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