Saffron vs. Memantine (Namenda) for Alzheimer’s

Saffron vs. Memantine (Namenda) for Alzheimer’s
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The spice saffron is pitted head-to-head against the leading drug for severe Alzheimer’s disease.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

What’s the latest on treating memory disorders with the spice saffron? Saffron had evidently been “widely used in the Persian [medical tradition] for memory problems,” but it wasn’t put to the test—until this study, which I profiled, showing Alzheimer’s dementia symptoms continuing to get worse on placebo, but getting better on saffron over a 16-week period. The researchers concluded that, at least in the short term, saffron is “safe and effective in mild-to-moderate [Alzheimer’s disease].” What about head-to-head versus the leading drug used for such patients? It appeared to work just as well, but with significantly less vomiting—a common side effect of the drug. So, that’s where we were as of 2010. What’s the update?

In 2013, we got the first glimpse at a potential mechanism. Alzheimer’s disease involves “brain nerve cell destruction.” Our brain cells can be killed by the buildup of tangles, or the buildup of amyloid plaques, where “aggregates of [a protein called amyloid beta] act as a poison.” But, in a petri dish, at least, adding the red pigment found in saffron, called crocin, significantly reduces this amyloid clumping—an effect that can be plainly seen under an electron microscope. So, the component of saffron that makes it so colorful appears to have “the ability to prevent amyloid formation.” What about the tangles? There’s the amyloid, and then, there’s the tangles, which crocin also seems to be able to block in vitro—again, as demonstrated with electron microscopy. So, maybe that’s why saffron helps in Alzheimer’s disease. But, do you have to catch it early?

Note this was just for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. What about moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s? We didn’t know, until now. Head-to-head against the leading drug for severe Alzheimer’s, and again, saffron seemed to help just as well. And, one might consider just as well better, since there haven’t been any serious adverse effects attributed to saffron—whereas the drug is associated with increased risk of “[sleepiness], weight gain, confusion, hypertension, nervous system disorders, and falling.”

And, the saffron study wasn’t funded by supplement or spice companies—just noncommercial public grants. But, all the studies were done in Iran, which controls about 90% of the saffron crop. So, there’s a national interest in promoting saffron consumption, just like the New Zealand government funds research on kiwifruit—though who else is going to fund studies on a simple spice?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

What’s the latest on treating memory disorders with the spice saffron? Saffron had evidently been “widely used in the Persian [medical tradition] for memory problems,” but it wasn’t put to the test—until this study, which I profiled, showing Alzheimer’s dementia symptoms continuing to get worse on placebo, but getting better on saffron over a 16-week period. The researchers concluded that, at least in the short term, saffron is “safe and effective in mild-to-moderate [Alzheimer’s disease].” What about head-to-head versus the leading drug used for such patients? It appeared to work just as well, but with significantly less vomiting—a common side effect of the drug. So, that’s where we were as of 2010. What’s the update?

In 2013, we got the first glimpse at a potential mechanism. Alzheimer’s disease involves “brain nerve cell destruction.” Our brain cells can be killed by the buildup of tangles, or the buildup of amyloid plaques, where “aggregates of [a protein called amyloid beta] act as a poison.” But, in a petri dish, at least, adding the red pigment found in saffron, called crocin, significantly reduces this amyloid clumping—an effect that can be plainly seen under an electron microscope. So, the component of saffron that makes it so colorful appears to have “the ability to prevent amyloid formation.” What about the tangles? There’s the amyloid, and then, there’s the tangles, which crocin also seems to be able to block in vitro—again, as demonstrated with electron microscopy. So, maybe that’s why saffron helps in Alzheimer’s disease. But, do you have to catch it early?

Note this was just for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. What about moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s? We didn’t know, until now. Head-to-head against the leading drug for severe Alzheimer’s, and again, saffron seemed to help just as well. And, one might consider just as well better, since there haven’t been any serious adverse effects attributed to saffron—whereas the drug is associated with increased risk of “[sleepiness], weight gain, confusion, hypertension, nervous system disorders, and falling.”

And, the saffron study wasn’t funded by supplement or spice companies—just noncommercial public grants. But, all the studies were done in Iran, which controls about 90% of the saffron crop. So, there’s a national interest in promoting saffron consumption, just like the New Zealand government funds research on kiwifruit—though who else is going to fund studies on a simple spice?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Doctor's Note

For more on herbal approaches to dementia, check out:

What else can saffron do? See:

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