Astaxanthin, King of the Antioxidants

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Astaxanthin is famed as the “King of Antioxidants”(9), this is because it contributes to so many areas of human health including, cardiovascular, bone, joint, inflammation, immune and skin health(5). So, why have so many people not heard of it?

What is Astaxanthin?

Astaxanthin, pronounced “Asta-Zan-Thin” (1) is a naturally sourced marine molecule from microalgae. The microalgae is red/orange in colour due to the chemicals it contains. Astaxanthin is rich in carotenoids, which is the chemical that give carrots and bell peppers their colour. The carotenoids belong to this chemical group have long conjugated hydrocarbon chains. Conjugation simply means that there are carbon-carbon double bonds every other carbon atom. Its structural composition is what gives Astaxanthin its health promoting properties (2).

The origin of the word itself is Greek. “Asta” meaning Crab and “Xanthin” meaning Blonde edges, or Yellow leaves (1). This accurately describes the natural source of Astaxanthin.

Where can we get it from?

The richest source of Astaxanthin is the Microalgae Haematococcus Pluvialis, with 40,000ppm of Astaxanthin in just one plant. Haematococcus Pluvialis is the favoured method of growth amongst health suppliers, not only because of its potency but also because of its hardy nature. It thrives, unlike many plants, in high salinity (salt) conditions, bright light, and on poor energy and growth mediums with very few nutrients. (3)

There are other sources in food, these include Krill, Lobster, Crustaceans and Shrimp. Typically, these food sources have a red/pink tone to their shell or flesh, this is due to the moderate levels of Astaxanthin in their structure.

In addition, many health companies have begun growing and cultivating Haematococcus Pluvialis to formulate into supplements. This supplements popularity is fast-growing within the health world. The high dose required (that you would not get in a typical food serving) is delivered in a simple one-a-day tablet.

Why should I take it?

Like many supplements Astaxanthin has a long list of health claims, however, Astaxanthin has been critically and extensively researched to find conclusive evidence of its potent health properties. They include the following:

Astaxanthin as an Antioxidant

Antioxidants in the correct proportions, from the correct sources can be hugely beneficial to our health. Explaining the complex mechanism that antioxidants go through must first start with, “What makes us unwell?”. On some occasions 'free radicals' accumulate in the body and cause damage to DNA, lipids and proteins, reducing cell integrity and structural competency. The damage they cause to DNA has been linked with diseases such as Alzheimer's and Atherosclerosis (4). Free radicals are atoms or molecules that have an unstable and highly reactive structure, characterised by the presence of one or more unpaired electrons (7) and the cause of oxidation to tissues. The role of the antioxidant is to scavenge the free radicals to stop them oxidising (4). As previously mentioned, Astaxanthin is thought to be the “King of Antioxidants”. It has been found to be 6000 times stronger than Vitamin C, 800 times stronger than CoQ10 and 550 times stronger than Vitamin E in its antioxidant abilities(6).One study showed that in comparison to a number of other antioxidants (lycopene, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene) Astaxanthin has the highest antioxidant activity towards a peroxyl radical. A Peroxyl radical contains two oxygen molecules, one of which has a missing electron. This study truly demonstrates how powerful Astaxanthin can be on health.(8)

Astaxanthin, Immune Joint and Inflammatory Health

In addition to its work as an antioxidant, Astaxanthin can reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation can be caused by irritation or in response to the body feeling as if it were under attack. In one study a group of female participants found that in response to a dose of Astaxanthin the activity of DNA damage was drastically reduced. The indication of this was the reduced amount of inflammation in the body. Moreover, Astaxanthin was proven to promote a more efficient immune system in all of the female participants. (11) Lastly, this marvelous microalgae has been used successfully for joint complaints. A survey calculated that 88% of people that took Astaxanthin for their joints found it to be beneficial in reducing pain.(12)

Astaxanthin and Cardiovascular Health

Astaxanthin has also been shown to improve cardiovascular health in more than one way. The primary mechanism alters the chemicals present in the heart. One investigation showed that when taken, Astaxanthin was distributed to the plasma, liver and heart. It acted by increasing the arterial blood flow to these organs. In addition, it also traveled to the platelets which led to increased levels of favourable Nitric Oxide and decreased levels of unfavourable Peroxynitrite. Peroxynitrite is unfavourable because it acts by decreasing the body's antioxidant levels and reducing the contractile ability of the heart. Whereas Nitric oxide is favourable because it regulates heart function and vascular diameter. (10)

Astaxanthin and Skin Health

Last, but not least, Astaxanthin is known for its skin protecting properties. It’s advised to take Astaxanthin against the damage of UV rays. A study by Hama.S et-al (2012) found that the use of Astaxanthin prevented singlet oxygen free radical damage, UV skin thickening, collagen destruction and damage (13). Furthermore, Astaxanthin is thought to have beneficial effects on the youthful beauty of the skin. One study investigated the effect Astaxanthin had on crows feet over an 8-week period. They measured the 'age' of crows feet in by determining their size, moisture, texture, and elasticity. It was revealed that Astaxanthin had great affect throughout almost all the skin layers, thus, reducing wrinkles.

  1. Elliot.D. (2013). Astaxanthin Pronounciation. Available: http://astaxanthin.wellwise.org/astaxanthin-pronounciation.
  2. Astaxanthin: a review of its chemistry and applications.Higuera-Ciapara I, Félix-Valenzuela L, Goycoolea FM Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006; 46(2):185-96.
  3. Sarada R., Tripathi U., Ravishankar G.A. Influence of stress on astaxanthin production in Haematococcus pluvialisgrown under different culture conditions.
  4. Mercola.J. (2016). The Ultimate Guide to Antioxidants. Available: http://articles.mercola.com/antioxidants.aspx.
  5. Nutrex. (2016). Benefits of Astaxanthin. Available: http://www.nutrex-hawaii.com/benefits-of-astaxanthin.
  6. Astaxanthin NZ. (2016). Astaxanthin Information . Available: http://www.astaxanthin.co.nz/.
  7. Merriam Webster. (2016). Free Radical Definition. Available: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/free%20radical.
  8. Naquib.YM. (2000). Antioxidant activities of astaxanthin and related carotenoids.. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 48 (4), Pg.1150-1154.
  9. Mercola.J. (2012). Astaxanthin for Heart Health and Chronic Pain.Available: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/09/12/dr-robert-corish-on-astaxanthin.aspx.
  10. Khan SK, Malinski T, Mason RP, Kubant R, Jacob RF, Fujioka K, Denstaedt SJ, King TJ, Jackson HL, Hieber AD, Lockwood SF, Goodin TH, Pashkow FJ, Bodary PF Thromb Res. 2010 Oct; 126(4):299-305.
  11. Park J.S., Chyun J.H., Kim Y.K., Line L.L., Chew B.P. Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans. Nutr. Metab. 2010;7:1–10
  12. Guerin.M, Huntlet.M,Olaizola.M. (2003). Haematococcus astaxanthin: applications for human health and nutrition. Trends in Biotechnology. 21 (5), Pg. 210-216.
  13. Hama.S et-al. (2012). Protective effects of topical application of a poorly soluble antioxidant astaxanthin liposomal formulation on ultraviolet-induced skin damage.. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 101 (8), Pg. 2909-2916.

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