The world's costliest spice saffron, which lends its colour and flavour to delicacies ranging from biriyani to kesar halwa, can also arrest the onset and progress of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, Indian scientists have found.
After nearly five years of hard laboratory work with saffron, researchers at the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), Jammu, identified a chemical that showed unique properties to protect the brain cells and delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.
In July the institute, one of the laboratories under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, licensed the technology to the Gujarat-based firm, Pharmanza Herbal Pvt Ltd to produce a nutraceutical for brain health that would be marketed in the USA and India.
With the increased life expectancy, age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia (memory loss) have emerged as the new global public health challenges. The number of patients with Alzheimer's disease is rising around the world.
“The nutraceutical would be launched in the US market as a dietary supplement in October-November. It would be available in the form of an oral capsules that people with more than 40 years of age need to be taken twice a day. After another six months, the product would come to India,” IIIM director Ram Vishwakarma told DH.
According to the India Ageing Report 2017, India's elderly population is growing at a rate of 3% every year, which is faster than other age categories.
By 2050, the elderly population in India will reach 300 million, accounting for nearly 20% of the total population of the country. The number of elderly Indians living with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple by 2050 to reach 4.6 million cases, up from 1.6 million in 2015.
The Jammu laboratory identified the key compound (named IIIM-141) from the stigma of a saffron flower as a part of a CSIR initiative to discover drugs and nutritional supplements from Indian medicinal plants. Once the active molecule was identified, it was extensively tested for its protective and therapeutic role against neuro-degenerative diseases.
Vishwakarma said the US Food and Drug Administration approved the product as a dietary supplement. Now there are plans to carry out clinical trials in association with a US-based company in order to bring out a medicine using the same chemical.
The formulation ensures a slow release of the active ingredients ensuring that the bio-active constituent of this product reaches the brain, thereby enhancing the clearance of toxic beta-amyloid plaques from the brain and thereby protecting the neurons.
The dietary supplement also showed excellent memory enhancing properties with excellent safety profile.