(NaturalNews) A recent study conducted by researchers from both Sydney University and the University of L'Aquila in Italy have found that saffron, one of the world's most valuable spices, helps to protect eyes from being damaged by harmful UV rays. The herb also helps to slow the progression of eye diseases like macular degeneration, which causes blindness.
Collected by hand from the deep red stamens of the saffron crocus, the saffron spice is worth up to $800 per pound depending on its quality. It is used in a variety of applications including as a food spice, a coloring agent, and a treatment for disease. Some 90 illnesses, and counting, can be treated with saffron.
According to Monique Simmonds, an investigator of the medicinal properties of plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, saffron is rich in certain compounds that make it viable in treating a variety of different diseases.
"The unique compounds found naturally in saffron that we believe may have medicinal value include crocin and safranal. They belong to a family called carotenoids, which includes betacarotene [a type of Vitamin A]. Carotenoids give plants such as carrots or red peppers their color. Studies show that these compounds play key roles in preserving eyesight, protecting against cancer and preventing Alzheimer's," she explained.
In the eye study, macular degeneration patients who ate a diet containing saffron began to experience cell recovery, which resulted in improved vision.
"Saffron appears to affect genes that regulate the fatty-acid content of the cell membrane, and this makes the vision cells tougher and more resilient," said Professor Silvia Bisti, lead researcher of the study.
The National Institute of Pediatrics in New Mexico conducted a study in which researchers observed anti-cancer effects from taking saffron. Crocin and safranal, the two compounds that researchers believe help improve eyesight, are also implicated in having an anti-tumor effect as well.
"Research has found that saffron boosts immunity by helping white blood cells to mature, as well as increasing levels of enzymes that help the body break down toxins," said Fikrat Abdullaev, author of the study.
Another study published in the British Journal of Gynaecology found that saffron is effective at treating the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, including easing depression, irritability, and mood swings.
Saffron can be purchased for supplemental use as a bulk powder or in capsules. When buying any spice or herb, particularly ones that are used for cooking, make sure that it has not been irradiated.
Ethan Huff is a freelance writer and health enthusiast who loves exploring the vast world of natural foods and health, digging deep to get to the truth. He runs an online health publication of his own at http://wholesomeherald.blogspot.com.