Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant found in nature, with several health benefits. Part of a group of nutrients called carotenoids, Astaxanthin has a reddish color and has been shown to speed up treatment of complex diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In this article, we will cover the main benefits of eating foods rich in astaxanthin – a trend that has become an overnight sensation with multiple companies listing products that include this ingredient on popular websites such as Amazon, Ebay or Alibaba.
We look into the history of this ingredient, various current applications and its perceived health benefits.
The health effects of astaxanthin have been well documented in more than 1000 peer-reviewed healthcare publications and journals.
History of carotenoids
A carotenoid is simply defined as any class of mainly yellow, orange or red fat-soluble pigments which give color to plant parts and some living organisms. They belong to the category of lipid-soluble terpenes (as a tetraterpenoid) compounds and are among the earliest investigated phytochemicals (studied all the way back in the 1800s). There are currently more than 1,100 documented carotenoid compounds.
Carotenoids are split into two separate classes:
- Carotenes – Unoxygenated that include α-carotene, β-carotene and lycopene
- Xanthophylls – Contain oxygen such as astaxanthin
What is astaxanthin
Astaxanthin is the reddish pigment belonging to the xanthophyll group of carotenoids. The substance occurs naturally in some algae and is what causes the reddish/pink color in salmon, lobster, trout and other seafood.
Astaxanthin is often referred to as ‘the king of carotenoids’ because of its reputation as one of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature. The substance is of particular significance because it never converts to become a pro-oxidant. This means that it can never cause harmful oxidation in the body, making it perfect for health related benefits and performance.
Benefits of astaxanthin
Supplementing a healthy diet or focusing on eating foods high in astaxanthin provides huge number benefits. Documented benefits range from the treatment of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease to the reduced risk of a heart attack and cardiovascular diseases.
1. Astaxanthin mitigates oxidative effects of diabetes
Astaxanthin can protect pancreatic β-cells, the cells that produce insulin, from the oxidative stress that is accompanies high blood sugar. This is enormously important when it comes to the high levels of oxidative stress found in diabetic patients, stemming from high blood sugar.
The antioxidant also a great help in the recovery of lymph cell dysfunction and the improvement in insulin sensitivity when testing in rats.
2. Astaxanthin helps reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
Astaxanthin can help reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol and adiponectin. It does this alongside the prevention of lipid oxidation in the blood vessels and delays and reduces blood clotting the blood vessels, increasing blood flow.
3. Astaxanthin can help reduce heart damage from heart attack
Following a heart attack, astaxanthin has been noted to reduce the expected damage. In rat, rabbit and dog heart attack models, pre-treatment of the animals with astaxanthin was seen to reduce the damage – giving credit to the theory of such damage reduction within humans.
4. Astaxanthin modulates the body’s immune response
Astaxanthin also appears to enhance antibody production and decreased immune response. This has been seen, with accompanied by the assistance of fish oil supplementation, to modulate lymphocyte function in rats.
5. Astaxanthin may protect the stomach lining from H. pylori and ulcers
Mice display a significant decrease in gastric ulcers when astaxanthin has been used to create a protective effect against ulcer formation. The number of H. pylori – a bacteria that is known to cause stomach ulcers – was also drastically reduced with the use of the antioxidant, leading to increased protection.
6. Astaxanthin protects against UV damage
UV damage can be reduced with skin thickening and collagen reduction against UV-induced skin damage. Astaxanthin also works to protect against UVA-induced skin photoaging – what we associate with the aging process.
Although this evidence is not sufficient to hide the sunscreen and bake yourself to a crisp, the benefit is another of the many pros of supplementing with the antioxidant.
7. Astaxanthin protects the eyes from bacterial inflammation
The reduced inflammation properties found within astaxanthin protect the eyes from bacterial inflammation.
Bacterial inflammation can be a painful and uncomfortable condition, especially to such a sensitive area. Although there is little evidence to show that treating this condition with astaxanthin is indeed effective, this method of the eye protection shows promise.
8. Astaxanthin helps high blood pressure
Astaxanthin helps fight high blood pressure in a variety of ways, by modulating nitric oxide and relaxing the blood vessel.
High blood pressure can also be reduced through weight loss, increased exercise, a healthy diet and a limitation on alcohol. Consumption of astaxanthin as part of a healthy diet or as a supplement has a minimal effect on high blood pressure, in comparison to the aforementioned factors. However, taken in combination with these other activities, astaxanthin can add a boost to one’s efforts.
9. Astaxanthin helps with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
With the improvement in insulin sensitivity, liver inflammation and the reduction of fatty liver – astaxanthin can significantly assist in reducing liver disease in humans.
A healthy liver should contain little to no fat. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 1 in 3 people in the UK are in the early stages of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Other forms of treatment for this disease include the reevaluation of life choices such as increased exercise, a healthy and balanced diet and weight loss.
10. Astaxanthin inhibits cancer cell growth
Astaxanthin is also shown to inhibit tumor formation and growth in rats and mice with chemically-induced cancers.
The antioxidant does this by activating anti-cancer immune systems, thus showing another added benefit of the substance. Although it could prove a relatively small indicator and only marginally effective in some patients, it is a substance from which some patients may edrive benefit. With such an inexpensive supplement form available – it’s more than worth a shot.
11. Astaxanthin reduces exercise fatigue
Antioxidant effects can significantly delay exhaustion from exercise, suggesting that the supplementation of the substance is great for exercise capabilities. This is partly due to the prevention of oxidative stress from mitochondria resulting in more available energy, thus reducing fatigue.
12. Astaxanthin reduces brain damage from stroke
A high dosage of astaxanthin has been shown to reduce brain damage from stroke. The research, completed in rats shows significantly reduced brain damage from a stroke following astaxanthin supplementation.
13. Astaxanthin helps recovery from traumatic brain injury
Astaxanthin appears to help speed up recovery from traumatic brain injuries, but does not have any effect on cognitive function. The substance has also been shown to reduce brain swelling following injuries, promoting key brain function.
Following traumatic brain injury, it therefore appears to be beneficial to include astaxanthin in the diet or to take it as a supplement, to promote recovery. Traumatic brain injuries lead to a lifetime of recovery, so every little bit helps. The consumption of astaxanthin on a regular, daily basis just might be the kick required to speed up recovery and accelerate the capabilities of patients.
14. Astaxanthin may protect against Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a major disease that shows a promising result when treated with astaxanthin. Cell models show the antioxidant reduces risk for the disease, adding to astaxanthin’s luster.
Although Alzheimer’s disease cannot be cured, protecting against it for those at high risk is imperative. Lifestyle changes are also expected to assist with the prevention of the disease, for instance a brain-healthy lifestyle is often linked with the prevention and deceleration of the disease.
15. Astaxanthin may protect and treat Parkinson’s
The promotion of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and mitochondrial protective effects leave experts suggesting that the substance has potential in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Similar to Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure for Parkinson’s now available, meaning that protection against the life-altering disease is vital. Astaxanthin has been found to have protective effects against the disease, potentially preventing or at least slowing down its effects.
It is clear from this huge list of benefits that although the substance does have a variety of health related pros – it, like every supplement, is not a substitute for a healthy diet and active lifestyle. As with all supplements, they should always be considered as the last piece of the puzzle to be used as an optimisation situation, rather than a replacement for other lifestyle habits and choices.
What foods contain astaxanthin?
If you prefer to keep your diet all-natural and get all of your vitamins and nutrients from food sources, you can make it work, but there are limited food sources that are naturally high in astaxanthin. A huge focus on seafood will help you to get your fix of the antioxidant.
The highest quantities of astaxanthin are found in Wild Pacific sockeye salmon, but it’s not limited to the single species. All salmon is found to have some of this antioxidant, with wild-caught salmon having 400% the astaxanthin levels of their farm-raised friends. One ounce of wild sockeye salmon contains 1mg. of astaxanthin. So interestingly, it’s the quality of the fish that you’re eating, not just the type itself.
Other ocean creatures can help you get your daily astaxanthin, remembering that the redder the better when it comes to animal colors. Consuming algae, trout, krill, shrimp and even yeast are all great for bumping up your levels of the substance in a natural manner.
Astaxanthin as a supplement
Since astaxanthin is challenging to get from food, it is available in supplement form.
It is often marketed as a ‘super antioxidant’, which appears to be an accurate representation of the supplement. Supplementation should be taken according to directions on the bottle, but as a general rule, the recommended dosage can be altered for factors including the user’s age, health and a variety of other conditions relating to the supplement. Astaxanthin is a fat-soluble nutrient so it should be consumed with food that contains some fat.
To summarize, astaxanthin has earned its right as a super antioxidant with a huge list of benefits, each with strong scientific data to support – we certainly recommend supplementing/focusing a diet to consume astaxanthin naturally.
The consumption of red seafood such as salmon, krill and shrimp is a great way to up the levels of astaxanthin for its benefits, including:
- mitigation of oxidative effects of diabetes
- reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- reduced heart damage upon heart attack
- modulation of immune response
- protection of the stomach lining from H. pylori and ulcers
- protection against UV damage
- protection of the eyes from bacterial inflammation
- assistance with high blood pressure
- assistance with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- inhibition of cancer
- reduction in exercise fatigue
- reduction in brain damage following a stroke
- assistance of recovery from traumatic brain injury
- protection against Alzheimer’s disease
- protection and treatment of Parkinson’s disease
It is of course possible to insert the antioxidant into the diet in capsule form with an inexpensive and constant way to consume healthy levels of the substance. Of course, instructions of supplementation should always be followed and doctors advice is of utmost importance.
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