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Think pink to prevent dementia: natural pigment astaxanthin protects brain

Thursday, March 24, 2011 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: astaxanthin, brain health, health news

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(NaturalNews) It's time to "think pink". No, that's not just the familiar marketing slogan used to promote breast cancer awareness (and, it can be argued, to push the multi-million dollar breast cancer industry). Instead, thinking pink is something that could literally save your brain.

Scientists have documented that daily supplements of the natural pigment astaxanthin reduces the accumulation of compounds called phospholipid hydroperoxides (PLOOH) which are known to accumulate abnormally in the red blood cells (erythrocytes) of people with dementia. Bottom line: the researchers from Tohoku University who are behind the study believe the pink pigment may well "contribute to the prevention of dementia."

That's great news because the mind-robbing malady known as dementia is a growing problem in the U.S. -- and mainstream medicine and Big Pharma have come up with little help and hope for the condition. In fact, according to the Alzheimer's Association, about 5.4 million Americans currently have the best known and most feared kind of dementia, Alzheimer's disease (AD). That number is expected to rise as the population ages.

Astaxanthin is a phytochemical known as a carotenoid. Like many carotenoids, it is a colorful, fat soluble pigment. Astaxanthin is found in types of microalgae and fish that eat them -- including salmon and trout as well as krill, shrimp, crayfish and other crustaceans. Its what gives salmon its pink color.

The new Japanese study, just published in the British Journal of Nutrition, involved thirty healthy subjects between the ages of 50 and 69 who were randomly assigned to receive or 6 or 12 mg of astaxanthin or a placebo each day for 12 weeks. The results showed that PLOOH levels in erythrocytes plummeted in the people taking the astaxanthin supplements -- falling 40% and 50% in the 6 and 12 mg groups, respectively, compared with no change in the placebo group.

"The present randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human trial shows that when human subjects ingest astaxanthin, it is absorbed, distributed and accumulated in erythrocytes, where it exhibits antioxidative effects (inhibition of erythrocyte PLOOH)," the researchers stated in their paper.
"This possibility warrants the testing of astaxanthin in other models of dementia with a realistic prospect of its use as a human therapy."

Previous research has shown that astaxanthin reduces the oxidative damage caused by LDL (the "bad" type of cholesterol), so it may reduce the formation of plaque in arteries. The natural pigment also appears to boost the immune response by increasing the number of antibody producing cells. What's more, research has indicated astaxanthin could protect the skin from sunburn and may offer some protection from skin cancer, too.

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