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I’m Just Mad About Saffron

The Beatles sang ‘I’m just mad about saffron’ and as the remaining Beatles age, they have even more reason to be excited about it!

A recent double-blind, controlled study of saffron, conducted in Australia by Jonathon Stone, Professor of Neurobiology at Sydney University, showed that saffron, taken daily, substantially reversed the symptoms of age-related macular degeneration. This is the most common cause of blindness in aged Australians and this trial indicated that saffron seems to restore some vision in patients and then stabilises further deterioration of the retina of the eye.

This follows earlier Italian trials over the past ten years conducted by Professor Silva Bisti using saffron. She found that the electrical response of photoreceptors and visual clarity of the eyes significantly improved after three-month saffron supplementation, but the results reversed if supplementation was discontinued.

Saffron contains very high antioxidant properties from its bright orange pigments - carotenoid crocetin and saffronal. These substances seem to clear away debris which collects behind the eye’s retina as we age, enabling nutrient and blood supply to increase and restore retinal function. In animal studies the nerve cells in the eye’s photo receptors improved with saffron, reducing the effect of bright light sensitivity, so in time it may prove helpful in assisting humans who experience vision difficulty in bright sunlight or driving at night against glaring headlights.

Other animal studies using saffron are showing encouraging results in the neurodegenerative diseases of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.

All the human trials involved supplementation of a low dosage of saffron, 20mg per day of Grade 1 saffron, and it has proven to be low in toxicity and side effects. It is not recommended during pregnancy.

Dating back to the Persians, saffron has been used traditionally for cooking, dyeing and medicinal purposes. Ayurvedic medicine uses saffron to support toning, digestive herbs as it improves the absorption of food. Herbalists have used saffron for centuries to support circulation and cognitive function and treat menstrual disorders, coughs, fever, poor appetite and fatigue.

More recently saffron has also proven to be helpful in assisting male fertility and impotence, possible due to its ability to improve circulation and it is proving to be a useful herb in treating mild to moderate depression.

Professor Stone recommends taking a controlled, 20mg daily dosage of saffron from a laboratory-prepared extract. This is available from herbalists who are able to prescribe  a TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) approved Grade 1 extract.

I’m currently in discussions with our Australian herbal manufacturers to assess the possibility of a standardised 20mg saffron extract tablet being made available as a convenient option. This could take up to 12 months for such a product to be made to meet Australia’s strict TGA requirements.

So in the future, it may be that saffron is superior to carrots and blueberries in protecting eye health, and it could also mean less grumpy old men and women!

Val Allen

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