Astaxanthin: The Most Powerful Antioxidant You Might Not Have Heard Of

While you may not have ever heard of Astaxanthin, you have certainly heard of its cousin beta-carotene, the main phytonutrient found in carrots. Like beta-carotene, Astaxanthin is one of over 600 members of the carotenoid family, which also includes other valuable phytonutrients, such as lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.

While carotenoids are found in the cells of a range of plants, algae and bacteria, the most potent source of natural Astaxanthin is the microalgae, Haematococcus pluvialis.

When the algae become stressed by changes in their environment they produce Astaxanthin in response, in order to protect themselves from damage caused by free radicals. Luckily for us, Astaxanthin works its magic inside our bodies fighting off free radicals, in much of the same way it works for algae. Only, unlike microalgae, we don’t naturally produce Astaxanthin, but rather, need to get it from our diet or dietary supplements.

Free Radicals & Oxidative Stress

So what’s a free radical, and more importantly, why should you care? Simply put, free radicals are molecules that have lost an electron. This loss causes them to become unstable, chemically reactive substances capable of causing damage to cells, proteins, and DNA. Importantly, free radicals are associated with cellular aging, as well as a plethora of human diseases, including cancer and atherosclerosis, as well as neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's.

Of course, the body has a natural line of protection in place to neutralize these rogue molecules. However, at times our endogenous antioxidant arsenal falls short, as we are constantly being bombarded by factors that contribute to free radical production, including poor diets, alcohol consumption, smoking, taking medication, environmental pollution, pesticide exposure and even exercising! Basically, if you live and breathe, you are producing free radicals and are susceptible to the oxidative damage they can generate.

Astaxanthin to the Rescue

Luckily, antioxidants like Astaxanthin can help reinforce our free radical defenses and lower our risk of oxidative stress. In fact, the unique molecular properties of Astaxanthin allow it protect our cells in three different ways. Specifically, it protects both the inside and outside of our cells, as well as the lipid bilayer, which is quite prone to oxidative damage. Additionally, unlike other antioxidants, Astaxanthin also protects us against multiple types of free radicals simultaneously, including oxygen, nitric oxide and peroxyl, whereas others are most effective against just one type.

While antioxidants are wonderful friends, when they are quenching free radicals for us, some of them (e.g., Vitamin C and E) can become exhausted and turn pro-oxidant, making them no better than the free radicals they were fighting. However, superstar antioxidant Astaxanthin is not susceptible to this, as it remains stable and in its original antioxidant form.

Astaxanthin and Inflammation

Inflammation and oxidative stress are inextricably linked, and there is evidence that  Astaxanthin also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties1. Specifically, it has been found that supplementing with Astaxanthin for just two months can decrease C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker of systemic inflammation in your body, by 20%. Importantly, lower levels of CRP have been associated with a reduction in the risk of heart disease and other chronic health issues, including arthritis, depression2 and cognitive decline. Needless to say keeping CRP at bay is very important.

What to look for in an Astaxanthin Supplement

If you are you ready to let Astaxanthin begin protecting you from the health conditions associated with increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, your next step is selecting a supplement!

Increased demand for Astaxanthin has led to the production of synthetic Astaxanthin in the laboratory. However, synthetic Astaxanthin is nowhere near as power and potent as the naturally occurring Astaxanthin that is extracted from the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis. So, you definitely want to make sure that’s where your Astaxanthin supplement is sourced from.

All carotenoids, including Astaxanthin need to be consumed with a fat in order for the body to absorb them. So, it’s best to find an Astaxanthin formula that is suspended in a high-fat oil and to take it with a meal.

Ideally, it would be best to take your Astaxanthin and Omega-3's together, as the presence of these essential fatty acids will increase the absorption of Astaxanthin in your cells. Further, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of Omega-3’s and Astaxanthin have been shown to work synergistically together, which will provide you with even greater health benefits than when they are taken alone 3 . So, it’s best to look for formulations that have these two ingredients paired together.

Less is more. Most experts recommend an average daily dose of 2-4mg of astaxanthin. Indeed, as little as 2mgs of astaxanthin has been found to significantly reduce DNA oxidation and improve immune system functioning in young healthy volunteers 4.



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