Macular degeneration is a loss of central vision, usually in older adults. Saffron supplements may help slow down the progression of the disease and improve vision.

Saffron is a spice made from the Crocus sativus flower. People have traditionally used the dried stigma of the flower in cooking to add flavoring and coloring. They have also used it as a dye.

It is also available as a supplement in higher quantities than it may be possible to get from food sources.

Saffron contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties, according to a 2019 research review. These qualities may make it a beneficial supplement in slowing the progression of macular degeneration.

This article looks at the effects of saffron on macular degeneration, possible side effects, and how long it may take to start seeing results.

Saffron strands.Share on Pinterest
Susanna Blavarg/Getty Images

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of saffron may make it a potential treatment for eye diseases.

A 2017 study looked at the effects of saffron in 54 people with dry age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).

Researchers split participants into two groups: a control group and a treatment group. The treatment group took 50 milligrams (mg) of saffron daily for 3 months.

Before and after the study, researchers measured:

  • participants’ visual acuity, which is the ability to see shapes or objects clearly at certain distances
  • participants’ contrast sensitivity, which is the ability to see subtle differences in shading or patterns
  • the thickness of participants’ retina
  • participants’ quality of life due to low vision

Researchers found a significant improvement in visual acuity and contrast sensitivity in the treatment group and no improvement in the control group.

This led the researchers to conclude that short-term intake of saffron may slow the progression of dry ARMD and help improve vision.

Learn more about the health benefits of saffron here.

Saffron is a common ingredient in Asian, Middle Eastern, and European cuisine. People can buy dried strands or powdered saffron online and from many grocery stores.

To draw out the flavor of saffron, individuals can steep it in hot water and either drink it as they would tea or add the water and saffron strands to a recipe.

People may choose to take saffron for ARMD as an oral supplement. People can also take supplements containing the antioxidant components of saffron, such as crocin.

Individuals can talk with a healthcare professional about which supplement and dosage may be best for them.

A 2019 review looked at the existing research on saffron supplementation for macular degeneration.

The research showed that a daily dose of 20–50 mg of saffron significantly improved visual acuity over a 3-month period.

Researchers also suggested that saffron supplements of 20-50 mg per day and crocin supplements of 5-15 mg per day are safe, although there is currently not enough evidence to establish long-term safety.

Oxidative stress can contribute to many diseases, including ARMD. The antioxidant activity of saffron may be effective in improving symptoms of ARMD and slowing down disease progression.

In fact, the main components of saffron are the antioxidants safranal, crocin, and crocetin.

According to a 2019 animal study, in comparison to other natural substances with antioxidant properties, saffron appears to have a promising effect on slowing the progression of ARMD.

The study suggests that the effects of saffron on ARMD are not only due to the spice’s antioxidant properties, though.

Saffron may help to regulate genes and increase tissue resilience. It may also help to reduce neuroinflammation — inflammation within the central nervous system — which may relate to degenerative diseases like ARMD.

According to a 2019 review on the use of saffron for macular degeneration, side effects of saffron may include:

  • coloring of the skin or eyes, due to the intense coloring of saffron
  • nausea
  • sedative effects
  • changes in appetite
  • headache

The research suggests that doses of 20–50 mg of saffron or 5–15 mg of crocin per day are generally safe. Over the course of 1 month, people who took 20mg of oral crocin per day had no major side effects.

Higher doses of 200-400 mg saffron also appeared to be safe in people taking the supplement for 7 days. One participant experienced atypical bleeding from the uterus.

Saffron supplementation appears to be safe in people with ARMD. Individuals may need to check with a healthcare professional before taking saffron if they:

  • have impaired kidney function
  • have a bleeding disorder
  • are taking blood-thinning medication

Saffron supplements may also not be suitable for pregnant people, as higher doses may have abortive effects.

Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid with similar antioxidant properties to the antioxidants in saffron, according to a 2015 review of studies.

Zeaxanthin makes up 75% of the center of the retina, the central macular. Higher levels of macular pigment may lead to a lower risk of ARMD.

Dietary supplementation or eating zeaxanthin-rich foods may help to increase macular pigment and improve eye health. Foods high in zeaxanthin include:

  • orange peppers
  • egg yolk
  • sweet corn
  • spinach
  • oranges and orange juice
  • lettuce
  • peas
  • beans
  • broccoli

People may choose to take zeaxanthin supplements or increase their intake of foods containing this carotenoid.

Learn about 10 foods for healthy eyes here.

How long does saffron take to work?

According to a 2019 research review, studies have shown that supplementation of saffron over the course of 3 months led to significant improvement in visual acuity for people with ARMD. This suggests that even short-term supplementation of saffron may help improve vision.

How long is it safe to take saffron?

The 2019 review mentioned above suggests that oral saffron supplements are safe to take for most people, although further research is necessary to discover the long-term effects and safety of saffron.

A 2019 study suggests that low doses of saffron may increase the likelihood of a positive outlook for people with ARMD in the long term.

However, other research suggests that the benefits of taking saffron may not continue after the initial period of supplementation.

The aforementioned 2019 review of studies included two longer-term studies of ARMD and saffron supplementation.

People with early ARMD took 20 mg of saffron daily for 12–15 months. Visual improvements occurred within the first 3 months of taking the saffron supplement, but after this, the results appeared to plateau.

The 2019 research review mentioned above suggests that daily supplementation with saffron or crocin, one of the antioxidant components of saffron, may significantly improve visual acuity and contrast sensitivity in people with ARMD.

People may experience improvements within 3 months of taking supplements, but improvements may plateau after this time.

Other research from 2019 suggests that long-term supplementation may increase positive results, though.

Saffron contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties, which may help improve eye health and slow down the progression of macular degeneration.

Research has shown that short-term supplementation with saffron may help improve some aspects of vision and is generally safe for most people.

People may experience some side effects from saffron, and they should avoid saffron supplementation during pregnancy.

People with certain health conditions, such as bleeding disorders, or people taking medications can check with a doctor before taking any supplements.