Exploring Astaxanthin Health Benefits

December 9, 2014

Asthaxanthin is a natural antioxidant with an array of health benefits. To understand why many people choose to supplement their diets with it, we first need to understand how antioxidants work to understand the benefits of Astaxanthin

What are antioxidants

A type of compound which helps to protect every cell in the body against the damaging effects of unstable molecules known as free radicals, antioxidants are a very powerful defense in our human physiology.

The benefits of antioxidants are well-documented, so much so that they’ve become the latest buzz word in natural health. However, the term can sometimes be overused, particularly when it comes to selling supplements. If you want to reap the health benefits of taking antioxidants, you need to make sure that the contents are at a therapeutic level.

Every cell in the body is carefully balanced to stay alive and in optimum condition so it’s important that they don’t become over exposed to any agent or substance that jeopardises this.

Oxidation reactions perform an important function in the body, but they can also cause harm too. If there are not enough antioxidants or when the antioxidant enzymes are inhibited, oxidative stress can occur which damages the cells. This type of damage has been linked to cellular death or even mutations which can be a cause of cancer.

Therefore, whilst essential for good health, it’s imperative that oxidation reactions are kept under control. Antioxidants help to achieve this by inhibiting the release of free radicals and preserving the delicate biological balance in every living cell.

Having the correct levels of antioxidants in the body won’t just prevent disease and mutation; it will also help to slow down the ageing process too. Conversely, too many free radicals will rapidly accelerate the ageing process rapidly. 1)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684512/

Antioxidants can be found in many types of fresh foods such as plant products like fruit and vegetables. Some good sources include cabbage, raspberries, broccoli, and apples; they can also be found in green tea and dark chocolate.

Look for lots of different natural colours in your food as this will help to ensure you are consuming plenty of antioxidants.

Astaxanthin Benefits

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid and an extremely rich source of antioxidants for humans. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to consume sufficient amounts through our diet which is why it’s a good idea to take a supplement.

Although not one of the most well-known types of antioxidant, astaxanthin is believed by experts to be one of the most essential antioxidants. As a quiet miracle-worker, here are the facts about astaxanthin and just why it’s so vital.

The Role Of Astaxanthin

Now we’ve examined the critical role that antioxidants play in the body, we can turn our attention to astaxanthin and the more specific qualities that it has.

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid, or more specifically, a xanthophyll; a type of carotenoid which is found in foods such as salmon, krill, crustaceans, trout, yeast, and algae. It is astaxanthin which provides the distinctive red colouring in the flesh of these animals when being cooked.

Astaxanthin sourced from krill

Not all types of carotenoids have a red colouring; beta carotene, famously found in carrots, is an orange colouring.

Salmon have the highest concentration of astaxanthin of any member of the animal kingdom. Scientists believe that due to muscles pumped full of this intensely strong antioxidant is what gives salmon the ability to fight the current of water and swim upstream.

Astaxanthin is unlike many of the other carotenoids and carotenes which are processed by the body as it doesn’t break down and become converted to Vitamin A. This makes it a very unusual antioxidant with valuable qualities.

It’s not just its ability to avoid being metabolised that makes it such an important commodity; astaxanthin can cross both the blood-brain and the blood-retinal barriers, allowing it to truly protect the whole body, including the eyes, brain and nervous system.

Reaching and guarding cells both inside and out, astaxanthin is unique in its capacity to defend the body against multiple types of free radicals simultaneously. Most antioxidants are built to specifically respond to just one type of free radical such as nitric oxide or peroxyl; astaxanthin is able to handle many different forms.

With no known levels of toxicity and approved for use as a supplement, astaxanthin is often referred to as the ‘king of the carotenoids’2)http://www.livestrong.com/article/448563-astaxanthin-facts and is highly recommended by many worldwide experts as the antioxidant supplement of choice.

Here are some of the reasons why astaxanthin is considered to be so amazing:

Does Astaxanthin Help Fatigue?

A vague, yet potentially crippling symptom, managing fatigue can be a real uphill battle. Whether it’s caused by poor diet, lack of sleep, stress or illness, fatigue can be overwhelming and difficult to conquer.

Studies have shown that astaxanthin can help individuals to regain lost vitality, with research revealing an increase of 2-8 times more strength and endurance compared to a placebo group in human clinical trials.3)http://jonbarron.org/herbal-library/foods/astaxnthin

When taken in a therapeutic dose, this supplement can boost the immune system by increasing up the number of antibody producing cells in the body. Also by protecting every cell from oxidative stress damage, astaxanthin can help you to overcome fatigue, helping you to return to your best.

It’s not just those occasions when you are suffering from chronic fatigue either; there’s evidence to suggest that astaxanthin can also help to improve recovery time following exercise too, as well as improve muscle strength4)Lee SJ, Bai SK, Lee KS, Namkoong S, Na HJ, Ha KS, Han JA, Yim SV, Chang K, Kwon YG, Lee SK, Kim YM. Astaxanthin inhibits nitric oxide production and inflammatory gene expression by suppressing I(kappa)B kinase-dependent NF-kappaB activation. Mol Cells. 2003 Aug 31;16(1):97-105. PubMed PMID: 14503852. . If you imagine the strength and resilience salmon need to be able to swim upstream, it’s not difficult to see just how potent astaxanthin really is. Studies replicating the impact on endurance5)18. Curt L. Malmsten and Åke Lignell. Dietary Supplementation with Astaxanthin-Rich Algal Meal Improves Strength Endurance. A Double Blind Placebo Controlled Study on Male Students. Carotenoid Science, Vol.13, 2008 ISSN 1880-5671. have shown that this antioxidant has proven effects on the human body.

It works by boosting the mitochondria, the key part of the cells which supply around 95% of their energy. Muscle tissue is drenched with mitochondria, where they try to keep up with the demands of the body. When the levels of energy demanded by the muscles can no longer be met through the mitochondria, exhaustion and fatigue set in.

Because oxygen is being used up far more quickly when you are working out compared to when you are resting, up to 12 times as many free radicals are generated by the cells. It’s these high levels of free radicals which can lead to muscle soreness, caused by intense inflammation.

Astaxanthin can help to reduce the buildup of lactic acid as you exercise, which is another contributory factor to feeling muscle exhaustion and a drop in stamina.

Pain And Inflammation

Many painkillers that you buy over the counter or have prescribed by your doctor are synthetic compounds that actually mimic the actions of natural substances. In fact, astaxanthin is a naturally occurring analgesic, with the added bonus of having anti-inflammatory qualities.
Inflammation is the body’s way of trying to protect itself and promote healing by trying to insulate a damaged area. In a disease such as arthritis, it is this inflammation process which can be even more problematic than the pain, causing reduced movement and stiffness.


One study carried out by the Nutrex-Hawaii company suggested that taking this antioxidant supplement could reduce the symptoms of back pain and arthritis by as much as 80%.

Inflammation is believed to be at the root of other, less obvious, diseases too such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions as well as diabetes and cancer. A supplement which has the ability to attack this so-called ‘silent’ inflammation has the potential to make a real difference in the disease process.

Astaxanthin is already being used by doctors as a painkiller, either on its own or when combined with prescription drugs. The advantage of using a natural analgesic rather than a synthetic one is that there simply aren’t the nasty side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding, heartburn, and addiction.

Astaxanthin works by blocking the COX-2 enzymes and suppressing blood levels of interleukin-1B, nitric oxide, C-Reactive Protein (CRP), prostaglandin E2 and TNF-alpha6)Lee SJ, Bai SK, Lee KS, Namkoong S, Na HJ, Ha KS, Han JA, Yim SV, Chang K, Kwon YG, Lee SK, Kim YM. Astaxanthin inhibits nitric oxide production and inflammatory gene expression by suppressing I(kappa)B kinase-dependent NF-kappaB activation. Mol Cells. 2003 Aug 31;16(1):97-105. PubMed PMID: 14503852.. One study showed that CRP levels were slashed by a fifth, far more than any synthetic analgesic was able to produce.

Easy On The Eye

Astaxanthin has been proven to cross the blood-retinal barrier and as such, it has the ability to provide a degree of protection to the eyes and the specialist cells within them.

Studies in Japan revealed that taking astaxanthin regularly not only helped to reduce the incidence of eye fatigue, but also improved the accommodative ability too 7)Japanese Journal of Clinical Ophthalmology VOL.58;NO.6;PAGE.1051-1054(2004). These results have since been reproduced in similar studies concluding that the supplement doesn’t just help to ease the symptoms of fatigue; it reduces the incidences of eye strain too.

naturaleye health

Other clinical studies have shown that astaxanthin helps to provide a degree of protection against eye-related degenerative conditions too. One study in Italy8)23. Parisi V, Tedeschi M, Gallinaro G, et al. Carotenoids and antioxidants in age-related maculopathy Italian study: multifocal electroretinogram modifications after 1 year. Ophthalmology. 2008 Feb;115(2):324-33. showed that patients in the early stages of age-related macular degeneration could experience an improvement in their vision by taking the supplement.

It has also been suggested that astaxanthin is useful in providing treatment and protection against other eye disorders including retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts.

Skin Deep

Although astaxanthin has a number of health benefits which are difficult to argue with, it is popular for its skin-saving beauty result too.

Some studies have suggested that as well as helping to improve the signs of aging, it can also help to prevent damage from the sun in the first place.

Sunburn is painful and irritating, but it’s just another type of inflammation that affects the skin. Astaxanthin can help to cure this pain as well as allowing individuals to be able to remain longer in the sun without burning.

Dr. Nicholas Perricone, an expert in skincare and cosmetics, has suggested that astaxanthin could be beneficial in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and age spots and boosting skin elasticity, moisture, and smoothness.

Astaxanthin is now being used as a core ingredient in many creams which promise to heal damaged skin and provide UV protection.

Many other benefits

Clinical studies involving humans are still at the relatively early stages for astaxanthin but tests carried out so far indicate that the supplement could be helpful in treating a range of illnesses and conditions including the following:

  • Gum disease
  • Weight loss
  • High blood pressure
  • Raised cholesterol
  • Stomach ulcer
  • Prostate problems
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Heart attacks
  • Reproductive health
  • Any condition which is affected by inflammation, pain, or a comprised immune system can benefit from a dose of astaxanthin.

Taking Astaxanthin

If you decide to take astaxanthin, the best way to get sufficient levels is to opt for a supplement rather than trying to get it directly from food.

Astaxanthin Benefits

Astaxanthin is often recommended in the dosage range of 6-8mg daily, which is low enough that an enriched salmon oil or krill oil supplement may contain adequate levels. Doses of up to 20-50mg astaxanthin have been tolerated, although the exact toxicity and upper limit is not known. Despite these recommendations, the ideal dose of astaxanthin is not currently known9)http://examine.com/supplements/Astaxanthin/

As a carotenoid related to the metabolism of Vitamin A (a fat-soluble vitamin), it is advised to take astaxanthin with a meal.

Wild sockeye salmon is the best source of astaxanthin naturally, given its firm pinky-red flesh. However the amount you would have to eat to get a good dose of astaxanthin makes it prohibitive to rely on unless you are a bear!

If you are already taking medication, you should check with your doctor or pharmacist first because astaxanthin can affect some prescription medications. This doesn’t mean that you can’t take the two together definitively, but you might need some adjustments to the dosage.

Too many benefits to ignore…

Even if you don’t normally take supplements, there’s powerful and compelling evidence from multiple sources that the astaxanthin really does benefit the body.

Whether you’re looking for help with fatigue, want an improved exercise capacity or simply want skin that glows, astaxanthin is the supplement that could deliver it to you in one tiny package.

Image Credits: Wikipediaascentahealth.com, Back Pain, capsules, eyes


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