It may seem hard to pronounce (as-ta-ZAN-thin) but astaxanthin is definitely a nutrient worth knowing about.
What Is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid – those are fat-soluble pigments, including carotene, which give color to plant parts such as ripe tomatoes and autumn leaves. But in this case astaxanthin gives the orangy- pink color to salmon, shrimp and other seafoods. It’s also the reason flamingoes are pink – from eating lots of algae.
Unlike most carotenoids, astaxanthin is not converted to vitamin A (retinol) in the body. What it does have is tremendous antioxidant capabilities and a whole host of exciting health benefits. But we’ll get to that in a minute…
Where Does Astaxanthin Come From?
Astaxanthin starts out as a component of microalgae. That algae is then eaten by shrimp or other crustaceans. Most importantly, that microalgae is eaten by krill.
Of course, there are synthetic astaxanthin supplements available but those have not been found to have the health benefits natural astaxanthin has. In fact, it appears the best way for humans to benefit from astaxanthin is by getting it in krill oil. There are a couple reasons for this: 1, the krill has already “processed” or esterified the astaxanthin and converted it to a form your body can more readily assimilate and 2, the phospholipid structure of krill oil enables the body to absorb and assimilate astaxanthin (which is fat soluble remember) much more efficiently.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Before you hear how to get astaxanthin you’re going to want to know:
What Can Astaxanthin Do For My Health?
Now THIS is an exciting question to answer. And I’ll be honest, it’s not going to be a quickie read. You might want to grab a cup of coffee and get comfy. Because astaxanthin can do a lot.
The first thing you need to understand is…
Astaxanthin Can Reach Every Part Of Your Body
There are a few places in your body, much like remote mountain wildernesses, that are very dificult for nutrients to reach. Much like steep mountain terrain, your bran, your retina and certain parts of your cells have barriers nutrients have to cross in order to be effective.
But due to it’s chemical makeup (and the fact that it is fat soluble), astaxanthin can reach them all. It crosses the blood-brain barrier, the blood-retinal barrier and can reach into every part of your cells, inside and out.
So what does it do when it gets there? Wonderful things..
Astaxanthin Is One Of Nature’s Most Powerful Antioxidants
Every time you breathe you inhale oxygen. That oxygen is vital to creating energy for your body, but as a by product it also produces free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen molecules that are missing an electron. They steal that electron from another molecule, who then becomes a free radical.. and on and on.
The damage this chain reaction causes is called oxidation. Oxidation does to your internal organs what rust does to metal. It causes much of the damage known as aging. Antioxidants work by donating an extra electron to the molecule, ending the chain of oxidation.
Astaxanthin has been repeatedly shown to have the highest antioxidant capacity of the carotenoid class. In these tests it was shown to be as much as 550 times more powerful than vitamin E and as much as 3X more powerful than lutein – just a couple of the nutrients to have gotten lots of press in recent years. In general, researchers estimate astaxanthin to have about 10X the antioxidant power of other carotenoids.
Long story short, you’ll find very few nutrients with more antioxidant power than astaxanthin. And none with it’s unique chemical structure and capabilities.
Oxidation = aging. So by combating oxidation, astaxanthin is a powerful anti-aging nutrient. But that’s not all…
Astaxanthin Is A Powerful Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation is your body’s response against infection, and the mechanism it uses for repairing injured tissue. When a virus attacks your cells, your inflammatory system kicks in to fight it off. If you sprain an ankle, your inflammatory system works to repair the damage. Other examples of inflammation include the swelling you experience from arthritis and sunburn.
Those are good things. But when inflammation becomes chronic (perhaps in response to stress or environmental toxins) it becomes something called “silent inflammation.” This chronic inflammation can lead to a host of diseases, including atherosclerosis, allergies, arthritis and even cancers.
Because of both it’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, astaxanthin can protect against the onslaught of chronic, age-related diseases, all of which involve oxidative stress, inflammation, and their consequences. It actually can slow the process of degenerative disease.
So what diseases can astaxanthin combat? Well I’m glad you asked…
Astaxanthin And Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is the name given to a combination of medical disorders that seem to underlie a dramatically increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Having metabolic syndrome usually shows up as excess weight, especially when concentrated around the middle. And it can make that weight very difficult to lose. Other signs include insulin resistance or even diabetes, high triglycerides and high blood pressure.
Yet studies show astaxanthin can ameliorate metabolic syndrome , prevented further damage to the pancreas and increase insulin sensitivity in rats, and lowered triglycerides and raised HDL levels in humans.
Astaxanthin and Weight
In these studies, astaxanthin increased fat usage during exercise and accelerated the normal decrease in body fat that occurs with regular exercise. It did this by increasing the movement of fats into the mitochondria for energy production via enhanced carnitine palmitoyltransferase I (CPT I) activity (a transport protein for fat located on the cell membrane). What this means is that astaxanthin supplementation spared muscle glycogen (or sugars – a normal fuel source for exercise) and used fat stores instead.
Astaxanthin And Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of the leading killers of Western world, and it now appears that it may well have its roots in oxidative stress and inflammation. So it stands to reason that astaxanthin’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties would have an effect against the symptoms of CVD.
In animal studies, astaxanthin has been shown to significantly lower high blood pressure, improve cardiovascular remodeling and oxidative stress.
Supplementing with astaxanthin reduced systolic blood pressure and triglycerides in people with metabolic syndrome.
Astaxanthin Improves Brain Function
One of the things that makes astaxanthin so exciting is it’s ability to pass the blood-brain barrier and deliver benefits directly to the brain. And it appears that it’s able to do some pretty beneficial things there. So much so that some scientists are calling it “a potent candidate for brain food.”
The same study found that astaxanthin “significantly protected” neurons from damage like that caused by Alzheimers and Parkinsons disease.
Another study found that while astaxanthin was busy lowering blood pressure in hypertensive mice, it also was protecting their neurotransmitters from the damage that would happen when they suffered heart attacks. Meanwhile, all the mice treated with astaxanthin performed much better at memory tests, suggesting it had improved their memory.
A recent human study indicated astaxanthin lowered the levels of PLOOH, a toxic dementia-related metabolite in the red blood cells of healthy older adults. The researchers concluded that astaxanthin may well contribute to the prevention of dementia.
Astaxanthin Combats Cancer
Astaxanthin’s combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power make it a perfect candidate for fighting cancer. This study found that by decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation and enhancing immune response, it prevents the DNA damage required to form many types of cancer.
This study found that by subduing inflammatory mediators such as COX-2, astaxanthin caused cancer cell apoptosis (or cell suicide) and my also prevent the developmental step that allows potentially cancerous cells to blossom into full-blown tumors. It also found that by impairing certain enzymes that cancer cells use to break down tissue barriers, astaxanthin can help prevent tumor invasion and metastatic spread.
This study found that astaxanthin suppressed tumor growth and stimulated immunity against the tumor-cell antigens.
Astaxanthin Improves Skin Tone And Combats Wrinkles & Aging
When astaxanthin is produced by algae, it serves a specific purpose. If you’ve ever seen a birdbath dry up in the summer sun, you may have noticed a reddish film along the bottom. That film is the astaxanthin produced by the algae in your water in response to the stress of dehydration and sun exposure. Because of this astaxanthin, the algae in your birdbath can be dormant for DECADES.. and literally come back to life as soon as conditions improve.
Well turns out astaxanthin can do something similar for your skin. Studies show that it may represent a potential sun-protective agent that can be taken internally to block the damaging effects of UV radiation.
Better yet, a study in Japan in 2002 found astaxanthin benefits included fewer fine lines, better moisture, increased skin tone and elasticity, smoother surface, fewer freckles, and less under-eye puffiness in women around the age of 40. Similar results have been repeated in other studies as well.
Believe It Or Not, We’re Only Scratching The Surface
There’s actually a whole lot more astaxanthin has been shown to do. Things like improving eye health and increasing muscle endurance. (It’s the reason those salmon can swim upstream to spawn every year.) But at this point I’d imagine your eyes are about to glaze over from the length of this article!
So what you really want to know right now is,
What’s The Best Way To Get Astaxantin’s Benefits For Myself?
It’s at this point that some would point you toward an astaxanthin supplement. But the thing is, that isn’t your best option. As I mentioned before, krill are one of the main consumers of astaxanthin-rich algae deep in the waters off Antarctica. And it turns out, their algae habit is good for you, too.
Remember that the reason astaxanthin can cross the blood-brain barrier is that it’s fat soluble. Well, krill contain a very special kind of fat called phospholipids. Phospholipids are the same types of fats that make up our own cell walls, so these fats are much better absorbed when taken in supplement form.
When you take astaxanthin in krill oil, you get two benefits: 1, the krill have already processed or “esterified” the astaxanthin leaving it ready for your body to use, and 2, the phospholipids in krill oil aid in the absorption and assimilation of the astaxanthin. Which means you actually can get more benefits from a smaller dose than you’d have to take from an isolated astaxanthin supplement.
The only problem with this is that most Krill Oil supplements just don’t contain a whole lot of astaxanthin. Especially lower quality ones. However there is one Krill Oil supplement on the market that combines the highest grade of Krill Oil with extra astaxanthin to create the most powerful dose available.