Nutrients that are beneficial for eye and vision health can come from unexpected sources, such as oysters for zinc and pistachios for lutein and zeaxanthin. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI), a publisher of open access scientific journals, compiled information from eight clinical studies on the potential therapeutic benefits of saffron for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) and diabetic maculopathy.

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus. The stigma and styles, called threads, are collected and dried for use mainly as a seasoning and coloring agent in food. The threads contain a carotenoid pigment, crocin, as well as zeaxanthin, lycopene and alpha- and beta-carotenes. These carotenoids are antioxidants that can build and maintain the thickness of the retinal pigment layer. Other potential benefits of saffron include anti-inflammatory properties as well as improvements in oxygen diffusion and ocular blood flow.

In six studies of patients with AMD, visual acuity improved after three months of daily saffron supplements of 20 to 50 milligrams. Two of the studies continued over 12 and 15 months, and showed similar visual acuity improvement that seemed to plateau after the first three months. Only one clinical study was of patients with POAG. In that study, patients took daily saffron supplements of 30 mg in addition to their prescribed glaucoma medications and showed notably decreased intraocular pressure after three weeks. One other study examined the effects of crocin supplements on diabetic maculopathy and showed an improvement in best corrected visual acuity as well as lower fasting blood glucose levels after three months.

It’s important to note that the studies used saffron and crocin supplements, as opposed to the spice itself and are not regulated in the same way as conventional drugs. As a result, recommended dosages and quality differ for the same product. Supplements may also contain substances other than the main ingredient. While we can safely ingest up to 1.5 grams (1/16 oz) of saffron per day, “mega doses” of any vitamins and supplements should be avoided, and many may have negative interactions with prescription medications. It is always best to check with a doctor before taking any supplements.

More data and long-term study are needed, but considering the results of these studies, we will likely learn more about the benefits of saffron for ocular diseases. For now, why not add natural saffron to your cooking? Recipes abound for its use in rice and meat dishes, stews, puddings and cakes. You may become mad about saffron and give your eye health a boost, too.

Linda Conlin
Pro to Pro Managing Editor
[email protected]