Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

AMD ain’t no picnic


I’ve been a glutton for punishment again and read the Metro in more detail than is sensible this morning.

I came across this article that appears at first to be telling you that eating paella might stop you developing a debilitating eye disease.

On further reading, it becomes clear that the Metro mentions paella simply because it is made with saffron, the incredibly expensive crocus-derived spice.

Now stop it or you’ll go blind

The reason they’re writing about saffron is apparently due to research suggesting it could protect against AMD – age-related macular degeneration. Now, this is no laughing matter, it’s a very horrible disease that still affects a lot of people (though there have been some fantastic advances in the last decade or so largely due to animal research).

It’s of particular interest to me, since one of the treatment options for the ‘wet‘ form of AMD is trying to stop the growth of new blood vessels; anti-neovascular therapy. This is what our lab specialises in but in the context of cancer – so this kind of research, into angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels), can be applicable to other diseases, including some affecting the eyes like AMD.

A quick Google and trip to Churnalism.com shows that this is a bit of a recycling exercise of a story that came out in a slightly different guise back in February – using the Daily Mail article, we can see the Telegraph copied about half of it and the Express picked it up as well.

To go back to today’s Metro article, their press release seems to have come from one Dr Kim Julian. To quote the Persavita website (a nutritional supplement company):

Dr Kim Julian (Non-Executive Medical Director; Copenhagen, Denmark) is an eye surgeon and ophthalmologist who runs a private eye clinic in the capital city Copenhagen. Dr Julian has been helping patients with ophthalmo-medical and surgical eye problems in his clinic, and has been performing laser/oculoplastic surgery for the last 18 years.

Dr Julian contributes to every aspect of the business and research at Persavita including product development, and supervision of a pilot study with Saffron 2020TM for eye health in early stage age-related eye problems.

He has proven experience in developing and marketing eye health and skin care products. Dr Julian is a partner at Ocumedic Aps and inventor of the eye health product Bioflagel for treatment of blepharitis, and the skin care product Epilar. Dr Julian is also CEO of Cold-on-Demand Aps, commercialising his latest invention, the ‘self-cooling can’.

Now, this is what we call in the trade a conflict of interest. He is simply promoting a product.

Saffron 2020

No, it’s not a lovely yellow/maroon cricket kit. This is their product being so kindly promoted by the Metro here, as we see at the end of the article:

Instead of recommending we eat platefuls of paella, he has given his backing to the new Saffron 2020 health supplement which contains 20mg of the spice in each capsule.

Well of course he does, he wouldn’t make any money from you cooking lots of curry, would he?

The one published study I can find is that covered by the Telegraph back in February, from Prof. Bisti’s group. They reported on 25 patients given 20mg saffron daily for 3 months then either 3 months placebo or further saffron, compared to placebo (nothing at all) alone for 6 months, which obviously isn’t really a sensible comparison. You would probably expect them to be receiving some treatment, not nothing, so comparing to placebo is quite likely to make your treatment look good, whatever it is.

Also since these patients have already started developing AMD, I’m not sure why the leap is then taken to marketing capsules of saffron as a preventative measure (apart from making the cash, of course – clinical reasons, I mean!).

Dr Julian, however, is not on this paper so there’s no obvious, immediate connection – I’d suspect that Bisti’s group are actually seriously researching the effects of saffron’s components on AMD (despite alt med proponents’ claims, lots of research groups are looking at naturally-occurring compounds and how they might be incorporated into medicine) and we won’t know the real implications until their further studies have been published.

It seems very presumptuous and opportunistic to be jumping on this preliminary result, making these pills that have all sorts in them:

Saffron 2020TM is a proprietary new once-daily nutritional supplement made of saffron, vitamin A, vitamin B2, and natural carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.  Each capsule contains 20mg of highest quality saffron stigma powder, with color value of 270, indicating high concentration of crocin, the active compound with eye health benefits.
Saffron 2020TM also contains vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, and  resveratrol, a naturally occurring polyphenolic compound also found in red wine,
which together can help protect DNA, proteins and lipids from oxidative damage and help maintain healthy eyes and normal vision.       Saffron 2020TM is formulated as a convenient once-daily capsule, with 30 capsules in a bottle.

So you have to buy a bottle of the stuff every month and they’re £25 each (but a handy 3-for-2 offer on now!!). The wiki page does link to evidence of lutein and zeaxanthin possibly having beneficial effects as well, but again this is a preliminary finding that, as is usually the case, requires much more research to allow a solid conclusion to be drawn.

In addition, the Cochrane reviews (here and here) of reported effects of various other vitamins, antioxidants etc. on AMD reports:

There is no evidence to date that the general population should take antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements to prevent or delay the onset of AMD. There are several large ongoing trials.

Basically, don’t waste your money.

And shame on the Metro for churning out this promotion for another expensive and probably pointless supplement.

NB/ the Metro letters page: mail@ukmetro.co.uk and London Office News Editor: Sarah Getty, Fax: 020 7651 5342, E-mail: news.london@ukmetro.co.uk

Edit 2014: BMJ reports on findings that using the cheaper drug, bevacizumab, could save NHS money:


Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

5 thoughts on “AMD ain’t no picnic

  1. This reminds me of a news broadcast I’d seen a few years ago promoting alternative medicine. They were basically saying alternative cancer treatments were proven to be better than conventional methods and how we should all jump to alt. med. It was pretty ridiculous, and an example of very poor journalism.

  2. AMD is the main focus of my lab, and as you rightly say, this is a complete con. There are a few reports of lutein and zeaxanthin having modest protective effects in AMD, which is unsurprising as they form the macular pigment that helps protect this sensitive patch of photoreceptors from light damage.

    Spend your £25 per month on spinach, paella and red wine. Much nicer and probably better for you.

  3. A few points to share ;
    1- The saffron study in Italy was done in comparison with placebo, because there is no treatment for dry AMD to use as a control.
    The result from saffron study was very encouraging to use the spice as a safe food supplement.
    This was supported by previous pre-clinical studies:

    Here is another comment found from a respected source about the clinical study of saffron in dry AMD:
    Barbara McLaughlin, campaigns manager for the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said: “The first results of small scale trials of saffron in humans seem very encouraging. Clearly, a lot more research is needed to understand how saffron affects the eye and into an effective treatment.” source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/5522063/Saffron-can-protect-against-eyesight-loss.html

    In fact a recent study reported the mechanism of action of saffron for protecting retinal cells. This is so interesting as pre-treatment with saffron regulated and modulated expression of significant number of important genes that have protective role on retinal cells. Saffron is showing neuroprotective function protecting photoreceptors in the eye. source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2932490/pdf/mv-v16-1801.pdf

    Similarly, resveratrol is a potent antioxidant that has shown strong effects on genes and biochemical pathways in retinal cells. This is particularly important in AMD as resveratrol has shown potent anti-angiogenesis activities indicating potential use also in wet AMD. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21282584

    According to comments on antiangiogenesis properties of resveratrol by Washington University retina specialist Rajendra S. Apte, M.D., Ph.D. “These findings show that resveratrol could potentially be a preventive therapy in high-risk patients,” sources:

    The importance of lutein on protecting the eye is in the fact that “Lutein is not synthesized in mammals, and must be obtained from the diet.” There are many reports and clinical studies on lutein for eye. A recent article looked at its mechanism of action: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22211688

    2- Also, another point that there is a difference between the two Cochrane studies cited above. The assessment by noodlemaz should separate the findings of these two studies: one is on prevention of AMD, but the other one is for use of zinc, and antioxidants for slowing down the progression of disease in AMD. The second study indicates that: “The review of trials found that supplementation with antioxidants and zinc may be of modest benefit in people with AMD”. There are many clinical studies on use of antioxidants, carotenoids and minerals on second aspect, i.e., slowing the progression of AMD.

  4. Hi,
    Good news for those individuals who have been taking saffron supplement!
    Interesting new data from the same Italian-Australian academic groups that reported the eye health effects of saffron in dry macular degeneration in 2010. Researchers recently reported that the benefits observed with 3-months oral supplementation of saffron was extended and maintained when patients continued to receive saffron (20 mg/day) over total 15 months of treatment period.
    According to the recent study, ‘all patients reported an improvement in their quality of vision’ ; saffron supplementation provided the following beneficial effects: ‘improvement in contrast and color perception, reading ability, and vision at low luminances, all ultimately leading to a substantial improvement in the patients’ quality of life’
    Read full paper here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407634/pdf/ECAM2012-429124.pdf

    Best wishes!

  5. Pingback: AMD Eye Problem : Improve Eyesight Without Glasses

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