Scientific researchers have found that a compound in rosemary — long used as a medicinal herb in Asia and Europe — may help protect against macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in seniors.
The discovery, published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, was made by medical specialists with the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in studies involving laboratory animals. The investigators found that carnosic acid in rosemary promotes eye health and may provide a possible new approach for treating conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Lead researcher Dr. Stuart A. Lipton said he and his colleagues believe the compound may also offer other health benefits and the team’s studies are continuing.
"We're now developing improved derivatives of carnosic acid and related compounds to protect the retina and other brain areas from a number of degenerative conditions, including [AMD] and various forms of dementia," said Lipton, director of Sanford-Burnham's Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research Center.
Lipton's team found that carnosic acid protects retinas from degeneration and toxicity in laboratory studies involving cell tissues and rodents. He noted previous studies have suggested AMD might be slowed or treated by antioxidants and chemicals that fight free radicals — reactive compounds related to oxygen and nitrogen that damage membranes and other cell processes.
Lipton's team first discovered a few years ago that carnosic acid fights off free radical damage in the brain. In their latest study, the team found carnosic acid also protects retinal cells in the eye.
This study was funded, in part, by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.