10 times more potent than vitamin C; 14 times more potent than vitamin E; and 54 times more potent than any other beta-carotene.
Astaxanthin (ASX) is a powerful, naturally occurring antioxidant that fights oxidative stress and has great benefits for the skin, eyesight, cardiovascular system, and overall restoration of the body as a result of its rejuvenating and anti-ageing action.
Today we will look at how astaxanthin makes this happen.
Evidence is emerging every day that corroborates Astaxanthin’s (ASX) multiple health benefits, as well as nutraceutical or bioceutical applications, (referring to a product presented as a pharmaceutical alternative that is often made from natural ingredients, although it lacks a precise regulatory definition).
Astaxanthin is a xanthophyll carotenoid, meaning that it has one or more oxygen atoms in its structure, and it is therefore more resistant to oxidation.
Astaxanthin (ASX) is often related to other carotenoids such as zeaxanthin, lutein and β-carotene, as they share many of the physiological and metabolic functions attributed to carotenoids in general.
However, ASX is more bioactive (bioactive compounds: nutrients and non-nutrients present in the food matrix (plant and animal sources) that can produce physiological effects beyond their classical nutritional properties) than zeaxanthin, lutein, and β-carotene.
This is mainly due to the presence of a ketone and a hydroxyl group at each end of the molecule. But most strikingly, unlike the other carotenoids, ASX is not converted to vitamin A, and this would increase antibody response in the body when taken.
Due to its molecular structure, ASX has unique characteristics that strengthen its capabilities to promote human health.
In particular, the polar end groups scavenge free radicals, while the double bonds in its middle segment scavenge high-energy electrons, giving ASX superior antioxidant activity over other carotenoids. (1)
Let us Know Astaxanthin’s Benefits
ASX Acts against age-related vision loss.
Macular degeneration occurs when a part of the retina is damaged, while glaucoma, another eye issue, is an increase in fluid pressure inside the eyeball that eventually results in the death of retinal cells due to oxidative damage and loss of blood flow to that area.
Macular degeneration and cataracts (A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye that leads to a decrease in vision) are considered the leading causes of blindness. The statistics (2) are worrying:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 50.
- AMD affects 60 million people worldwide and 10 million are already blind.
- Severe and irreversible vision loss affects 30% of people over the age of 55.
- Cataracts are caused by lipid peroxidation of the epithelial layer of the lens. Although it can have other causes, most are related to ageing and this is an ailment that results in 3 million surgeries per year.
So, How Astaxanthin Benefits Your Vision?
The retina is a very light and oxygen rich environment and needs a large army of free radical scavengers to keep it free from oxidative damage. In addition, the retina has the highest concentration of fatty acids of any tissue in the human body and Astaxanthin fits the bill: it provides a permanent defence and sufficient fatty acids to maintain retinal health.
Although both vitamin C and the carotenoids lutein and Zeaxanthin have been shown to be associated with a reduction in the risk of macular degeneration, neither overpowers Astaxanthin in terms of efficiency as a free radical scavenger and/or permeability across the blood-brain barrier." (3)
ASX can easily pass through the tissues of the eye and deploy its effects safely and with much greater potency than other carotenoids without adverse reactions, according to research published in 2020. (4)
According to this study ASX can ameliorate or prevent light-induced damage, damage to photoreceptor cells, ganglion cells and damage to neurons in the inner retinal layers.
ASX supplementation may be effective in preventing or treating eye diseases such as,
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Cytoid macular oedema
- Inflammatory eye diseases (retinitis, keratitis, scleritis, etc.)
- Arterial and venous occlusion of the central retina
Cholesterol itself is not bad. It is produced naturally in the liver and transported through the blood to form cell membranes, vitamin D and some hormones.
The problem arises when there is too much cholesterol in the blood and because it is not water-soluble, the excess ends up deposited on the walls of blood vessels, specifically in the arteries. This is not good for narrowed arteries because it paves the way for a heart attack or stroke.
There are several studies that have shown that supplementing with ASX would help lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, notably one done in 2017 in which taking a combination of ASX with lycopene and other carotenoids for 45 days significantly reduced triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels in male mice. (Study)
It is believed that ASX antioxidant can reduce mutagenesis and carcinogenesis by inhibiting oxidative damage to damaged cells.
It may even restore intercellular communication, which could reduce tumour proliferation, as reported in a study showing such benefits.
Protection against age-related conditions through antioxidant action
ASX, like other antioxidants, "donates" its electrons to neutralise free radicals. However, while this electron donation is depleted in most other antioxidants, ASX has a high survival capacity and allows it to be active for longer, at least longer than other antioxidants.
In addition, ASX, unlike the other antioxidants, can handle a greater number of free radicals. In principle, most antioxidants such as vitamin C and E can counteract one free radical at a time, whereas ASX can counteract up to 19 free radicals at once.
How does it do this?
By forming a kind of cloud around the molecule (or electron dislocation resonance). That is, if free radicals try to steal electrons from the ASX molecule, the ASX electron cloud simply envelops, absorbs, and neutralises them at the same time.
Another unique feature of ASX is its ability to protect both the water-soluble and fat-soluble parts of the cell. Carotenoids are normally divided into water-soluble and fat-soluble, but ASX belongs to an intermediate group that thrives in both environments.
This means that the ASX molecule can affect and expand the bio-lipid membrane of all cells. It is not just floating around in the bloodstream; it is integrated into the cell membrane, and this offers enhanced protection to the cardiovascular system.
Brain health and function
ASX can cross the blood-brain barrier which is part of its neuroprotective ability. (Study)
A 2018 study concluded that ASX may benefit brain processes involved in its neurodegeneration such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) (lethal motor neuron disorder characterised by progressive loss of upper and lower motor neurons at the spinal or bulbar level); and cerebral ischaemia.
Antioxidant and not pro-oxidant, ideal in hormonal action o Astaxanthin in situations such as menopause.
Many antioxidants act as pro-oxidants, meaning that they cause oxidation rather than fight oxidation when sufficient concentrations are present. This is why it is not advisable to consume too many antioxidant supplements in general. Another key feature of ASX is that it cannot function as a pro-oxidant.
Menopause, on the other hand, can induce a pro-oxidant state in the body. ASX has been found to help scavenge free radicals by helping to boost the immune system, which is necessary to regenerate healthy hair growth in these people, for example. (Study)
As ASX does not function as a pro-oxidant, even when present in large quantities, it makes it safer and more effective at acting in the body. ASX acts on different inflammatory pathways, which makes it a very potent anti-inflammatory substance that also helps to maintain balance in the body. (Study)
As a sports supplement to improve athletic performance
It has been observed that supplementing with ASX has not been shown to reduce the likelihood of injury but may help improve endurance and stamina in sports performance.
A 1998 study conducted in Sweden by Dr Curt Malmsten validated the natural ability of Astaxanthin to increase strength and endurance. (Study).
The most impressive result was in male students between the ages of 17 and 19 who took 4 mg of ASX a day for 6 months and both their strength and endurance increased by an incredible 62%. Furthermore, cardiovascular endurance increased 3 times faster than the control group. The students taking a placebo increased their strength by 22% which is normal for this age group over a 6-month period as they are generally young people involved in sporting activities. Basically, Astaxanthin managed to make these boys stronger and more resilient almost three times faster than the group taking the placebo.
Astaxanthin (ASX) is produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis, when its water supply dries up, forcing it to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation.
The effects of ASX are reflected in the suppression of hyperpigmentation, melanin synthesis and inhibition of photo-ageing, as well as the reduction of wrinkle formation have been reported in several clinical studies.
In a study reviewing the effects of ASX on cellular and molecular mechanisms such as regulation of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities, modulation of immune response, prevention of skin damage and regulation of DNA damage, ASX has been found to have great potential as a nutraceutical for:
- Protection against UV rays
- Repair DNA damage: by protecting against UV rays, it achieves a double protection as sun damage also affects DNA, improving its ability to regenerate the DNA of cells exposed to UV radiation, which would be equivalent to slowing the growth of cancer cells in the skin.
- ASX would strengthen the immune system because it increases the body's ability to store immunoglobulin that helps the immune system fight viruses and even melanoma.
- Due to its antioxidant power, ASX has been shown to neutralise free radicals, decrease skin inflammation in cases of eczema and improve the appearance of lines and wrinkles in ageing skin.
Studies show that astaxanthin may reduce inflammation and painful symptoms related to arthritis, since ageing is not the only risk factor for the progression of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.
Initial studies show that taking supplements containing Astaxanthin, lutein, vitamin A, vitamin E and safflower oil 3 times a day, every day for 8 weeks reduces pain and improves feelings of relief in people with rheumatoid arthritis (Study).
As Astaxanthin is a fat-soluble carotenoid, absorption, and retention of supplemental astaxanthin is much greater if taken immediately after meals rather than outside of meals.
Astaxanthin takes time to accumulate in the regions of the body where its benefits have been observed, so it should be taken for at least 4 weeks before adjusting the concentration to be consumed as a supplement.
If you decide to supplement with astaxanthin, you can start with 4mg a day and gradually increase to 8mg.
Commercial production of this pigment has commonly been done by chemical synthesis, but the microalgae Hematococcus pluvialis appears to be the most promising source for industrial biological production of astaxanthin. So, try to find a good quality supplement - your body will thank you for it.