What is astaxanthin, this bizarre sounding thing?
Astaxanthin is a king among the antioxidants. It belongs to carotenoids, the same group where famous beta-carotene resides. It’s a pigment. Astaxanthin gives a striking vermilion (red-orange) colour to wild salmon, funny large-eyed critters like shrimp and krill, majestic flamingos, a few algae, yeast. According to the 2015 updates on the compound, scientists confirm that astaxanthin attacks more free radicals than any other known antioxidant! Not to be bare-worded here are the facts. It is:
- 6000 times stronger than Vitamin C
- 800 times stronger than Coenzyme Q10
- 550 times stronger than vitamin E
- 75 times stronger than Alpha Lipoic Acid
- 40 times stronger than beta-carotene
- 17 times stronger than grape seed extract
Given its enormous power I am not sure why astaxanthin is relatively inconspicuous in alternative health circles. I read that in the last 30 years of active research on it certain clinical trials for some reason were not published in peer-reviewed journals and some were published only in Japanese. The first time I got to know it was about five years ago, in plant biochemistry course. Since then I don’t remember it coming across my point of view until about a couple weeks ago.
Science and clinical research on astaxanthin is not as extensive as that of beta-carotene or lutein but is still considerable.
Astaxanthin health benefits
Molecular layout of astaxanthin allows it to precisely insert into a cell membrane and span its entire width. Just like a spider in the web, there, in the cells of your organs, muscles and other tissues, it does its job of catching and “finishing” free radicals. Look at the diagram on the right and compare it to Vitamin C, for example, which only attaches to the top of a cell membrane, or beta-carotene, which only inserts into the middle of the membrane.
What distinguishes astaxanthin from majority of antioxidants is that it neutralizes free radicals without ultimately becoming a free radical itself. This saves the work for your body – no need to regenerate it back to a functional form. Consequently, astaxanthin has a bunch of antioxidant-related benefits. Although they are somewhat similar to those of other antioxidants, keep in mind that its effects are magnitudes higher.
In studies involving humans and animals, naturally-derived astaxanthin does all these good things:
- reduces oxidative damage in a body, including the one resulting from smoking and excessive weight
- prevents against cardiovascular diseases, those that involve blood vessels AND a heart muscle itself
- boosts immunity
- improves circulation
- prevents cataract, improves visual acuity and eye accommodation
- protects against sun-damage and acts as an internal sunscreen
- improves overall skin look – takes cares of wrinkles, elasticity, age spots and moisture content
- protects brain from oxidative damage, enhances cognition and memory, improves focus
- in exercise, improves endurance, shortens recovery time, inhibits muscle damage and soreness
- effectively fights H. pylori infection, a bad bug causing ulcers in the stomach and small intestine lining
Some 2016 findings:
- in August of 2016, tests on good old rats showed that astaxanthin decreases muscle atrophy caused by limb immobilization. Some exciting applications of this is people with casts and those who are temporarily or permanently bound to a wheelchair or bed can minimize their muscle loss by taking an astaxanthin supplement. If you are not aware: in your body, skeletal muscle produces lots of free radicals if it is not in use for long periods, which results in gradual muscle loss
- another 2016 study showed that astaxanthin prevents and reverses insulin resistance (concurrently making you shed pounds) and build-up of fat in the liver
- one Japanese study found that patients with heart failure experience an improvement in their ability to exercise in just 3 months after taking astaxanthin
A couple more points about it
Astaxanthin is more than just an outstanding free radical warrior. It has been observed that it participates in reproduction-related processes, ceases inflammation, blocks tumor-formation pathways, betters lipid and glucose metabolism. In fact, Cyanotech, the largest producer of natural astaxanthin states that “astaxanthin has so many other validated benefits that its antioxidant activity has become secondary“. Moreover, its effects are so impressive that Dr. Joseph Mercola on his say about the compound admits: “I’ve never seen a lipid-soluble antioxidant as powerful as this”.
It goes without saying that restless scientists will continue to pique and probe the fancy thing until it’s exposed to the bones, so to speak.
In the upcoming talking I will explore the sources of astaxanthin and how to get your hands on the substance if you stick to plant-based eating only.
To finish off, I invite you to study the photo below.