a large family of antioxidants (some possessing vitamin A activity) are
fat-soluble pigments found in red, green, orange, and yellow fruits and
You may be most familiar with beta carotene, which is orange. However,
one of its cousins, astaxanthin (pronounced asta-ZAN-thin) may be an
even more important antioxidant. This red pigment is abundant in nature
and is found in marine animals as well as in tiny one-celled plants
known as phytoplankton. Astaxanthin appears to go beyond the effects of
other carotenoids when it comes to staving off the effects of aging.
biologists have found that tiny reddish crustaceans called krill are
protected by astaxanthin from extremely high amounts of ultraviolet
(UV)-generated free radicals, intensified at the sea’s surface.
Researchers have also discovered high levels of astaxanthin in the eyes
of other aquatic creatures, suggesting that it could be the major
antioxidant for protecting their vision. These discoveries may have
important implications for humans, especially with regard to the aging
Prevents Free Radical Damage
are a large class of antioxidants whose minor differences in chemical
structure determine where they’re most effective and how they protect
us. Astaxanthin imbeds itself in cellular membranes and is unique among
carotenoids in that it traps free radicals at both ends of the molecule.
Once trapped, free radicals are passed off from astaxanthin into
cellular fluids where they’re neutralized by vitamin C.
radicals from energy expenditure accumulate in muscles during exercise,
causing fatigue and reduced exercise capacity. A recent study has shown
that astaxanthin, taken at a dose of 4 mg per day, quickly eliminated
these free radicals, resulting in a three-fold improvement in strength
and endurance among healthy young men. Another group of young men, who
served as controls in the study by not taking astaxanthin, did not show
any improvement in performance.
research shows that carotenoids are potent cancer preventives. However,
in a study comparing its action to that of three other carotenoids,
astaxanthin was found to be the most effective in reducing mammary
tumors in animals. Several other studies have reported its anticancer
effects, focusing on astaxanthin’s ability to block free radical damage
within membrane fatty acids and at their interface with body fluids.
Furthermore, in pre-clinical trials, astaxanthin decreased the size of
cancers of the mouth, colon, liver, and bladder.
For Your Brain, Arteries, and Eyes
Astaxanthin is unique in its ability to cross the highly selective
“blood-brain barrier” that protects the brain from potentially harmful
substances. This amazing antioxidant thus prevents free radical damage
to the brain. Brain gray matter is 60 percent fatty acids by
composition. These fatty acids are extremely vulnerable to free radical
damage, which is a major cause of brain cell degeneration. Consequently,
astaxanthin helps stave off the aging effects of free radical damage in
list of anti-aging benefits astaxanthin offers grows longer. An ailment
closely associated with aging and senility, atherosclerosis is a
progressive condition in which plaque composed of oxidized low-density
cholesterol (LDL) builds up inside blood vessels and arteries, narrowing
them and gradually reducing circulation and tissue oxygenation.
However, researchers at Tokyo’s National Institute of Health and
Nutrition found that astaxanthin inhibits LDL oxidation, thus reducing
plaque build-up and narrowing of arteries.
also guards against macular degeneration and other vision problems
stemming from oxidative damage, which are often considered inevitable
signs of aging. Just as scientists discovered the protective value of
this pigment for aquatic species, they believe that astaxanthin may
prevent UV light-induced free radical damage (called photo-oxidation) in
human eyes. Along with other carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin,
astaxanthin protects the integrity of the macula in the center of the
retina. So, use sunglasses whenever in bright sunlight, and take
astaxanthin to help keep your vision bright and clear.
immune system protects against inflammation caused by pathogens and
autoimmune reactions, which result when the body’s defense system turns
on itself. Here, too, astaxanthin appears to be more effective than
other carotenoids in preventing inflammation. University of Minnesota
scientists find astaxanthin boosts production of T cells and increases
antibody production. In Japan, researchers confirm that astaxanthin’s
action on T cells activates the immune response to fight disease and
inhibits autoimmune reactions.
also offers liver support. The body protects itself against toxins with
an internal antioxidant system located in the liver. Astaxanthin was
shown in animal studies (conducted at the College of Human Ecology at
Seoul National University) to protect the liver against damage by
“stimulating the cellular antioxidant system.”
For the Skin & Wrinkles
In human trials, astaxanthin has been shown to reduce visible signs of
UV-aging through both topical and dietary supplementation within 4 to 6
weeks of use. This data is supported by a number of in-vitro and animal
studies. Research suggests potential skin benefits from the use of
astaxanthin to maintain a youthful appearance, reverse premature signs
In a study using hairless mice, Arakane (2002) demonstrates
astaxanthin’s ability to suppress the formation of UVB photo induced
wrinkles. UVB doses of 65-95 mJ/cm2 were applied five times per week for
18 weeks on the back skin of the mice. After each UVB treatment,
topical application of astaxanthin (350 µM) was coated on the exposed
areas. After only 5 weeks, the appearance of new wrinkles were
significantly reduced up until the end of the study period (P<0.01 at
18 weeks). Concurrently, stained skin sections revealed that
astaxanthin preserved the integrity of the dermal layer by protecting
the collagen network.
In a preliminary human study, Seki et al., (2001) demonstrates the same
anti-wrinkle observations in female human subjects (n=3) using a topical
cream containing astaxanthin. A dermatological assessment revealed
significant reduction of wrinkles and puffiness on the lower eye and
cheeks after 2 weeks of use.
a separate test using female subjects (n=11), instrument analysis
recorded significant moisture improvement (P<0.05) after 3 weeks of
Naturally, further investigation is necessary to elucidate the mechanism
of action and to replicate results using significantly larger clinical
trials. To date, the astaxanthin potential is promising.
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