Our grandmothers knew a thing or two about herbs. In a renewed effort to isolate active compounds of many commonly used herbs, scientists are looking at many old remedies. One of them is rosemary, well known for its effects on memory. In a study recently published in the Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science journal, scientists from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute found that a compound of rosemary called carnosic acid has great benefits for eye health, particularly against macular degeneration.
Rosemary is a fragrant perennial shrub native to the Mediterranean countries. Its needle-like leaves are much better known as a spice used in many Italian dishes. But, rosemary has many active compounds that have medicinal uses that have been known throughout history. Some of them are antioxidants, carnosic acid, rosmarinic acid, camphor, caffeic acid, rosmarol, ursolic acid and betulinic acid.
While carnosic acid is known as a powerful antioxidant, scientists found that it has ability to protect retinas from toxicity and degeneration induced by light. They believe that this could be used to treat diseases of outer retina, particularly age-related macular degeneration.
Age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration is the most common eye disease in the US, affecting more than 1.75 million people. It mostly affects people over 50. It is the main cause of the loss of vision in elderly. It causes blindness by destroying macula, the eye part which provides clear, sharp vision.
While macular degeneration has several causes, such as smoking and family history, the results of the new study show that its progress can be slowed by compounds that affect free radicals. Free radicals are atoms or molecules with a single unpaired electron in its outer shell. It causes severe damage to cells. There is a theory that ageing is in fact accumulation of cell damage caused by free radicals.
The most effective way to fight free radicals is with antioxidants. Carnosic acid boosts production of antioxidant enzyme in cells, lowering levels of free radicals.
Besides potential to slow down and treat macular degeneration, carnosic acid from rosemary has potential for the treatment of some forms of dementia as well.