Fact or Myth: Can Saffron Prevent Age-Related Vision Loss?

This is MYTH.

As we grow older, vision is often the first to go. Extracts of the culinary spice saffron from the crocus flower may be just what we need to forestage age-related vision problems.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Saffron

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) afflicts 2% of Americans between 50 and 60, and a whooping 30% of Americans over the age of 75. According to the National Eye Institute, AMD is the principal cause of irreversible blindness in Americans. It manifests as the gradual malfunction of the light-sensing cells in our retinas. As you lose central vision, daily tasks, such as driving and reading, become impaired and eventually give way to legal blindness.

Research has shown that certain plant carotenoids—antioxidant pigments that give fruits and vegetables their colors—can help keep early-stage macular degeneration from progressing, but until recently scientists have been unable to develop a targeted strategy to defend against “normal” loss of visual acuity that occurs with aging. Supplementing with saffron may hold the key.

How Saffron Shows Promise

A few studies have shown that saffron can help improve sensitivity to light, a primary symptom of AMD. The first study tested 20 mg of saffron against a placebo. Researchers randomly gave half of the AMD patients saffron and half of the patients received a placebo for three months. After three months, they reassigned groups and repeated the trial in order to establish consistency and validity to the study.

When patients took the saffron they showed increased sensitivity to light. Researchers used advanced testing that measured the electrical output of retinal cells when stimulated by light. Poor electrical output corresponded to more damaged light-sensitive cells in the retina. When participants took the placebo, there were no improvements in light sensitivity.

Saffron also improved visual acuity, which is how sharp your vision is when looking at a distance. After three months of supplementing with saffron, patients showed an average increase of 1 full line on the eye vision chart, measured at a 20-foot distance. So, an AMD patient with 20/40 vision now had 20/30 vision!

Scientists followed up with a second study that replicated testing circumstances but lasted for 14 months instead of just 3 months. This time, sensitivity to light improved for the entire duration of the study when patients supplemented with saffron, and visual acuity jumped 2 full lines on the Snellen vision chart!

A third study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine confirmed saffron’s vision-enhancing benefits. Results were almost identical over an average of 11 months. The one difference is that this study indicated that vision improvement from saffron supplementation improved regardless of heredity, which means that saffron can possibly improve eyesight in people with or without genetic risk factors.

Experts say that you can double saffron’s benefits by combining it with the vision-boosting nutrients alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin, and cyaniding-3-glucoside.

Saffron’s Other Health Benefits

Saffron is an extremely nutrient-dense spice that contains manganese, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6. Health experts link saffron with cancer prevention, energy enhancement, immune strengthening, asthma relief, depression treatment, Alzheimer’s protection, and menstrual cramp relief. Dr. Oz even touts it as a weight loss aid!

Add saffron to seafood dishes such as bouillabaisse and paella, rice dishes such as risotto, or tomato-based sauces and soups. For specific vision-enhancing or health-boosting benefits, consider supplementing with saffron extract under the supervision of your doctor.