[By Claudia Lee]
Touted as nature’s strongest antioxidant, Astaxanthin is reportedly one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients in the world. Recently featured on Dr Oz’s show (http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/surprising-supplement-you-need ), the benefits of astaxanthin are wide ranging, from improving tendon, joint and muscle pain, arthritis and tennis elbow to enhancing your skin.
For this reason, many endurance athletes have embraced this hot new antioxidant as an essential part of their training regimen while cosmetic companies are also tripping over themselves to add antioxidant powerhouse to their skincare creams.
What is astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin, also termed Vitamin X is a subcategory of the carotenoid family. Carotenoids are phytochemicals (plant chemicals) produced by plants (and some animals, too) as part of their survival mechanisms. Plants use carotenoids for their natural antioxidant properties to protect themselves from the harsh rays of the sun.
Therefore, Sea animals with a red or pinkish color, such as salmon, lobster, shrimp and crab get their vibrant colour from an astaxanthin-rich diet. Flamingos get their bright pink color from a similar diet, also rich in astaxanthin.
The Benefits of Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin has been measured to be many times more potent than any of these well-known antioxidants: vitamin E or vitamin C, beta-carotene, lutein or pycnogenol. Why is this so? A combination of factors unique to astaxanthin helps explain this. Firstly, astaxanthin can reach into every part of the cell, as we as cross the blood-brain barrier to protect our brain and nervous system. It can also cross the blood-retinal barrier and bring benefits to our eyes.
Some of the major benefits of Astaxanthin are listed here:
- Reduces inflammation such as asthma or arthritis or joint pain
A health survey of 247 astaxanthin users taken by the Nutrex-Hawaii company showed that over 80% of those reporting back pain and symptoms from osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis reported an improvement from supplementing with astaxanthin.
- Improves endurance and stamina in athletes
Astaxanthin’s ability to increase your endurance is due to its beneficial effect on the mitochondria, the part of your cells that generates up to 95 percent of your energy. Many of your mitochondrial cells are found in your muscle tissue; that’s where you have the greatest need for them. When your mitochondria can’t produce enough energy to meet your body’s demands, your strength and endurance suffer.
This energy-producing activity of your mitochondria also has a downside — it generates highly reactive free radicals that damage your cell membranes. The more strenuous your activity, the more free radicals you produce. This cellular damage results in excessive inflammation which results in tired and sore muscles.
When you’re running a marathon, your body is consuming oxygen at an accelerated rate, and generating 12 times as many free radicals as when you are resting. Numerous studies, with humans as well as animals, have shown that astaxanthin’s powerful ability to quench these free radicals is what’s responsible for its ability to give you more strength and endurance.
Astaxanthin is also effective in reducing lactic acid buildup during intense exercise. Lactic acid is what produces the “burn” you feel when you’re exerting your muscles to their maximum, and is a limiting factor in terms of stamina.
- Improving skin tone & texture
One of the most frequently-reported benefits of astaxanthin is an improvement in skin quality. There is evidence that astaxanthin not only prevents UV sun damage from occurring, but may actually help to reverse external signs of aging from the inside out. This has been clearly demonstrated in human clinical trials.
Many users of astaxanthin supplements report that they are able to spend significantly more time out in the sun without burning than they were able to before. This is due to the powerful anti-inflammatory properties that astaxanthin has. For this reason, several cosmetic manufacturers have begun to use astaxanthin as an ingredient in facial and body creams to provide UV protection and heal damaged skin.
- Improving Eye Health
Recent studies reveal that astaxanthin is the ultimate supplement for eye health and the prevention of blindness. A primary reason is because it’s one of the few antioxidants that can penetrate the retinal barrier in your eyes. Supplementing with astaxanthin has been found to have protective benefits against a number of vision-related problems, including cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and many others
- Other Benefits include boosting of the immune system, prevention of heart attacks, prevention of gum disease etc.
Where can I find Astaxanthin?
Vegetarian sources of astaxanthin are generally produced using algae from Hawaii, where a type of micro algae called Haematococcus pulvialis is easily grown. Astaxanthin is extracted from algae by exposing it to sunlight. Intense light puts stress on healthy algae plants under stress, producing the bright red astaxanthin pigment as a defense mechanism. Algae plants are then dried and the astaxanthin is extracted for use in supplements. Do check with your doctor before taking any supplements for health benefits.
For natural sources of astaxathin, go for salmon, lobster and shrimps which thrive on astaxanthin rich diets themselves. The highest natural source of astaxanthin is the Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae. The algae is available in dried and cracked form, not unlike seaweed products. Make sure, if you buy any raw algae products, that they come from a safe, reputable source and unpolluted waters.