Astaxanthin Introduction

Astaxanthin is a natural occuring compound responsible for the distinctive pink coloration in sea food like salmon, crustaceans, crayfish, shrimp, krill, trout, and some microalgae.  The compound is a phytochemical carotenoid. But unlike other carotenoid found in fruits and plants, astaxanthin is not converted into vitamin A in the human body. Vitamin A will have a toxic effect to the body when taken in excessive amounts but astaxanthin does not produce this adverse effect. Different studies have revealed the potential health benefits of the compound to the body. And astaxanthin demonstrates strong antioxidant property which was found to be 500 times stronger than vitamin E.

The biggest natural source of astaxanthin is haematococcus pluvialis, a microalgae that produces the most amount of astaxanthin in nature. But the compound can also be synthesized but is not recommended for human consumption due to its content of stereoisomers. A kilo of naturally produced astaxanthin is worth around $7000 in the market.

Astaxanthin is usually used as a feed supplement for animals and seafood. The compound is also used to enhance the color of salmon and make it look pinker. But astaxanthin used for this purpose is usually made synthetically from petrochemicals. On the other hand, the production of astaxanthin for human consumption is derived from natural sources, usually from microalgae. It is used as a food supplement due to its powerful antioxidant property. It has also been found to be beneficial against neurodegenerative, inflammatory, immune, and cardiovascular diseases. The compound has also exerted its effects in lowering the risk of developing cancer. The production and use of astaxanthin as a food supplement and aquaculture feed is regulated in the US by the Food and Drug Authority.

A Summary of the Potential Health Benefits of Astaxanthin

A new review on the potential health benefits of astaxanthin shows that the compound can reduce the risk of metabolic syndromes and improve skin health. Researchers from the Molecular Nutrition and Food Research in China conducted a series of controlled clinical studies evaluating the health benefits of astaxanthin.

The industry of astaxanthin both as a fish and animal feed and as food supplement is expected to have an annual turnover of $200 million by 2015. The compound is also used on fish products to enhance its pink color and make them more salable. The cost of astaxanthin for human consumption is estimated to be worth around $35 to 60 million according to a private firm Frost and Sullivan.

Astaxanthin food supplements are primarily used to improve skin and eye health. But the compound has also been found to improve joint health and prevent diseases caused by oxidative stress; the antioxidant property of astaxanthin has been found to be 500 times stronger than vitamin E according to clinical studies.

The review on the health benefits of astaxanthin concluded that the protective benefits of the compound against diseases are most likely to be caused by its antioxidant mechanism that prevents cellular damage caused by oxidative stress. Astaxanthin also inhibits the production of inflammatory substances like cytokines and improve the cells sensitivity and response to insulin.

The other health benefits of astaxanthin includes the reduction of damaged and abnormal cells in the liver, protection against eye damage caused by UV rays, alleviation from stress, prevention of neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease and protection against the development of cancer cells in the breast, uterus, bladder, bowels, oral cavity and the tongue. Astaxanthin has also been found to boost the immune system by stimulating the production of more antibodies and help the body better protect itself against diseases.

Other Clinical Studies on the Health Benefits of Astaxanthin

Different studies on the potential health benefits of astaxanthin against cancer have been performed on laboratory animals like rats. One study showed that astaxanthin protected mice from the carcinogenesis of the urinary bladder. The study used two groups of mice fed with carcinogens for a period of 20 weeks. The second group was fed with astaxanthin for another period of 20 weeks; the first group did not receive astaxanthin supplementation. The researchers observed that the control group has 42 percent incidence of bladder carcinoma while the second group only had 18 percent incidence rate. The study also evaluated the effects of astaxanthin on oral and colon cancer prevention. And similar to their first observation, there was also a significant reduction in cancer risk.

Another study showed that astaxanthin is effective in preventing ameliorating retinal injury and the degeneration of photoreceptors due to ageing. This proves the eye health benefits of astaxanthin. A different study concluded that astaxanthin is useful in preventing and treating neuronal damage linked to muscular degeneration brought by senility. The researchers also suggested that the compound has potential benefits against Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and in treating ischemic reperfusion injury, other injuries in the central nervous system and the spinal cord.

Sources, Safety and Dosage

A study on the recommendable dietary dosage of astaxanthin in order to obtain its health benefits without subjecting the body to potential toxicity ranges from 4 to 16 milligrams a day depending on the person’s body type. It is not an essential nutrient but the increased intake of the compound has been found to have numerous health benefits to the body. A natural source of astaxanthin is salmon which contains approximately 1 milligram per serving but pacific salmon may contain around 4 to 5 milligrams. Astaxanthin has a very low level of toxicity but this may become dangerous in young children, nursing and pregnant women and individuals with kidney and liver disease.

Astaxanthin as Antioxidant

Well-funded studies have been conducted in different countries to determine the potential health benefits of natural substances against oxidative stress. The damage of cells caused by free radicals had been linked to several diseases including cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Carotenoids, the natural pigmentation in fruits and plants and plants, have shown significant effects against oxidative stress. Astaxanthin being a carotenoid also demonstrates this value. But further study is still needed to establish the health benefits of astaxanthin.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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