Astaxanthin: Antioxidant King
One of the most unique and beneficial antioxidant substances to gain popularity in the last decade is the carotenoid astaxanthin (pronounced asta-ZAN-thin). With reams of clinical studies and testimonials from the world over, this superstar nutrient is fast becoming "the next big thing" in the nutritional supplement world. It may be one of the most powerful antioxidants yet discovered, about 5,000 times stronger than Vitamin C, for instance, and it has a broad range of properties benefiting multiple body systems. Its extraordinarily powerful antioxidant activity, primarily by supporting the body's inflammatory response, may offer relief from and prevention of many chronic conditions.
What Is It?
Astaxanthin is classified as a xanthophyll carotenoid, meaning that it does not have pro-Vitamin A activity like beta-carotene. It is found in certain species of microalgae, plants, and animals. It is a red pigment, and lends its color to marine life such as lobsters, shrimp, and salmon. These creatures consume astaxanthin-containing krill, algae, and plankton, taking on the reddish tint in their own bodies. It is theorized that salmon, with the largest concentration of astaxanthin in nature, are given their legendary endurance by this substance. It is also the reason that flamingos are pink. The birds consume large quantities of astaxanthin-containing algae and crustaceans, and the pigment is deposited in their feathers. This is truly a case where you are what you eat!
As we know, the antioxidant activity of astaxanthin outperforms virtually every other antioxidant. In vitro studies at Creighton University found that its free radical scavenging ability was 550 times stronger than Vitamin E and 11 times more powerful than beta-carotene. It has the added bonus of being both fat and water soluble, thus able to protect both the inside and outside of the cell. Most antioxidants are soluble in fat or water, but not both.
For some years now athletes in the know have been supplementing with astaxanthin to assist with not only endurance but also recovery and inflammation levels. The compound appears to assist muscle function by reducing free radical damage during heavy exercise, allowing the muscles to use oxygen more efficiently and recover quickly (think of the arduous trek which salmon make). Human clinical trials have demonstrated benefits in patients suffering from acute and chronic inflammatory conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis, and exercise-induced joint and muscle damage. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that subjects given astaxanthin showed CRP levels reduced by over 20% after eight weeks. CRP (C-reactive protein) is an excellent marker for the presence of systemic inflammation and this inflammation may be at the root of many life-threatening diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.
Two of the leading causes of blindness and visual impairment are age-related cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Both conditions seem to be mainly the result of a lifetime of light-induced oxidation, free-radical damage to the macula and retina of the eye caused by (excessive) sunlight. It is known that certain antioxidant carotenoids are preferentially found in the eye with the task of protecting the tissues from UV damage. Lutein and zeaxanthin from the diet are deposited in the eye for this protection. These substances are able to cross the blood-retinal barrier to accomplish this. While astaxanthin is not normally found in the eye as are the other two carotenoids, many studies have shown it is also able to cross the blood-retinal barrier and exert profound antioxidant protection to the eye. In addition to protection from light-induced oxidative stress, astaxanthin can prevent eye fatigue, such as occurs in people spending large amounts of time at a computer screen. Several Japanese studies showed up to a 46% reduction in eyestrain, eye fatigue, and eye soreness in subjects taking 5 mg of astaxanthin daily and improvements in visual acuity as well.
Since most skin damage (and skin aging) is due to oxidative stress, any powerful antioxidant will benefit the skin to some extent. Astaxanthin works multiple minor miracles upon skin. Its antioxidant properties help skin resist the oxidative assaults of sunlight and weather and the subsequent collagen breakdown which occurs as a result. UV light reddens the skin and may cause sunburn and photo-aging. Astaxanthin was the focus of a study to determine its effects on sun exposure. The study showed that 4 mg of astaxanthin daily significantly extended the amount of time it took for skin subjected to UV light to redden, demonstrating the carotenoid's ability to support skin during sun exposure. Another study with healthy middle-aged women using 4 mg daily for six weeks significantly improved fine lines, wrinkles, elasticity, and moisture content of the skin. A different study, with 36 healthy male subjects taking 6 mg daily for six weeks showed improvement in crow's feet, wrinkles, and elasticity, as well as transepidermal water loss. Studies combining the oral supplement with a topical astaxanthin showed even greater benefits, including self-assessment by the subjects.
Natural astaxanthin has been shown to be very safe and non-toxic. Supplements range from 4-12 mg dosages and Evergreen Nutrition carries a variety in our Eye Health section. With the summer sun (hopefully) coming our way, you can protect your skin and muscles and eyes and more during outdoor and indoor activities!
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