Saffron ingredient shows promise for fighting MS
Crocin in saffron is found to protect neurons from damage seen in MS. Researchers say though there is much to still learn, the discovery could pave the way for new treatments for multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders.
The ingredient was studied in lab models and cell cultures by medical researchers at the University of Alberta.
The team, led by Chris Power in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, was able to show "…the “compound in saffron, known as crocin…exerts a protective effect in brain cell cultures and other models of MS.”
Power said, “It prevented damage to cells that make myelin in the brain. Myelin is insulation around nerves. MS is characterized by inflamed brain cells that have lost this protective insulation, which ultimately leads to neurodegeneration.”
The scientists found inflammation, which results from a particular type of cell stress, called the unfolded protein response, is linked to the loss of myelin – demyelination – and the neurological damage that occurs with MS.
In the cell cultures and lab models the saffron ingredient crocin calmed inflammation and decreased the amount of neurological impairment from the type of cell stress linked to multiple sclerosis.
The next step for the researchers is to learn more about how the Persian spice ingredient works. There may be therapeutic application that could lead to new drugs to treat MS and other neuroinflammatory diseases. Examples include Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, ALS and Huntington’s disease.
The scientists also discovered the unfolded protein response may be the result of a virus introduced into the DNA of early humans.
Powers, who has been studying the virus, MS, inflammation link for six or seven years said, "We all have this ancient virus in our DNA, but for some reason it is excessively turned on in MS. We are doing more research investigating this link."
The researchers say it will be a while before the saffron ingredient crocin would be used in clinical trials. Still, Powers says the finding is “exciting”. Saffron may provide a previously unknown treatment for MS and other neuroinflammatory diseases. The study is published in the Journal of Immunology.
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