Have you ever wondered what gives marine animals like salmon or lobster such a beautiful orange-red color? It’s Astaxanthin! Astaxanthin is probably one of the most remarkable compounds. It is a red-coloured pigment – a carotenoid – that is found in plants, algae, bacteria and other organisms where it produces bright yellow, orange and red colours. In this article, we’ll explain exactly what astaxanthin is, where it’s found, how it’s formed, and the benefits of consuming it. Finally, we will advise how to choose the right one in the wide field of astaxanthin supplements.
What is astaxanthin and where can we find it?
Astaxanthin is a dye belonging to the carotenoids – pigmented phytochemicals that are abundant in plants, bacteria, algae and many other living organisms. Carotenoids are one of the most diverse groups of natural pigments.
The highest concentration of this substance can be found in the unicellular microalga Haematococcus pluvialis, which has been recognized as the ecologically best source to extract the purest and most effective astaxanthin. When algae are stressed, they release astaxanthin as a protective factor to protect them from negative environmental influences such as ultraviolet light, high salt levels, lack of nutrition or temperature changes. Astaxanthin thus allows these algae to live for more than 40 years without food in harsh aquatic environments.
Astaxanthin is not only found in algae, but also in marine crustaceans and salmon. To get astaxanthin from salmon, choose wild salmon and avoid farmed or artificially coloured salmon. Wild salmon is not only naturally higher in astaxanthin, but eating it is healthier because it contains fewer contaminants.
As salmon prepares to lay eggs, it swims upstream. Its journey often takes it hundreds of kilometres up strong currents and over dams. Before setting off, the salmon builds up reserves of astaxanthin (by eating shrimp and other shellfish), which then serves as its energy source. It is believed that astaxanthin plays a large role in their ability to undergo such a feat because it increases their endurance capabilities. Astaxanthin may have similar effects on humans. In addition, salmon also need astaxanthin to protect their flesh from damage caused by the sun’s rays, which hit the shallow waters of the rivers through which salmon swim. However, astaxanthin is also an excellent helper for humans. It has positive effects on the brain, mitochondria, DNA, eyes, cardiovascular system, immune system, cell aging, male fertility, athletic performance, muscles and joints.
Effects of astaxanthin on the human body
1) Astaxanthin as an antioxidant
Astaxanthin is considered to be the most powerful antioxidant discovered on the planet. Antioxidants are powerful compounds that fight aging, reduce oxidation in the body, and protect cells from damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. These can damage DNA in large quantities and lead to chronic diseases. Free radicals in excessive amounts are a bogeyman for our cells.
Some antioxidants can trigger free radical activity under certain conditions, but astaxanthin is unique in that it is a pure antioxidant. This means that it only acts as a cell protector and does not become a pro-oxidant. Astaxanthin has an ORAC value of 2,822,200, making it 293 times more potent than Acai. Natural Astaxanthin is a fat and water soluble antioxidant, which allows it to bridge the cell membrane, protecting the entire cell! In addition, it is one of the few antioxidants that can penetrate the barrier to the brain or eyes. Astaxanthin also increases the production of immunoglobulins.
Astaxanthin has been found to be 550 times more potent an antioxidant than the catechins in green tea and also more potent than vitamin E. Therefore, its dietary intake is particularly important for protecting the skin from external influences and sun damage.2
Advantages of astaxanthin over other antioxidants:
- It crosses the blood-brain barrier and thus brings antioxidant protection to the brain.
- It crosses the hematoretinal barrier to provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection to the eyes.
- It removes more free radicals than any other antioxidant.
- Acts as a super-powerful antioxidant in neutralizing excess singlet oxygen.
- It travels through the body and brings antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection to all organs.
- Suppresses inflammatory markers.
- Strongly absorbs UVB radiation.
- Reduces DNA damage.
- Has no pro-oxidant effects – it is a pure antioxidant.
- Binds to muscle tissue.
2) Eye health
Astaxanthin has been shown to contribute to eye health. It improves blood flow to the retina, reduces inflammation in the eye, and inhibits cell damage in various parts of the eye. In addition, it can help with age-related macular degeneration, eye fatigue and pain, glaucoma, or dry and irritated eyes.
3) Brain health
Neurodegenerative diseases are on the rise, so the health of our brains is quite an important topic. Oxidative stress also takes its toll on the brain as we age. Astaxanthin has shown neuroprotective properties that may help prevent age-related cognitive decline and subsequent neurodegenerative diseases. Astaxanthin is a fat-soluble nutrient that allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier and act directly in the brain. This slows cognitive decline due to brain aging and protects brain cells from damage by toxins and free radicals. In addition, it improves blood flow through the brain, which may be an effective aid for patients with dementia
Several studies have been conducted on brain health with surprising results. It has been found that after 12 weeks of taking astaxanthin at daily doses of 6 – 12 mg, people have reduced levels of dangerous fat oxidation by-products that accumulate in people suffering from dementia. Because of this, research has concluded that astaxanthin supplementation may help prevent dementia in humans.
4) Skin health
Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron, which makes them very unstable and reactive. They are formed in the body as a result of both natural processes (such as exercise) and external factors (such as sunlight and exposure to toxins). Due to their reactive nature, free radicals react destructively with other molecules in their environment, including lipids and proteins that are integral to the health and structure of our skin. Free radicals also contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, two of the most important proteins involved in healthy, youthful-looking skin. Antioxidants are able to donate an electron to free radicals and effectively neutralize them. Therefore, if they are present in the skin in sufficient quantities, the damage caused by free radicals will be minimal.
The same powerful antioxidant properties that protect the algae from the sun’s rays are also able to protect our skin. Skin cells that are exposed to ultraviolet light produce free radicals that trigger skin aging. Astaxanthin has the ability to keep skin hydrated, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, promote better skin elasticity, prevent skin aging and protect against UV rays. The last mentioned benefit is good news, especially for those who burn easily in the sun. Astaxanthin accumulates in every layer of the skin and protects it from sunburn and sun damage. In short, it acts as an internal sunscreen.
5) Protects mitochondria – the main creators of cellular energy
It is already well known that mitochondrial function declines with age due to oxidative stress, which can lead to typical age-related diseases. These cellular “powerhouses” are responsible for producing energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). However, the process of energy production also generates huge amounts of free radicals. Excessive exposure to free radicals causes oxidative stress in the body, which in turn damages mitochondrial function. Astaxanthin from the microalga Haematococcus pluvialis protects mitochondria from free radical damage, thereby preserving their ability to produce energy.
6) Reduces inflammation in the body
Chronic inflammation is present at the onset of most chronic diseases. Astaxanthin has significant anti-inflammatory properties and inhibits the activity of inflammation-causing compounds.