What makes Astaxanthin so great?
Astaxanthin has some rather amazing health benefits to shout about and has been colloquially crowned “King of the antioxidants”, due to its high level of active antioxidant activity; With the capability to remove potentially damaging oxidizing agents and help protect the human body from the harmful effects of free radicals, as well as possessing a whole host of other salubrious capabilities.1
What is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin is a molecule rich in carotenoids, a yellow/orange pigment and a derivative of the lipid soluble Vitamin A. Astaxanthin can be sourced naturally and also synthetically produced.
It’s most commonly derived for human use from a freshwater microalgae called Haematococcus pluvialis, that grows in temperate climates across the globe. Haematococcus pluvialis is the richest natural source of astaxanthin, which is produced by the algae to carry out the vital function of protecting it from damaging UV rays and other harmful environmental influences. When conditions become adverse and detrimental for normal cell growth, Haematococcus pluvialis produces copious amounts of potent astaxanthin to counteract this (turning the once green algae a bright red colour) allowing the algae to thrive and survive even the most unfavourable of environments. Astaxanthin carries out a similarly protective role within the human body; shielding cells from oxidative stress as well as carrying out a range of other beneficial activity. The human body cannot produce Astaxanthin so we have to consume it through diet.
Astaxanthin is also present in yeast and in fish eggs. It can be found too in seafoods like shrimp, trout, salmon, red seabream and lobster and is present in most red-coloured aquatic species; lichen; and in the feathers of a variety of birdlife, for example, flamingoes. In creatures where astaxanthin isn’t naturally synthesised; it’s obtained by consuming algae (rich in astaxanthin) either directly or by consuming other marine creatures who consume the algae.2
Astaxanthin is also produced synthetically from petrochemicals, which has until recent years dominated the Astaxanthin market. The superior health benefits of naturally sourced astaxanthin has become increasingly preferred, however.3 Some independent research has shown that algae derived Astaxanthin is approximately 20-50 times more active in inhibiting oxidation and eliminating free radicals compared to synthetically produced Astaxanthin.4
Why is Astaxanthin so ace?!
Astaxanthin, as a carotenoid, comes under the vast, varied and colourful umbrella of phytonutrients. These bioactive plant compounds have so much beneficial potential because of their powerful antioxidant action; able to neutralise free radicals and can also possess anti-inflammatory; anti-aging, anti-carcinogenic; anti-apoptosis; and anti-atherosclerosis capabilities.5 Research has identified a tenacious link between carotenoids, for example, and the prevention of diseases brought about by ‘oxidative stress’, like cancer; cardiovascular; and neurodegenerative diseases. 6 Beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene and lycopene are other types of carotenoids that have been shown to have properties really valuable to human health but the unique chemical structure of Astaxanthin really makes it stand out from the crowd in terms of its vast and varied benefits to human health.
Astaxanthin has a molecular formula of C40H52O4. It has a similar molecular structure to beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, and performs the usual metabolic and physiological activity expected of carotenoids. The slight change in molecular structure, however, gives Astaxanthin unique chemical properties which sets it apart from carotenoids as a rule.
Astaxanthin is part of the chemical group, the Terpenes. The Terpenes are built from five carbon precursors consisting of a long chain of carbon molecules; in the centre of the molecule there is a section of conjugated double bonds. Conjugated simply means a double bond every other carbon atom, which is what gives Astaxanthin its health benefits.
The presence of the hydroxyl (OH) and keto (CdO) moieties on each ionone ring gives Astaxanthin it’s uniqueness and accounts for the superior antioxidant capabilities of Astaxanthin compared to other carotenoids. 7
This means Astaxanthin can be esterified, which means natural fatty acids (monoester and diester forms) are bonded to one or both ends of the molecule. This is nature’s clever way of stabilizing the chemical structure of Astaxanthin which, in its free form, is particularly unstable and at risk of oxidation.
It’s important to note that naturally sourced Astaxanthin is almost completely esterified (95%). In contrast to synthetically produced Astaxanthin which is in its free form and molecularly classed as non-esterified fatty acids or free fatty acids. This is a major chemical difference between the two types of Astaxanthin and accounts for what some scientists believe is the vast difference in bioactivity and potency between the two, with synthetic Astaxanthin providing significantly less protection, immunity, and disease resistance, for example.8
Naturally derived Astaxanthin has two chiral centers, at the 3- and 3′-positions. Which means there are three stereoisomers; (3R,3′R), (3R,3′S) (meso), and (3S,3′S). Synthetic Astaxanthin contains a mixture of the three, in approximately 1:2:1 proportions.9
How does Astaxanthin stand out from the crowd?
So the specific chemical structure of Astaxanthin gives it the esteemed status of “King of the antioxidants” as well as a range of other far-reaching and rather amazing health benefits. Astaxanthin:
- Has x550 times stronger antioxidant power than Vitamin E.
- Is x6,000 times more potent than Vitamin C.
- Is x11 stronger than beta carotene.
- Remains active for a great deal longer than other antioxidants; at least one order of magnitude longer.
- Has amazing chemical stability whereby it maintains full integrity and isn’t affected by chemical reactions which usually break down and alter the molecular structure of other antioxidants. For example, plant bioactive compounds with antioxidant properties, such as beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, are converted by the body into Vitamin A (retinol).
- Can attack multiple free radicals at once, unlike other antioxidants, for example Vitamins E and C, which usually only destroy one free radical at a time.
- Offers protection to both water-soluble and fat-soluble molecules of the cell. Usually carotenoids are either water-soluble or fat-soluble, but astaxanthin can permeate both water and fat which means it offers protection to the entire cell.
- Can travel throughout the entire body and protect cells in all our organs, muscles and tissues.
- Has the capability to enter the blood-brain barrier.
- Has no pro-oxidant activity, unlike Vitamin C and E and other carotenoids and flavonoids that possess potential pro-oxidant as well as anti-oxidant capabilities.10
Some Health Benefits and Uses
- Powerful Antioxidant.
- Maintains integrity of cells.
- Reduces risk of some chronic diseases brought about by oxidative stress, such as cancer.
- Potent Anti-inflammatory.
- Benefits health of joints.
- Neuroprotective. Treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson disease.
- Supports immune system. Enhances antibody production. Could also protect immune cells against oxidative stress and membrane damage.
- Male infertility.
- Promotes healthy metabolism.
- Prevents feelings of fatigue.
- Heart health. Heart disease. Promotes a healthy cardiovascular system.
- Lung health/Lung disease.
- Liver diseases.
- Gastric health. Gastrointestinal diseases.
- UV light protection. Protects skin. Anti-ageing. Reduces premature skin aging.
- Sports performance. Assists muscle strength and endurance.
- Supports the body when under stress.
- Eye, brain and central nervous system health.
- Radiation protection.11
Studies to Demonstrate the Health Benefits of Astaxanthin
Since the structure of Astaxanthin was first discovered in 1975 by British born organic chemist Professor Basil Weedon and his group of Scientists12, many studies have been carried out to test the effectiveness of its health claims, particularly as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Some studies are more rooted in scientific credibility than others which could be described as anecdotal but with interesting results nonetheless.
In the field of sports nutrition and performance, Astaxanthin is thought to improve physical performance and strength and enhance stamina. A study of male athletes consuming a daily dose of 4mg of Astaxanthin over a period of six months showed that it increased their strength three times quicker than the athletes who trained identically without the Astaxanthin supplement. This equated to an increase in the number of deep knee bends the athletes were able to perform by 62%, compared to the 22% increase recorded in the placebo group.13
In a study of 14 competitive cyclists consuming a daily dose of 4mg of Astaxanthin over a period of 28 days. This group and another group who had not taken Astaxanthin fasted and then cycled for two hours to deplete the body of stored carbohydrates. The two groups of athletes then went on to do a 12-mile time trial. The athletes consuming Astaxanthin finished the time trial much faster than the placebo group.14
Astaxanthin has been shown to aid healthy fats, preventing them from deteriorating in the blood and decrease toxic fats in the blood. A study of 40 healthy non-smoking men with an average age of 24.4, all of average weight took 8mg of Astaxanthin in two 4mg doses daily for three months. When scientists measured the blood for two types of toxic fatty acids they found the presence of these toxic fatty acids to be significantly lower in the group who consumed the Astaxanthin compared to the group who didn't; indicating that Astaxanthin may decrease toxic fats in the human body.15
Astaxanthin could help protect and defend the skin and slow down premature aging of the skin. In a study where researchers exposed skin cells to moderate UVA light after treating half the cells with the antioxidant astaxanthin 24 hours beforehand; the cells treated with astaxanthin showed healthier membranes, higher antioxidant action and more survived compared to the untreated cells.16
The type of astaxanthin used by Oxford Vitality is naturally sourced from the microalgae Haematococcus Pluvialis. Haematococcus Pluvialis is the most rich natural source of Astaxanthin with 40,000ppm. This tablet provides 8mg of active ingredient in a Large Torpedo tablet. 17 Since Astaxanthin is fat soluble try taking with an avocado which is ripe with “good fats,” and can help the body to take the Astaxanthin in.18
Could Astaxanthin help you?
With such far-reaching health benefits that encompass the whole body, Astaxanthin could potentially be good for everybody as a preventative against a whole host of diseases and ailments and to generally support the immune system. A balanced and healthy diet; routine exercise and training; and the right nutritional support can help us to achieve optimum health. Carotenoids, such as Astaxanthin, can be especially effective in combination with other phytonutrients and antioxidant vitamins and minerals, having a synergistic effect by increasing the overall antioxidant and other medicinal properties present in each, maximizing our nutrient absorption and working together to boost overall health. Try pairing Astaxanthin with Coenzyme Q10 to provide maximised and far-reaching anti-oxidant protection.19 Astaxanthin has shown to be beneficial also as a treatment for a range of diseases so could be helpful when combined as a holistic approach to treat an already existing ailment or health condition, such as cardiovascular, immune, inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases.
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3# Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association:http://astaxanthin.org/about/natural-vs-synthetic/
4# Protect Your Brain with the Antioxidant Astaxanthin: http://brainathlete.com/protect-brain-antixidant-astaxanthin
Natural vs. synthetic astaxanthin war heating up: http://www.algaeindustrymagazine.com/natural-vs-synthetic-astaxanthin-war-heating/
5# The Beauty of Bioactive Compounds, Carotenoids: https://www.oxfordvitality.co.uk/beauty-bioactive-compounds-carotenoids
6# The American journal of Clinical Nutrition: Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability. 2004. Retrieved from:http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/5/727.full#aff-1
7# Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association: http://astaxanthin.org/about/natural-vs-synthetic/
8# Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association:http://astaxanthin.org/about/natural-vs-synthetic/
10#The pro-oxidant chemistry of the natural antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids and flavonoids: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1382668902000030
11# Research on Astaxanthin Demonstrates Significant Whole Body Benefits: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/02/20/astaxanthin-whole-body-benefits.aspx
14# Journal of Sports Medicine; 2011, Vol. 32, No. 11, 882-8. Retrieved from: https://www.nutritionexpress.com/showarticle.aspx?articleid=2039
15# International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research: January, 2007: Retrieved from:
16# Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology; 2008, Vol. 122, No. 4, 829-31.Retrieved from: https://www.nutritionexpress.com/showarticle.aspx?articleid=2039
18# Bioactive Compounds, What are Fatty Acids? https://www.oxfordvitality.co.uk/what-are-fatty-acids