ASTAXANTHIN – A SUPERIOR ANTIOXIDANT*
What is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin is one of a group of natural pigments known as carotenoids. It belongs to a larger class of phytochemicals known as terpenes (see my January 2010 newsletter Phytochemicals). It is classified as xanthophyll II, which means “yellow leaves”. Like many carotenoids, it is a colourful, lipid-soluble pigment.
In nature, carotenoids are produced principally by plants and their microscopic relatives, the micro-algae. Animals cannot synthesise carotenoids de novo (as such), thus ultimately they must obtain these pigments from the plants and algae that support their food chains.
Astaxanthin is a red pigment occurring naturally in a wide variety of living organisms. Most crustaceans, including prawns, shrimp, crayfish or lobster and crabs, are tinted red by accumulated astaxanthin. The colouration of fish is often due to astaxanthin; the pink flesh of healthy wild salmon is a conspicuous example.
Commercial production of astaxanthin from the micro-algae Haematococcus pluvialis is a growing business worldwide, primarily due to the rapid growth of this micro-organism and its high astaxanthin content.
The astaxanthin molecule is similar to that of the well-known carotenoid beta-carotene, but small differences in structure confer large differences in the chemical and biological properties of the two molecules. In particular, astaxanthin exhibits superior antioxidant properties to beta-carotene, as shown in a number of in vitro studies. While the positive effects of astaxanthin on farmed fish and crustaceans have been known for years, the potential benefits of this powerful antioxidant to human health are only now being revealed.
Astaxanthin, unlike some carotenoids, is not converted to vitamin A (retinol) in the human body. Too much vitamin A is toxic for a human. While astaxanthin is a natural nutritional component, it can be used as a food supplement.
Natural Sources of Astaxanthin
Currently, the primary natural source for astaxanthin is the micro-algae Haematococcus pluvialis. When its water supply dries up, this micro-algae produces astaxanthin to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation. Commercially more than 40g of astaxanthin can be obtained from one kg of dry biomass.
However it should be noted that nearly all commercial astaxanthin for aquaculture is produced synthetically.
Uses of Astaxanthin
· For seafood and animals
Astaxanthin is used as a feed supplement for salmon, crabs, shrimp, chickens, and in egg production. Not only does astaxanthin give colour to the animal, but it has been found to be essential for proper growth and survival.
· For humans
Currently, the primary use for humans is as a food supplement. It is virtually impossible to obtain the recommended daily amount of astaxanthin from diet alone because there are only two prime sources: micro-algae and sea creatures that consume the algae (such as salmon, crustaceans and krill). The benefits of astaxanthin result from its potent antioxidant activity. Research supports the assumption that it protects body tissues from free radical or oxidative damage.
Health Properties of Astaxanthin
The following health properties of astaxanthin were extracted from Dr J. Mercola’s newsletter November 23, 2010.
· Astaxanthin is by far the most powerful carotenoid antioxidant as a free radical scavenger: 65 times more powerful than vitamin C, 54 times more powerful than beta-carotene, and 14 times more powerful than vitamin E.
· Astaxanthin is far more effective than other carotenoids in protecting against a particular type of oxidation called ‘singlet oxygen quenching’. It has been shown to be up to 550 times more powerful than vitamin E and 11 times more powerful than beta-carotene in neutralising this singlet oxygen. (Based on ORAC values - see my July 2010 newsletter ORAC - A Measure of Antioxidant Capacity).
· Astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier and the blood-retinal barrier (beta carotene and lycopene do not), which has special implications for the health of our eyes.
· It is soluble in lipids, thus being incorporated into cell membranes.
· It is a potent ultraviolet B light absorber.
· It is a very powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
· Boosts immune function
· Improves cardiovascular health
· Protects eyes from cataracts, macular degeneration and blindness
· Protects against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
· Reduces the risk of many types of cancer (including breast, colon, bladder and mouth)
· Reduces inflammation from all causes, including arthritis
· Improves endurance
· Helps to stabilise blood glucose levels
· Improves fertility by increasing sperm strength and sperm count
· Helps to prevent sunburn
· Protects against the damaging effects of radiation (flying in airplanes, x-rays, CT scans etc.)
· Reduces oxidative damage to DNA
· Reduces symptoms from pancreatitis, multiple sclerosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and neurodegenerative diseases.
Safety and Dosage
Preclinical studies demonstrate that astaxanthin is safe. There are no known side effects. No adverse reactions have been found in people taking astaxanthin.
From the literature, the recommended dosage as a supplement ranges from 2-5 milligrams per day.
‘Now Foods’ produce Astaxanthin in 4mg capsules (available from www.iherb.com).
Astaxanthin enhances the action of Vitamin C and vitamin E and increases the release of vitamin A from the liver. It compliments and enhances the effects of other dietary supplements.
As a potent antioxidant, a supplement of astaxanthin would be appropriate, especially linked to the specific activities as outlined above.
*Copyright 2011: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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