This antioxidant carotenoid can be helpful in macular degeneration and boosting immune function. It is not made by the body so has to be taken in.
What is astaxanthin?
It is similar to beta-carotene but a slight difference in the structure, and causes a radical difference in biological activity. It is ten times stronger than beta-carotene and up to 500 times stronger than vitamin E as an antioxidant. Unique aspects of the astaxanthin structure allow it to pass the "blood brain barrier", meaning it can deliver antioxidant activity benefits directly to the brain, eyes and nervous system.
This fat-soluble carotenoid is found in the red yeast Phaffia rhodozyma, used in Asian cooking. It is also produced by the algae Haematococcus and accumulates in the muscles of salmon, shrimp, trout and other pink seafood when they eat this algae, which is what gives them their pink hue.
How it works
Astaxanthin kills free radicals in your body, staving off age related diseases like macular degeneration, by preventing these unstable molecules from damaging your cells according to Timothy Maher Ph.D. It also boosts the functioning of your immune system by increasing the number and activity of T cells and macrophages, two kinds of protective cells that fight infection and cancer. Unlike other antioxidants, astaxanthin is available both within and without the cell wall which allows it to fight free radicals both inside and outside the cell wall.2
Certain carotenoids have been shown to help protect the retina of the eye from oxidative damage. The lens of the eye focuses incoming light onto the photosensitive retina, which then transmits visual signals to the brain. In the central area of the retina lies the macula, which has the highest density of photoreceptors that provides visual acuity. Oxidation, as from sunlight exposure, degrades the retinal membranes and likely leads to damage or destruction of photoreceptor cells.
A recent study indicates that astaxanthin is able to cross the blood retinal barrier and exert antioxidant effects to stop retinal destruction by staving off light induced oxidation and protect photoreceptors from degeneration.
How to take it
Take in pill form from 2-5mg per day for a therapeutic dose. Eat pink seafood like salmon which are food sources. No adverse effects have been reported by people consuming astaxanthin, whether in pill, in yeast or seafood.
Astaxanthin for Health of the Eye and Central Nervous System
The possible role of antioxidants in alleviating oxidation stress and other oxidative damages to the eye and the nervous system has been extensively reviewed by Trevithick and Mitton (1999).
- A 2011 review of previous and on-going research points to the wide range of benefits of this potent antioxidant with excellent tolerability and safety factors as well. It has been found to lower levels of free radicals in people who are smokers or overweight; blocked oxidative damage to DNA, acted as an anti-inflammatory agent, supported tuberculin immunity, lowered triglycerides, increased blood flow and good HDL cholesterol, supported brain functioning with improved cognition and nerve stem cell growth, improved visual acuity, reproductive health and more.1
- As one of nature's most effective antioxidants with the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier (Tso and Lam, 1996), astaxanthin's potential benefits for the health of the eye and the nervous system are very promising.
- The eye is potentially one of the organs that is the most exposed to oxidation, because it is exposed to air and UV-light as well as being fed by a very large number of small capillaries capable of bringing many of the metabolic oxidative residues through the blood.
- The eye also contains high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids and pigments that are sensitive to oxidation (Starostin 1988, Donstov et al. 1999). Recently, a research group demonstrated increased superoxide and peroxide formation following UV irradiation of a lens protein (Linetsky et al. 1996). Photoxidation of the lens proteins have been associated to the development of cataracts (Taylor, 1993).
- Lutein and zeaxanthin, the carotenoids naturally found in the human retina, are closely related to astaxanthin. There is abundant evidence that certain carotenoids can help protect the retina from oxidative damage (Snodderly 1995).
- Investigations of the antioxidant effectiveness of astaxanthin in the eye are just beginning but are already very promising. A recent study with rats indicates that astaxanthin can be effective at ameliorating retinal injury, and that it is also effective at protecting photoreceptors from degeneration (Tso and Lam 1996).
- The conclusions of this study were that astaxanthin could be useful for prevention and treatment of neuronal damage associated with age-related macular degeneration, and that it may also be effective at treating ischemic reperfusion injury, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, and other types of central nervous system injuries (Tso and Lam 1996). In this study, astaxanthin was found to easily cross the blood-brain barrier (unlike beta-carotene), and did not form crystals in the eye (unlike canthaxanthin) (Tso and Lam 1996).
- These conclusions concur with those of Sokol & Papas (1999) who report encouraging results in the possible use of antioxidants to treat or prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.
Light, especially UV light, can trigger photoxidation mechanisms and produce active oxygen species such as singlet oxygen (Noguchi and Niki, 1999, McVean et al. 1999). Lipids (Dontsov et al. 1999, Guillen-Sans & Guzman-Chozas, 1998), pigments (Ostrovskii, 1987, Starostin et al. 1988), DNA (Dunford et al. 1997), proteins (Taylor 1993) have been reported to be sensitive to photoxidation.
Oxidative damage to the eye and skin by UV light has been widely documented (Trevithick and Mitton, 1999, McVean et al,. 1999). The strong antioxidative activities of astaxanthin suggest its potential as a photoprotectant, as indicated by the recent study by Tso and Lam (1996), cited above, indicating lower damage by UV light to the eye of animals fed astaxanthin. Research in 2009 using human lens cells substantiated that astaxanthin reduces fat oxidation induced by UV exposure.3
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1. P. Kidd, Astaxanthin, cell membrane nutrient with diverse clinical benefits and anti-aging potential, Alternative Medicine Review, December, 2011.
2. S. E. Ohia, et al, Pharmacological consequences of oxidative stress in ocular tissues, Mutation Research, November, 2005.
3. E. Camara, et al, Astaxanthin, canthaxanthin and beta-carotene differently affect UVA-induced oxidative damage and expression of oxidative stress-responsive enzymes Experimental Dermatology, March, 2009.