Purpose: To evaluate the functional effect of short-term supplementation of saffron, a spice containing the antioxidant carotenoids crocin and crocetin, in early age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Methods: Twenty-five patients with AMD were randomly assigned to oral saffron 20 mg/d or placebo supplementation over a 3-month period and then reverted to placebo or saffron for a further 3 months. Focal electroretinograms (fERGs) and clinical findings were recorded at baseline and after 3 months of saffron or placebo supplementation. fERGs were recorded in response to a sinusoidally modulated (41 Hz), uniform field presented to the macular region (18°) at different modulations between 16.5% and 93.5%. Main outcome measures were fERG amplitude (in microvolts), phase (in degrees), and modulation thresholds.
Results: After saffron, patients' fERGs were increased in amplitude, compared with either baseline or values found after placebo supplementation (mean change after saffron, 0.25 log μV; mean change after placebo, -0.003 log μV; P < 0.01). fERG thresholds were decreased after saffron supplementation but not placebo, compared with baseline (mean change after saffron, -0.26 log units; mean change after placebo, 0.0003 log units).
Conclusions: The results indicate that short-term saffron supplementation improves retinal flicker sensitivity in early AMD. Although the results must be further replicated and the clinical significance is yet to be evaluated, they provide important clues that nutritional carotenoids may affect AMD in novel and unexpected ways, possibly beyond their antioxidant properties. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00951288.).