Originally published May 22 2009
Astaxanthin is Age and Disease Defying Miracle Nutrient from Microalgae
by Barbara L. Minton
(NaturalNews) Summer is the season for astaxanthin, the carotenoid that blocks ultra violet damage to the skin. Astaxanthin has been referred to as nature's sunscreen, but it does a whole lot more to keep people looking good by promoting beauty and radiant health from the inside out. It improves fine lines and wrinkles, skin elasticity and moisture content while reducing inflammation and cell damage that leads to premature aging. Astaxanthin keeps people feeling good too. Recent research has documented its ability to increase cellular energy, protect against and treat cancer, protect against damage to the brain and nervous system, and halt the progression of complications from diabetes. In fact, astaxanthin may truly be considered a miracle nutrient.
Astaxanthin is a wonder compound from microalgae
People who pay attention to nutrition have long been impressed by the properties of the blue green pigment in marine microalgae, and have elevated spirulina and chlorella to superfood status. Another microalgae, Haematococcus pluvialis, contains primarily dark red pigment. This pigment is the richest known source of the carotenoid astaxanthin.
Only phytoplankton, algae, plants, and certain bacteria and fungi are able to synthesize carotenoids such as astaxanthin. Animals, including humans, must consume carotenoids as part of their diet. Astaxanthin is found in many types of seafood and is what gives the reddish-orange color to salmon, shrimp, red fish, and lobster. It provides the coloration for birds such as flamingoes and quail. But don't worry, taking supplemental astaxanthin or eating foods that have consumed it will not cause a person to turn orange or red.
Astaxanthin exhibits a strong photoprotective effect
Scientists in Rome, Italy compared the abilities of various carotenoids to modulate UVA related injury. Fibroblasts from skin were exposed to moderate doses of UVA, which stimulated cell death, increased levels of free radicals and other reactive substances, decreased antioxidant enzymes activities, and promoted membrane disturbance and enzyme denaturing of hemoglobin. The fibroblasts were treated with carotenoids including astaxanthin 24 hours before exposure to UVA. Of the carotenoids tested, only astaxanthin exhibited a pronounced photoprotective effect and countered all of the UVA induced alterations to a significant extent. (Experimental Dermatology, March)
Astaxanthin increases cellular energy by protecting mitochondria
Mitochondria are the cellular furnaces in which food is turned into energy in the form of ATP. During this process, oxygen is released, producing several oxygen-derived free radicals that play an important role in various diseases. Oxidative stress leading to mitochondrial dysfunction is a critical factor for many diseases, such as cancer, neurodegenerative and lifestyle-related diseases. Scientists in Japan recently found that astaxanthin decreased induced oxidative stress and protected cultured cells from free radicals. Moreover, astaxanthin helped maintain a higher mitochondria membrane potential and stimulated respiration, allowing for the production of increased levels of cellular energy. The researchers then investigated how astaxanthin stimulated and interacted with mitochondria when it is stressed. They found that astaxanthin improved the ability of the mitochondria to remain in a reduced state and maintain its functional integrity under oxidative challenge. (Journal of Nutrition and Biochemistry, May)
Astaxanthin is able to cross the blood-brain barrier to protect neurons
Astaxanthin's powerful antioxidant activity has been demonstrated in studies dating back to the mid 1990's. Many of these studies have shown the potential of astaxanthin to target important health conditions and accelerated aging of internal organs and tissues. Other studies have shown enhanced immune response and decreased DNA damage in humans following astaxanthin administration. Astaxanthin is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier in mammals, a unique and important property for an antioxidant. This characteristic allows astaxanthin to extend its superior antioxidant activity to the central nervous system, which is highly susceptible to damage by free radicals.
Based on the data that showed astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier, scientists in Japan investigated the neuroprotective effect of astaxanthin by using an oxidative stress-induced neuronal cell damage system. Treatment with various neurotoxins led to significant decreases in dopamine cells, whereas a significant protection was shown when the cells were pretreated with astaxanthin. Furthermore, astaxanthin treatment significantly inhibited intracellular free radical generation. Based on these results, the scientists strongly suggested that treatment with astaxanthin may be effective for oxidative stress-associated neurodegeneration. They cited it as a potential candidate for a natural brain food. (Forum Nutrition, 2009)
In a recent study researchers decided that carotenoids such as astaxanthin should be referred to as "antiradicals" rather than as free radical scavengers because they perform a double action against free radicals, either donating or accepting electrons. These researchers determined the antiradical capacity of various carotenoids and found that vitamin E is the most effective antiradical in terms of its electron donor capacity, while the most effective antiradical in terms of its electron acceptor capacity is astaxanthin. (Journal of Physical Chemistry, September 25, 2008)
Astaxanthin keeps cataracts away
Recent research from Taipei Medical University in Taiwan found that astaxanthan protected against induced cataracts in rats treated with selenite, a commonly encountered highly toxic form of selenium. The scientists backed up their finding by in vitro assay which supported their conclusion that astaxanthan was protective against cataracts which are usually caused by environmental insult. (Chemical Research in Toxicology, February)
Astaxanthin protects against and treats ulcers
Scientists in India sought to investigate astaxanthan's ability to prevent ulcers. Astaxanthin fractions were orally administered to rats at 100, 250 and 500 microg/kg prior to ulcer induction. They found that astaxanthin at 500 microg/kg could protect gastric mucin at rates up to 67%. Pre-treatment with astaxanthin esters resulted in significant increase in the body's own antioxidants (catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase). Histopathological examination substantiated the protective effect of astaxanthin in the pre-treated rats. The researchers concluded that astaxanthin offers gastro-protective effects by regulating gastric mucosal injury and the secretion of acid by gastric cells during ulcer disease. (European Journal of Pharmacology, August, 2008)
Astaxanthin combined with Flavangenol is powerful against diabetes complications
Flavangenol is an extract from French maritime pine bark that has become popular in Japan for its antioxidant potential and its ability to increase blood circulation. Scientists at Japan Women's University studied the effect of astaxanthin and Flavangenol, as well as a combination of both, in countering oxidative stress in rats with induced diabetes. There were four groups studied: control, astaxanthin, Flavangenol, and combined astaxanthin and Flavangenol (mix). After 12 weeks of feeding, the results showed that the lipid peroxide levels of plasma, lens, and plasma triglyceride levels in the mix group were reduced by 44%, 20%, and 20% respectively when compared with the control. In the mix group, lipid peroxidation was reduced by 70% in the liver, and 20% in the kidney compared with the control. Urinary damage in the mix group was 36% lower than in the control. The level of vitamin E concentrations in the plasma, liver, and kidney in the astaxanthin and mix groups were higher by 3 to 9 times than in the control. The degree of cataract formation was lower than in the control group. These findings indicate the astaxanthin/Flavangenol combination was highly effective at preventing the progression of diabetic complications. (International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, July-September, 2008)
New research highlights astaxanthin's incredible cancer fighting properties
The ability of astaxanthin to inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells was studied at Catholic University School of Medicine in Rome, Italy. Astaxanthin inhibited cell growth in a dose and time dependent manner by arresting cell cycle progression and by promoting the death of cancerous cells. Astaxanthin resulted in a 220% increase in the expression of the well known anti-cancer gene p 53, and a 160% and 250% increase respectively in the anti-cancer genes p21 and p27. Astaxanthin strongly upregulated apoptosis through gene modification, and increased phosphoylation of the p38, JNK, and ERK1/2 genes by 160%, 242%, and 280% respectively. Growth inhibitory effects of astaxanthin were also observed in HT-29, LS-174, WiDr, and Sw-480 cells. These results document axtaxanthin as highly effective against colon cancer. (Cancer Letter, May 5)
Researchers in Japan examined the protective effects of axtaxanthin on neuroblastoma cells. Pretreatment of the cells with astaxanthin preserved cellular integrity in a dose dependent manner, and inhibited mitochondrial dysfunctions, including lowered membrane potential, and gene repair. There was a marked abolishment of free radical generation resulting in the blocking of activation of pro-cancer gene p38. They concluded that the mechanism through which astaxanthan protects neuroblastoma cells is its potent antioxidant activity. (Journal of Neurochemistry, December, 2008)
Several other studies have shown the effectiveness of astaxanthin as a preventative and treatment against cancer. In 1994, astaxanthin protected mice from urinary bladder cancer. In 1995, the same research group showed that astaxanthin prevents oral cancer in rats, and inhibits cancer in a manner more pronounced than that of beta carotene. A further study by this group explored the effect of astaxanthin on colon cancer in male rats. They found a significant decrease in the incidence of colon cancer in the animals that were given astaxanthan.
More research has documented the anti-tumor activity of astaxanthin and its mode of action, as well as the contribution of its antioxidant properties to protect against cancer metastasis. Astaxanthin was also shown to inhibit aflatoxin B1 induced DNA damage. Aflatoxins are deadly products of mold that can cause liver damage and cancer. They are widespread in nature and found on peanuts, wheat, corn, beans and rice. (Cancer Letter, March, 1997)
Breast cancer was the subject of researchers in China looking into the effects carotenoids have on proliferation, cell cycle, apoptosis and the expression of the cancer promoting bcl-2 gene. They found that beta-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin all inhibited cell proliferation. The carotenoids also down regulated bcl-2 gene expression. (Zhonghua Yu FangYi Xue Za Zhi, July, 2002)
Astaxanthin keeps inflammation away
Oxidative stress and inflammation are implicated in several different aspects of cardiovascular disease. Free radicals activate transcriptional messengers that contribute to endothelial dysfunction, initiation and progression of atherosclerosis, irreversible damage following stoke, and heart arrhythmia. Because of their ability to extinguish free radicals, researchers at the University of Hawaii, characterized the mechanism by which the carotenoid group works and reviewed preclinical data. They found that data from multiple species support the antioxidant/anti-inflammation properties of axtaxanthin, establishing it as an appropriate candidate for development as a therapeutic agent for cardiovascular oxidative stress and inflammation. (American Journal of Cardiology, May 22, 2008)
Astaxanthin boosts immune function
Earlier research has documented that astaxanthin significantly influences immune function. Several tests carried out at the University of Minnesota found it enhances antibody production in mouse spleen cells by exerting actions on T-cells, especially T-helper cells. It was able to restore decreased humoral immune responses in old mice, through immuno-modulating properties not related to provitamin A activity. Studies on human blood cells have demonstrated that astaxanthan enhances immunoglobulin production in response to T-cell dependent stimuli. The Minnesota group has also conducted studies on the mechanisms by which astaxanthan performs its actions. Astaxanthin has also shown in research to be effective against chronic viral and autoimmune diseases.
Patents are pending for the miracles of astaxanthin
One of the primary producers of astaxanthin from microalgae lists patents applied for and pending on its website. Probably the most interest of these at the moment is use of astaxanthin for treatment of chronic viral and intracellular bacterial infection. Adding astaxanthin to milk, thereby creating an immunoglobulin-rich mixture that would rival colostrum, is also a timely development. Both these pending patents imply that astaxanthin would make an effective supplement to have on hand during the coming fall and winter flu season.
Treatment of the central nervous system, eye damage, poor digestion, and circadian rhythm dysfunction are also areas of interest. Astaxanthin is cited in patents pending for helicobacter infection, improvement of muscle function and disorders, hypertension, stress, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Several pending patents involve its use with animals, including treatment for mastitis, increased production and breeding of mammals and poultry, and for enhancement of growth in farmed fish.
Patents geared toward the health food industry include astaxanthin-containing food or drink, supplements containing chitosan oligosaccharide and asthaxanthin, and medicinal preparations for relieving eye controlling function error and other eye diseases.
Beauty products featuring astaxanthin are popping up
Many topical products featuring astaxanthin are also in the works. The driving engine for these is the desire of consumers to slow or stop the aging process, and their fondness for natural products and belief that traditional lotions and creams provide very limited benefits.
Products are appearing that feature astaxanthin for its benefits to skin through topical application. However, studies have shown that oral supplementation works best.
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About the authorBarbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.
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