Saffron in a tablet form can be found by calling Russell Family Acupuncture at 707-773-3375.

I also recommend a product that can be found online HERE, made by Exir.

1. Effects of crocin analogs on ocular blood flow and retinal function. Xuan B, Zhou YH, Li N, Min ZD, Chiou GC. J Ocul Pharmacol Ther. 1999 Apr;15(2):143-52.

2. Oxygen Distribution and Consumption within the Retina in Vascularised and Avascular Retinas and in Animal Models of Retinal Disease, Dao-Yi Yu, Stephen J. Cringle, Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Lions Eye Institute, The University of Western Australia, 2 Verdun Street, Nedlands, WA 6009, Australia, Progress in Retinal and Eye Research, Volume 20, Issue 2, March 2001, Pages 175–208

3.Gene and noncoding RNA regulation underlying photoreceptor protection: microarray study of dietary antioxidant saffron and photobiomodulation in rat retina. Natoli R, Zhu Y, Valter K, Bisti S, Eells J, Stone J. Mol Vis. 2010 Sep 3;16:1801-22.

David Russell, CMT, L.AcDavid Russell, L.Ac, is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, with a Master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine and postgraduate studies in Hangzhou, China. Inspired to holistically heal vision conditions, David Russell studied under the nationally acclaimed Dr. Andy Rosenfarb. Now David brings to you a specialized system of acupuncture, nutrition, herbs, and functional medicine to help heal your eyes and restore the health of your body.