January 31, 2010
Help In Sight For Ageing Vision
International scientists today reported encouraging results in human trials of the use of the herb saffron for treating one of the commonest causes of loss of sight in old age.
Professor Silvia Bisti and Prof. Benedetto Falsini with colleagues from The Vision Centre, the University of L'Aquila and Catholic University of Rome, Italy, told an international vision conference in Sydney that a clinical trial had confirmed earlier hopes that saffron could improve the function of the retina in patients suffering from dry Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).AMD affects the majority of humans as they age and is a major cause of blindness in the elderly, increasing dependency and the cost of caring for people in an ageing population.
"The trial on human patients with dry AMD was a success," she said. "The parameters we chose to document the effect showed that saffron treatment improved retinal function. On top of that the majority of patients recognized when they took the treatment that their vision improved."
Prof. Bisti says the main finding from animal experiments and clinical trial so far are that saffron:
"¢ Protects vision cells from cell death in cases where the retina is under stress
"¢ Improves the structure and function of vision cells
"¢ Modulates gene expression in the eye
"¢ Shows potential for protecting the retina in cases where AMD is detected early.
"¢ Can be used to prevent or slow the neurodegeneration of the retina.
Details of the research, which was carried out in a double-blind placebo-controlled experiment using patients who had experienced vision loss due to AMD, have been submitted for publication in a leading scientific journal. Participants in the trial received pills containing concentrated saffron at controlled rates along with their normal diet.
"Chemically, saffron is known to contain volatile and aroma-yielding compounds and many non-volatile biologically active components, such as carotenoids and various alpha- and beta-carotenes. The peculiar characteristics of saffron and our experimental results suggest that it has a number of very different action on the cells of the retina, ranging from antioxidant activity to direct control of gene expression," she says.
The promising results in human patients follow extensive trials of saffron in an animal model, which pointed to its likely beneficial effects. "These also showed that a saffron diet will help to protect the eye from the damaging effects of bright light "“ something we all suffer whenever we go out in the sun."
Prof. Bisti says the research has also established that saffron is active in affecting genetic diseases of the eye in animal models of retinitis pigmentosa, a condition which can cause life-long blindness in young people.
"We are encouraged by the results we have achieved in this research to date but, to be candid, it has raised more questions than we have answers for at the moment, so a lot more work is required before we can say for certain that dietary treatment with saffron can be used as a therapy to treat certain eye diseases. These are still early days," she says.
Professor Jonathon Stone from The Vision Centre and Sydney University commented "The outcome of this experiment was remarkable - significant improvement in vision after several weeks of taking saffron in pill form, which reversed when the patients were taken off it. This is very encouraging for a non-invasive way to treat certain important eye diseases."
The Australian Neuroscience Society Satellite Meeting 2010: "From Photoreceptors to Behaviour" is being held at the Save Sight Institute, 8 Macquarie St, Sydney on January 29 and 30, 2010. Media are welcome to attend and interview participants.
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