Saffron could stop blindness and cure eye disease

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Italian scientists say they have found that saffron may hold the key to stopping vision loss as people age and in treating some eye diseases.

The scientists at ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science and University of L’Aquila, in Italy, suggest the spice could reverse the course of blinding diseases and may hold one of the keys to preventing the loss of sight in old age.

The researchers led by Professor Silvia Bisti have shown that saffron has remarkable effects on the genes which regulate the performance of the eye’s key vision cells and not only protects the vision cells (photoreceptors) from damage, but may also slow and possibly even reverse the course of blinding diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa.

A clinical trial with patients suffering AMD in Rome has found early indications that treatment with a dietary supplement of saffron may cause damaged eye cells to recover.

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices and comes from the dried stigma of the flower of the saffron crocus - it is used in cooking as a seasoning and as a colouring agent.

Saffron is native to Southwest Asia and has a bitter taste and contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, that gives food a rich golden-yellow colour - it is a much-sought ingredient in many foods worldwide and widely used in Persian, Arab, Central Asian, European, Indian,Turkish and Cornish cuisines and in sweets and liquors.

Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye, particularly in China and India, and in perfumery.

But saffron also has medicinal applications and a long history in traditional healing for the treatment of a variety of ailments such as menstrual pain, menopausal problems, depression, chronic diarrhoea and neuralgia - modern medicine has also discovered saffron as having anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), immunomodulating, and antioxidant-like properties.

Professor Bisti, who is currently visiting colleagues in The Vision Centre in Australia, says saffron is not simply an anti-oxidant but appears to possess a number of other properties which are protective to vision - it appears to affect genes which regulate the fatty acid content of the cell membrane and this makes the vision cells tougher and more resilient.

Professor Bisti says it has been shown in animal models that a saffron diet will protect the eye from the damaging effects of bright light – something we all suffer whenever we go out in the sun and is active in affecting genetic diseases of the eye, such as retinitis pigmentosa, which can cause life-long blindness in young people.

Animal research has also shown the prospect of slowing down the progression of sight loss and when saffron was given to human patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration, which causes partial or total loss of sight to many people in old age, signs of cell recovery were seen.

Professor Bisti says the early findings are exciting and more will be revealed when all the results are in later this year - the saffron diet treatment may also be trialled as part of a wider experiment involving ways to prevent vision loss in humans in Sydney and Rome later this year.

Professor Bisti began to study the effects on saffron at L’Aquila, in Italy’s mountainous Abruzzi country because it was a widely-grown local crop and was already well-known as an anti-oxidant ,but she says no-one had explored saffron's effects on eyesight before, even though it has been used in cooking and medicine for three thousand years - and it is completely safe and harmless.

Professor Bisti’s team are also working to isolate the active components of saffron which produce the various beneficial effects on vision with the goal of developing therapies based on them.

The director of The Vision Centre in Australia Professor Trevor Lamb, says Professor Bisti’s laboratory at L’Aquila University was severely damaged in the recent earthquake in Italy and her experiments disrupted and because of that tragic event and the importance of her work, The Vision Centre has agreed to support one of her key researchers to come to Australia and work at the Australian National University for a year, another of her research staff will be working at the University of Sydney, allowing this important research to proceed.


  1. bluefish bluefish United States says:

    This IS exciting news regarding macular degeneration...... Would be interesting to know if any studies have been, or will be, performed with GPLC (glycine-propionyl-L-carnitine),as it too specifically enhances the transport of fatty acids into the mitochondria and facilitates removal of waste products. A study combining saffron and GPLC would be even more enlightening.

    Another key player may be the coenzyme Q10(ubiquinone), with perhaps the advanced form (ubiquinol) more effective due to greater bioavailability. Alpha Lipoic acid may also enhance the effects of any/all of the above, with the more bioavailable form, R-lipoic Acid, the preferred form, based on enhanced antioxidant activity. High glutathione levels, possibly from N-acetyl-cysteine, also would seem to protect the cells in the eyes.

    Anything that lowers homocysteine levels also would seem protective for the eyes. Could the methylation process have a role(SAM-E?)?

    I believe an Italian firm, Sigma Tau,and/or researchers at the University of Rome, has done extensive research/studies, with encouraging results, regarding macular degeneration, utilizing COQ10, Fish Oil (omega-3 fatty acids) and acetyl-L-Carnitine(pre-GPLC?). Perhaps saffron could be added to the mix for new/combined research.

    Another nutrient to consider may be Vitamin K-2,for its potential to prevent and even reverse calcium buildup in the blood vessels...along with enhancing clotting factor, reducing bleeding/leaking of capillaries. This may be particularly important in wet macular degeneration, as would nutrients which may strengthen blood vessels, such as resveratrol, bilberry and so forth.

    Conversely something that "thins" the blood such as nattokinase may or may not be helpful. If the theory that hardening/blocked blood vessels contributes to macular degeneration is considered, then it would seem logical that something that reduces the cholesterol buildup/thins out the blood would be a good thing....but not if bleeding (or the propensity to bleed/leak) is present in the eyes.

    Not to be overlooked also would be Vitamin D3, for its multi-faceted healing/protective effects,particularly since I believe deficiency has been linked to macular degeneration(Rutgers University?).

    Lastly, I believe researchers at Vanderbilt University's Eye Institute have linked mitochodrial activity in the eyes to macular degeneration. Perhaps a collaboration/sharing of data could promote a breakthrough utilizing these most recent findings with saffron.

    So as not to mislead, please note that I have no medical training whatsoever. Any/all of the above is best pursued/refuted/discussed by those qualified to do so. I welcome their comments and THANK YOU Professor Bisti and colleagues..KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK.

    • Tom Hennessy Tom Hennessy Canada says:

      Quote: So as not to mislead, please note that I have no medical training whatsoever.

      Answer : fish oil reduces vitamin E in the body.
      How in your layman's opinion could one use an oxidant AND an anti-oxidant in the SAME formula .. ?

      WHAT would be the REASON or more .. what would be the REASONING .. ?
      THAT is what one has to worry about with people who ARE "scientists" .. they in fact are PROVEN obviously to BE a little STUPID in their fields.

      IF a substance causes oxidation when it is ingested it is NO GOOD FOR YOU but they are pretty stupid when it comes to stuff like that.
      Imho ..

  2. Marilyn Marilyn United Kingdom says:

    Do you know where I could find this article in French?  I need to show it to my mother's French doctor.


  3. Info Persavita Info Persavita Canada says:

    Yes, Saffron has been used for centuries for its health benefits. With the purpose of helping people maintain their eye health, a new eye supplement (Saffron 2020) has been recently developed that is approved by Health Canada. It was formulated following studies conducted in Italy and Australia showing the restorative properties of saffron for eye health in early AMD. Saffron 2020 helps support eye health and maintain eyesight in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). You can learn more about saffron in AMD at

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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