The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Precious Saffron Save Your Eyesight?

Some scientific studies back up a reader's claim that saffron supplements can help keep macular degeneration from running rampant.
Dried saffron stigmas on slate surface closeup

A diagnosis of a chronic condition that could lead to a severely diminished quality of life is terrifying. Age-related macular degeneration can result in a significant loss of vision. Consequently, people who learn they have this condition often look for ways to mitigate its effects. We heard from one reader who discovered that saffron, a precious spice in every sense of the term, might help.

Saffron Supplements for Macular Degeneration:

Q. I was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration in 2014. Immediately, I read up on what I could do to prevent blindness. In addition to taking AREDS2, I found that there is a supplement that can reduce, prevent, and even IMPROVE this condition.

The supplement is saffron. Clinical studies have shown that it is anti-inflammatory and helpful for macular degeneration.

I started taking saffron soon after diagnosis and in six months my eyesight IMPROVED. It has been stable since.

I order mine from New Zealand. Some eye vitamin supplements also have been adding saffron to the formula because of this research.

What Does the Science Say About Saffron?

A. Your story intrigued us because we weren’t aware that saffron is being used to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This condition leads to a loss of sharp vision in the center of the retina (the macula). As a result, people find it hard to focus on the details of items in front of them-faces, signs or pages in a book.

Researchers have been investigating the antioxidant spice saffron for its ability to protect the retina. So far, the clinical trials have been promising but small (Piccardi et al, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, July 18, 2012; Marangoni et al, Journal of Translational Medicine, Sep. 25, 2013; Lashay et al, Medical Hypothesis, Discovery & Innovation Ophthalmology Journal, Spring 2016). These studies demonstrate that saffron as a supplement (20 mg/day) can stabilize the retina for up to six months in people with early-stage AMD. We’d love to see larger, well-designed studies on this interesting supplement.

What About AREDS?

You mentioned AREDS2, a supplement formulation on which the research foundation is stronger. The acronym stands for Age-Related Eye Disease Study. This study demonstrated that a particular antioxidant vitamin-mineral formulation could slow the progression of AMD (Evans & Lawrenson, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, July 31, 2017). It contains contains vitamin C (500 mg), vitamin E (400 IU), beta carotene (15 mg) and zinc (80 mg) with copper (2 mg).

The AREDS2 study confirmed the value of the formulation and showed that adding lutein, zeaxanthin and fish oil did not make a significant difference. Nonetheless, some experts believe that lutein and zeaxanthin are preferable to beta-carotene in a multivitamin supplement designed to delay macular degeneration (JAMA Ophthalmology, Feb. 2014).

What Do You Eat?

In addition, investigators have analyzed the diets of AREDS participants and found a few foods and dietary patterns that may contribute to AMD (Chiu et al, Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, March 1, 2017).  For example, a “steak pattern” heavy on meat and potatoes was associated with progression to more severe AMD, while a “breakfast pattern” featuring cold breakfast cereal was linked to a lower prevalence of advanced degeneration. Surprisingly, peanuts were also associated with less risk of advanced AMD.

Exposure to bright light can stress the cells of the retina. Recently a study in rats found that exposure to bright light was damaging, but an antioxidant formulation comparable to AREDS plus rosemary was protective (Wong et al, Molecular Vision, Oct. 10, 2017). Rosemary and saffron are both popular spices in Mediterranean-style diets. In summary, perhaps we should all be adding them to our food, for the sake of our eyes.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Seven years ago an opthalmologist gave me a grid to look at. If the lines look wavy that indicates Macular degeneration. He suggested 20 mg of Lutein daily. I took that for several years and checked the chart often for a few months then forgot about that part but kept up with the Lutein. Last year I found the chart and looked at it again. The lines were all straight.

Graham here from Wynyard Estate Saffron in New Zealand. There are a range of scientific studies showing the benefit of Saffron with MD. The studies are longitudinal – the most significant was a 14 month-long study. There are key targets of action showing how Saffron supports your eye health and outlines specific compounds that promote this target of action. See below.

Study 1. The study concluded that “short-term Saffron supplementation improves retinal flicker sensitivity,” with “significant improvement in retinal function in early Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)”. Patients: 25 Adults; Study Duration: 6 months.

​Study 2. The study concluded that “Saffron supplementation induces macular function improvements from baseline,” which may be “promising for a long-term treatment of early retinal dysfunction associated with AMD”.Patients: 29 Adults (early to moderate AMD).
Study Duration: 14 months.

​Study 3. The study concluded that there was notable “improvement of macular function after Saffron supplementation, as evidenced by an increase in retinal flicker sensitivity.” Patients who took saffron had vision improvements of one full line on the Snellen chart, a 14% improvement. Another study found an improvement of two lines on the Snellen Chart.
Patients: 33. Study Duration: 11 months.

Target of Action
The impact of Saffron on vision stems from reducing retinal damage through the interplay of specific compounds that protect the lens and retina of aging eyes. Saffron acts in three specific ways –

1. Protecting the retina against harmful UV rays – Ultraviolet-blue light radiation (UV-B) can contribute to eye damage. Saffron has an abundance of the carotenoid alpha-crocin, which acts like “natural sunglasses” and provides a neuroprotective action over retinal cells. Saffron protects and prevents the steady breakdown of light-sensitive cells in the center of the retina, the macula.

2. Increasing blood flow into the eye – Vision problems have been linked to impeded blood flow in the retina and the choroid. Alpha-crocin has been shown to significantly increase the blood flow in the retina and choroid.

3. Boosts antioxidant defense – Saffron is jammed packed with antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals.

Saffron’s Active Compounds
Saffron stigmas contain more than 150 volatile and aroma yielding compounds. Saffron’s support and maintenance of healthy eyes is largely tied to the spice’s high content of free-radical-fighting antioxidant carotenoids, including:

Special antioxidants known as crocins (alpha-crocin and picrocrocin)
Volatile oil called safranal which comprises of 60-70% of the essential oil in Saffron

Also, Saffron is rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, riboflavin, folic acid, niacin, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, selenium, calcium, Zinc and phosphorus.

Kind regards,

I would like to order saffron too, but where in New Zealand and what at what price?

I just googled NZ Saffron and eyesight.

I drink every morning on an empty stomach a glass of warm water with a 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder and a dash of black pepper.

The antiflammatory benefits of turmeric are proven through many studies and all doctors I have consulted support this (2 GPs, heart spec. brain/nerve spec.) Just do not take more than 1/4 teaspoon a day. I am 73 yrs.old and suffer with my eyes since childhood. Had scarlet fever twice and was blind for 18 months. Penicillin helped a lot. I am taking this morning drink for about a month now, so it might be too early to pass judgement.

It’s confusing that in articles such as these about combatting macular degeneration, BILBERRY is rarely mentioned. Why? I developed early-stage macular degeneration some 20 years ago (fuzzy roundish area of faint/blurry/weirdish vision in the center of the visual field), and completely turned it around with the use of bilberry! Ophthalmologists I’ve talked with confirm that it was the onset of macular degeneration and that it’s completely gone now. BTW, I’m 70 as of 1/30/18. (PS, if anybody wonders, just take it according to pkg directions!)

How much did the saffron from Australia cost and where can I order it? Elise

What form did the saffron come in; pill or powder or liquid?
I see the same type of question has been asked several times, but hasn’t been answered yet.

The person who wrote us did not say. It is available in tablets and capsules. That would be the easiest way to get 20 mg/day.

I have found that 10mg of Lutein and 5mg of Zeaxanthin, which is formulated in “Ultimate Eye Support”, made by Andrew Lessman, has helped me see better at night and during the day. It is a blend of ingredients to promote healthy vision and to protect the delicate tissues of the eye.


The research shows potential benefit for the retina: macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
Also, in animals, prevention of diabetic cataracts:

The retina specialist I see for AMD assured me that AREDS2 is useless for AMD. He says it enriches the drug company but does nothing for patients with AMD.
Jesse in Houston

I too, have early ADM and am interested in adding Saffron to my day, but have questions. What are the possible side effects? What would be the best dose daily? How is this compounded and is there a standard for processing to insure purity? Pleas cite the studies involving this spice. Thanks

Hi there, studies have shown 20mg per day (1 capsule) . Premium Grade 1 Saffron was used in the trials. No other synthetics or additives were used. It is not recommended for pregnant women or women who are looking to become pregnant. Always consult your health professional.

Is the 20 mg. per day saffron supplement an extract or ground?

Ground Saffron not an extract.

I would like to know the Graedon’s answer to this also.

Can please tell us where you can buy saffron pills?

Life Extension has information on its website about Saffron. It also includes saffron in its Macuguard supplement. Worth a look. My mom, who takes this and has advanced AMD, has been told that her condition has remained stable.

I saw saffron for sale the other day at Costco. Sorry, no idea how strong it was (or is supposed to be). Best wishes to anyone struggling with eyesight issues.

Is the saffron that the lady takes in pill form or in spice form?

It is taken as a capsule to ensure the correct 20mg dosage.

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