Let's move on to another product that you also manufacture at your firm called astaxanthin. And this is something that is not yet a household word. Could you give a little background on what this is and where it comes from?
Gerry: I certainly can, and you're right -- this is a new product into the human supplement industry, and we're very excited about it. Astaxanthin is a pigment found in a marine environment. As a matter of fact, it's the most prevalent pigment found in the marine environment, and it's what turns the flesh of the salmon pink or pinkish red, shrimp shells, lobster red, so it's throughout the marine environment. We actually started producing natural astaxanthin as a replacement for synthetic astaxanthin that's currently used in fish farming, and we do continue to sell into the aquaculture industry. But as our production started ramping up, we became aware of the very potent antioxidant properties of natural astaxanthin, and as we did more research and started looking more at the scientific literature, we found that natural astaxanthin has three very unique properties: first of all, it's an extremely potent antioxidant. Some studies have shown over 500 times stronger than vitamin E. It's also anti-inflammatory, and third it crosses the blood-brain barrier and delivers these health benefits to the central nervous system.
Mike: That's a very unique benefit for any kind of antioxidant supplement.
Gerry: It is, and for instance, beta carotene cannot cross the blood-brain barrier where astaxanthin can. We've actually completed a number of clinical studies on natural astaxanthin. Our brand name for our product is called Bioastin, a little bit easier to pronounce than astaxanthin. But using Bioastin, we had a very successful clinical trial in relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. We've also had a study showing that oral consumption of Bioastin actually increases the skin's resistance to damage by ultraviolet radiation, sunburn.
Mike: So it's an internal sunscreen of sorts.
Mike: That's very interesting. I've often shared with readers how much of a difference nutritional and dietary changes make in terms of your sensitivity to sun.
Gerry: Yes, and that was a health benefit that we had no idea Bioastin would work in this way, until some of our associates that work here that surf a lot, said, "Boy, I've been taking Bioastin and I go out and I surfed for 4 hours on Sunday and I don't get sunburned anymore."
Gerry: And we started to do a little bit more work and we eventually had a clinical study run, and we got positive results.
Mike: Wow, fantastic -- sunscreen through nutrition, with astaxanthin.
Gerry: The other clinical trial, actually two other clinicals, one is using Bioastin to relieve the pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, and finally the pain associated with joints after strenuous exercise.
Mike: So muscle soreness, fatigue, osteoarthritis, all of these seem to respond.
Gerry: Yes. And it seems like it's directed at a large number of health effects, but if you look at the underlying cause of these health problems, it's all free radicals, and so it's really the antioxidant capability of Bioastin to get in and quench free radicals. With rheumatoid arthritis it's an immune rejection of joints, and the first immune response of the body is to generate free radicals to try and kill something bad from the body. Bioastin tends to neutralize these free radicals that rheumatoid arthritis is creating. And the same thing with sunscreen -- the UV radiation is actually causing an inflammation reaction, and generating free radicals in the skin, which Bioastin helps to quench.
Mike: So, how is this produced, then, by your firm?
Gerry: Well, it does not come from spirulina. We actually grow a completely separate algae called hematococcus pluvialis, and hematococcus is very unique in that it's a green algae, and when it has all the nutrients and good growth conditions, it grows green. It actually has two flagella and swims through the water, microscopically, and the cultures turn bright green. What we then do after we grow these very healthy, rapidly growing green cultures, we put them into what we call reddening ponds, and stress them, both environmentally and starve them for some key nutrients. When they sense that conditions are not good for growth, they form a cyst, and then rapidly start accumulating astaxanthin to protect themselves against an oxidating environment, mainly a very intense sunlight, because they're sensing that things are getting bad and that eventually everything's going to dry out, and they'll have to protect themselves against harsh sunlight. Actually these spores, once they're dried, remain dormant and spring back to life after decades of dehydration.
Mike: So this is the time at which they are harvested?
Gerry: Yes. Once they do form the spores and accumulate all this astaxanthin, we then harvest them. Unlike spirulina, these spores have a very strong cell wall, so we have to mechanically crack the spores during the processing to make sure that all the astaxanthin in the cysts are available.
Mike: And that's primarily a mechanical process?
Gerry: A mechanical process, yes.
Mike: Interesting. One more question about that -- is Bioastin also available at the Nutrex Hawaii website?
Gerry: It is, yes.
Mike: Okay. Here's another question -- we've seen some interesting headlines recently on technology applied to various chitosan products. Some military bandages are being made with chitosan that seal wounds very quickly. Any potential work on chitosan in your future?
Gerry: We don't have anything planned in that area, and with chitosan, you're really looking at material coming from shellfish, and we don't have any expertise in that area. Not even with the macroalgae -- kelps or seaweed. All of our technology is based on microscopic algae.
Mike: So what is coming up next for Cyanotech? As much as you can share…
Gerry: Well, we have an interest in a couple of new products that we're looking at and assessing the market for, and unfortunately I can't talk too much about them, maybe to say that we're interested in some products to help strengthen the immune system, and some new algal species that we're looking at.
Mike: Okay, well I'm sure you'll keep us informed when things are available, pass the word along.
Gerry: Oh, absolutely!
This article is part of an exclusive interview with Dr. Gerry Cysewski, CEO and founder of Cyanotech Corporation http://www.cyanotech.com, located in Kona, Hawaii. Cyanotech's spirulina and astaxanthin products are available in retail stores (look for products made with "Hawaiian spirulina") or through Nutrex-Hawaii at http://www.nutrex-hawaii.com.
The aerial photo on the left shows Cyanotech's farms. The dark green culture ponds contain spirulina, while the reddish ponds contain astaxanthin in various stages of growth. The dark land mass on the right is a lava field.
Editors note: Astaxanthin is now one of the nutritional supplements I consume on a daily basis. Due to my passion about superfoods nutrition, I traveled to Kona, Hawaii to conduct a series of interviews with Cyanotech personnel. To find all available articles on Cyanotech, just type "Cyanotech" in the search box below. New articles are being added regularly.