This is the important result of a research realised at the Fondazione Policlinico Universitario A. Gemelli IRCCS and Università Cattolica, campus of Rome, published in the prestigious magazine “Nutrients”.
The study was coordinated by Prof. Benedetto Falsini, associate professor at the Institute of Ophthalmology (Catholic University) and specialist at the Ophthalmology UOC of the A. Gemelli University Hospital Foundation, together with Prof. Silvia Bisti (University of L’Aquila).
“Everything was born from the studies of my colleague Bisti many years ago – says Prof. Falsini – with whom I have been collaborating for years and to whom I will always be very grateful”.
But let’s go with order:
Stargardt’s disease is a hereditary macular degeneration.
The symptoms consist mainly in the reduction of central vision (often in severe form), which begins during adolescence or, in any case, at a young age (first and second decade). In addition, patients may complain of colour perception disorders (dyschromatopsia), central scotoma (black spots in the field of vision) and photophobia (intolerance to light).
It is caused by mutations of the gene called ABCA4, involved in the cycle of retinoids and whose malfunction causes dysfunction and loss of photoreceptors cones and rods, mainly as a result of photo-oxidative damage due to the deposition of dys-metabolic products that form the lipofuscin.
It is transmitted with autosomal recessive mode. The progression of the disease is linked to the activation of neuroinflammatory phenomena induced by the increasing oxidative stress.
The clinical trial is the first ever in our knowledge, and involved 31 patients with Stargardt’s disease treated with 20 mg/day of saffron.
Why saffron? Since the first experiments on an animal model of induced retinal degeneration it was clear that the treatment with saffron had an added value compared to a classic treatment with antioxidants. Saffron reduced cell death, the activation of neuro-inflammatory processes and maintained visual function for longer, in other words it slowed down the progression of the neurodegenerative process.
This is the result of a very complex process activated and maintained by the different chemical components of saffron itself, mainly the crocins. It has been shown that saffron regulates the activity of many genes and consequently of many metabolic pathways. The result seems to be a complex stabilizing action of cellular metabolism, which ultimately activates resilience mechanisms.
The experimental protocol of the clinical trial was double-blind and cross-over. The results seem very promising. Visual function remained stable during the six months of treatment while it tended to deteriorate during placebo intake.
In humans, the efficacy of saffron treatment has been demonstrated in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by Prof. Falsini of the Gemelli Polyclinic and confirmed in clinical trials at other universities and countries.