Astaxanthin

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Astaxanthin is a keto-carotenoid that belongs to the class of chemical compounds called asterpenes. It is built from 5 carbon precursors, which include dimethylallyl diphosphate (DMAPP), and isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP). Astaxanthin can be classified as a xanthophyll. The term is derived from a word that means “yellow leaves” as the yellow plant leaf pigments were the first ones to be recognized of the carotenoids of xanthophyll family. But, currently, this term is used to describe the carotenoid compounds having hydroxyl (-OH), oxygen-containing moieties, or ketones (C=O) like canthaxanthin and zeaxanthin.

Astaxanthin is a metabolite of canthaxanthin and zeaxanthin and contains the functional groups of ketones and hydroxyl (1). Like most other carotenoids, Astaxanthin is a lipid-soluble, colorful pigment. It obtains its color from the extended chain of conjugated double bonds that lie at the center of this chemical compound. This chain of double bonds also provides a strong antioxidant function to Astaxanthin as it leads to a region of decentralized electrons that can be donated to minimize the action of a reactive oxidizing molecule.

Astaxanthin aids in the treatment and management of various diseases and benefits the health, from enhancing the skin health to protecting your heart against damage.

Astaxanthin Source

Astaxanthin is predominantly of marine origin and possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties that have been demonstrated in several experimental and human studies. It can be found in yeast, microalgae, salmon, krill, trout, shrimp, crustaceans, crayfish, and the feathers of birds. It is responsible for the red color of cooked shellfish, and salmon meat. Unlike several carotenes, Astaxanthin is not converted to retinol, a form of vitamin A, in the human body, so Astaxanthin supplement does not result in vitamin A toxicity. The Pacific salmon gets its beautiful pink color from astaxanthin.

Facts About Astaxanthin

  • Astaxanthin is a dark red-orange carotenoid pigment, which is responsible for giving color to the flesh of the fish and crustacean shells.
  • By consuming 250 grams of salmon daily, one can obtain approximately 1.25 milligrams of astaxanthin per day. Studies have reported that astaxanthin supplement of 3.6 milligrams/day is beneficial for human health. To achieve this dosage of astaxanthin naturally from diet, one needs to consume 165 grams of wild salmon per day.
  • Research based studies recommend that astaxanthin should be administered with omega-3 rich seed oils, such as fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds, almonds and walnuts.
  • Astaxanthin is certified safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and studies have not found any side-effects of this carotenoid on human health till now.
  • Astaxanthin supplement is better absorbed when taken with a meal.
  • Among all the carotenoids available in the nature, astaxanthin is the most powerful source of antioxidants.
  • The richest natural source of astaxanthin is the marine algae ‘Haematococcus pluvialis’. The commercial astaxanthin is extracted through chemical synthesis from Haematoccous pluvialis.
  • Astaxanthin does not have pro-vitamin A activity, in other words, it does not get converted to vitamin A in the body.
  • It cannot be synthesized by the humans; hence, it is important to get your dose of astaxanthin from diet and supplements.
  • Its bioavailability increases in the presence of fat or when it is taken with a meal. Dietary oils enhance the absorption of this carotenoid, while a low-fat diet reduces its absorption.
  • Recommended dose for astaxanthin is 2 to 4 milligrams/day in adults.

Astaxanthin Health Benefits

The different disorders that can be treated using Astaxanthin are discussed beneath.

Astaxanthin Benefits

Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant

Astaxanthin is known to possess an unusual antioxidant activity that can help in the treatment and prevention of several diseases. Antioxidants are molecules that protect the body’s cells and tissues from the damage caused by free radicals that are released in the body during various processes.

A free radical is an uncharged molecule, which is short-lived, but highly reactive and has an unpaired valence electron. Due to their unstable nature, they have a tendency to react quickly with other compounds with an attempt to capture the electron needed to gain the stability. The free radicals attack the stable molecules to “steal” its electron as a result of which the healthy molecule loses an electron and thus, turns into a free radical. It results in a chain reaction, which once started, can have a cascading effect on several organs in the body and cause disruption of the healthy cells.

Astaxanthin can help in protecting these cells from the free radical activity by directly attacking and destroying them. Since the free radicals are produced in the body continuously, a strong antioxidant like Astaxanthin is needed to work towards their destruction before they can cause any damage to the healthy tissues.

The health benefits of Astaxanthin owing to its antioxidant property include protection of the cardiovascular system, improved immune system, enhanced bioactivity against Helicobacter pylori, and the prevention of cataract (2).

This antioxidant action of Astaxanthin also supports its role as an anti-aging supplement and protects the vital organs and skin from the ravages of inflammation, and oxidant stress. The antioxidant activity also prevents damage to the mitochondria in the cells of the liver, brain, heart, kidneys and the intestines thus preventing damage that can lead to any acute or chronic disorder such as hepatitis, degenerative heart diseases, renal failure, and colitis.

Astaxanthin in skin care

Astaxanthin can produce a beneficial effect on the skin through a variety of mechanisms. Two clinical studies were performed to know the effect of Astaxanthin on the skin. The first study had an open-label, non-controlled format and involved 30 female subjects. Significant improvement in their skin tone was observed when they were administered 6 mg of Astaxanthin orally per day with 2 ml of the same for topical application for 8 weeks.

It was found that a regular use of Astaxanthin could help in reducing the signs of aging and delay their occurrence. The improvement was noticed in the wrinkles, crow’s feet, age spot size, elasticity, skin texture, and moisture content in the subjects at the end of 8 weeks (3).

This action of Astaxanthin can be attributed to its ability to protect the skin from UV rays in sunlight. The skin cells, when exposed to ultraviolet radiation, can produce the bursts of free radicals, which can later trigger an aging effect resulting in wrinkles, fine lines, and sagging of the skin. It can also promote the development of cancer. When Astaxanthin is applied to the skin, it protects it from the destructive effects of the ultraviolet radiation and thus, delays the skin aging.

This suggested that Astaxanthin could improve the health of the skin in all the layers including corneocyte layer, basal layer, epidermis, and dermis when used in a combination of oral supplementation and local application.

The second study had a double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled format and involved 36 healthy male participants. An improvement in the wrinkles, skin elasticity and the transepidermal water loss (TEWL) was observed in them at the end of 6 weeks of treatment with 6 mg of Astaxanthin per day. The moisture content of the skin and the level of sebum oil at the cheek zone showed a visible improvement. These results suggested that Astaxanthin could be used to improve the skin conditions in women as well as men (3).

Sunscreen

Researchers have explored the use of Astaxanthin for the treatment of sunburns. It can be used as a topical sunscreen to prevent sun tanning and sunburns. It possesses strong ultraviolet light-absorbing properties, which ensure that the damage to the skin due to the UV radiation in sunrays is minimized. It also produces an anti-inflammatory effect, which reduces redness and irritation of the skin caused by sunburns.

Cardiovascular diseases

It is accepted that inflammation plays a major role in the pathophysiology of several acute and chronic diseases including atherosclerotic cardiovascular disorders. The xanthophyll dietary supplement, Astaxanthin, possesses a demonstrable potential as an anti-inflammatory therapeutic agent and prevents the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Several clinical studies conducted to assess the safety, and clinical aspects. The bioavailability of Astaxanthin relevant to the inflammation of the cardiovascular system has shown encouraging results. Studies have shown a marked reduction in the inflammation in the heart and the other tissues of the circulatory system along with an improved blood rheology. It showed favorable results in the patients with a history of myocardial ischemia. An improved reperfusion of the heart and blood vessels with a protective effect on these organs was observed after the administration of Astaxanthin orally and intravenously (4).

These studies point to the efficacy of Astaxanthin in the management of myocardial infarction.

It can be used by the patients who have suffered a heart attack to improve their chances of recovery and reduce the risk of recurrence. Additionally, Astaxanthin also produces an antioxidant action on the heart, which further protects it from the free radical damage and enhances its functions.

The most common candidates that cause onset of heart diseases are oxidative stress and inflammation. The best therapeutic strategy to protect the heart against damage is to get these two factors under control.

Astaxanthin benefits to act as a scavenger of free radicals and a quencher of reactive oxygen species. It breaks down the chain reaction of free radicals and inhibits oxidative stress. It provides antioxidant protection to the heart and prevents the heart from attack by the free radicals.

Research based studies have further found that when it comes to antioxidant protection, astaxanthin is more powerful than beta-carotene, carotenoid found in red-orange fruits and vegetables.

A series of experiments have found that, astaxanthin supports heart health by lowering high blood pressure. It helps the arteries to widen and ensures smooth blood flow throughout the body, thus it reduces pressure on the heart.

It further reduces clot formation and clogging of the arteries, which helps the blood to flow smoothly. Astaxanthin, further suppresses the action of pro-inflammatory compounds and hence, decreases overall inflammation. (5)

Adult hippocampal neurogenesis

A recent study has found that the use of Astaxanthin can help in improving the adult hippocampal neurogenesis and thereby, enhance the spatial memory in the experimental mice. Neurogenesis is the process by which new neurons are generated from the progenitor cells and stem cells. This process plays a major role in neural development and is largely active during the pre-natal development. In humans, the loss of neurons is thought to be an irreversible process as the dying neurons cannot be replaced. The inability of the nervous system to regenerate these cells is, hence, an important cause of several neurological diseases and impairment leading to memory loss, and cognitive decline. Hence, it is important to prevent the loss of neurons from occurring.

The loss of neurons is often triggered due to the damaging free radical activity on the nerve cells and brain. A study has shown that this loss of neurons can be prevented by using Astaxanthin. It possesses neuroprotective properties, which provide potential benefits for the brain and protect it from any form of damage. It also acts as a strong antioxidant and destroys the free radicals that can otherwise damage the neurons. Thus, the carotenoid Astaxanthin can help prevent the loss of neurons and prevent the occurrence of degenerative diseases.

It can also slow down the progress of these diseases. It works by improving the hippocampus-dependent cognitive functions of the brain and enhancing the cell proliferation.  It was also found to delay the age-related cognitive decline and improve spatial memory (6).

Enhanced immune response

A study has concluded that Astaxanthin can modulate the immune response and boost its function thus protecting the body against several autoimmune disorders and even cancer. It inhibits the cancer cell growth by stimulating the immune cells to initiate their destruction. It also reduces the bacterial load by boosting the response of the immune system against the organisms. It protects the gastric mucosa from inflammation with its anti-inflammatory action and prevents further damage to it with its immune-modulating property. It has been found to offer protection against the UVA-induced oxidative stress in rodents and in vitro models.

During a randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind study, the participants with an average age of 21.5 years were administered 0, 2, or 8 mg of Astaxanthin per day for 8 weeks. The immune response of the participants was assessed at the end of fourth and eighth week and a tuberculin test was performed at the end of eighth week.

The results showed a reduced DNA damage biomarker after 4 weeks of treatment with Astaxanthin. It was also found that Astaxanthin stimulated the mitogen-induced lymphoproliferation, and increased the cytotoxic activity of the killer cells. It also increased the subpopulations of T and B cells. Subjects that were fed 2 mg of Astaxanthin had a higher tuberculin response compared to the placebo group. The study concluded that Astaxanthin could significantly enhance the immune response in young females (7).

Immunological disorders

The immune system protects the body from infections and the emerging cancer cells. However, an overactive immune system can trigger an abnormal response to certain substances that leads to allergic diseases like asthma as well as autoimmune conditions. Studies have demonstrated that Astaxanthin can help balance the functions of the immune system by stimulating its cancer and infection fighting components while also suppressing the overactive immune response, which can create inflammation and damage. It prevents the stimulation of the immune system in response to exposure to dust, environmental toxins, and other allergens like detergents, cosmetics, and jewelry. It also prevents the immune system from attacking the body’s own cells thus inhibiting the development of autoimmune diseases.

Astaxanthin works by increasing the activity and number of lymphocytes that are responsible for creating the immune response to foreign bodies or infective organisms.

It has been found to be useful in the treatment of allergic diseases like asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis as well as autoimmune diseases like acute anterior uveitis and systemic lupus erythematosus.

Anti-Cancer Effects

The multiple mechanisms of anti-cancer action exerted by Astaxanthin were studied in a research. It has been shown to possess a preclinical anti-tumor efficacy in both vivo and vitro models. Research has deciphered that Astaxanthin exerts an anti-proliferative, and anti-invasion influence on the different pathways and molecules in the body including activator of transcription 3 (STAT3), signal transducer, and nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of the activated B cells. It was also found to have a favorable effect on the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (8).

These actions prove the potential anti-cancer activity of Astaxanthin that can help in the treatment and prevention of cancer of breasts, prostate, lung, colon, rectum, and the liver.

Astaxanthin also shows great promise as a chemotherapeutic agent for the cancer treatment. It stimulates apoptosis, a process of programmed cell death that results in the destruction of abnormal cancer cells. While the commonly used chemotherapy drugs can have a negative effect on the normal cells causing serious side effects, Astaxanthin offers an advantage over them with its protective action on the healthy cells. It causes no damage to the normal cells and destroys the cancer cells selectively.

Studies have found anti-cancer effects exerted by astaxanthin, which could possibly be helpful in the treatment and management of cancer. Evidence suggests that astaxanthin has anti-cancer efficacy in various types of cancers, including leukemia, bladder cancer, colon cancer, oral cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma.

These effects of astaxanthin are attributed to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It suppresses the formation of tumor and prevents the growth and multiplication of cancer cells. It further protects against the spread of cancer cells to different parts of the body.

Astaxanthin causes death of cancer cells, which further reduces tumor volume, diminishes the burden of tumor and increases life expectancy. Oxidative stress contributes to tumor progression, which is a hallmark of cancer. Reactive oxygen species cause cancer initiation and progression. Being the most powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin quenches free radicals and inhibits oxidative stress. A reduction in the level of oxidative stress is a great strategy to manage and treat cancer. (9)

Skin cancer

The anticancer benefits of Astaxanthin have been particularly extended to the skin. It has been found to reduce the risk of melanoma. Though Astaxanthin is widely distributed throughout the body, it has a tendency to accumulate in the skin, which explains its powerful protective effect on the skin and its efficacy in preventing melanoma. It also has the ability to penetrate through all the skin layers, unlike most topical sunscreens that can reach and protect only the outermost layers.

It works by protecting the skin against the free radical damage by producing an antioxidant action. It also rejuvenates the skin and stimulates the production of new healthy cells. It provides potent protection from ultraviolet radiation, which is the most common environmental risk factor for melanoma.

It also promotes an early detection and destruction of the malignant cells in the body by boosting the immune surveillance. It inhibits cell replication in the tumor mass in their growth phase by blocking the cancer cell reproductive cycle. It prevents cancer from spreading by decreasing the production of tissue-melting proteins within the tumor mass.

Hence, the use of Astaxanthin along with the conventional modes of cancer treatment is recommended to improve the chances of recovery of the patients with melanoma.

Broad Spectrum Antibiotic

The growing cases of microbial resistance and the slow-paced invention of new antibiotics have been a cause of concern for the medical fraternity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage infections as the patients fail to respond to antibiotics due to their inadvertent use that has resulted in the development of resistance against them. Hence, researchers have moved to the natural sources to find antibiotics. There is a big focus on Astaxanthin found in microalgae to understand its antibiotic action.

It is found that almost all cells in the body, including those of the eyes, brain, kidney, and the heart, can benefit from the use of Astaxanthin. Recent laboratory studies have shown that Astaxanthin can increase the lifespan of patients by improving body’s defense against infective organisms. Astaxanthin has been found to be useful in the treatment of a range of bacterial infections like bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia, cellulitis, osteomyelitis, and dermatitis.

Diabetes

Diabetes and obesity are the closely intertwined disorders that cause long-term negative consequences. Diabetes, which is a major component of metabolic syndrome, can be managed effectively with the help of Astaxanthin. It works by managing the most common precursor of diabetes, which is obesity, and by reducing oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and tissue damage from lipid glycation and protein.

Laboratory studies reveal that supplementing with Astaxanthin can help in maintaining lower blood glucose levels along with improved insulin sensitivity. It also has the ability to boost the secretion of insulin in the pancreas. Hence, it is considered an effective remedy for managing type- 1 and type-2 diabetes.

Delays Onset of Diabetic Complications

Individuals having high blood glucose levels for a prolonged period of time are at a greater risk of developing diabetic complications. Astaxanthin helps with keeping the blood glucose levels under control by protecting the beta-cells, which are the producers of insulin against free radical attack.

Free radicals attack the pancreas and destruct the beta-cells. This results in a high blood glucose level, which damages the kidneys, nerves, heart and the eyes. Astaxanthin neutralizes the free radicals and prevents death of pancreatic beta-cells.

Astaxanthin supplements regulate the activity of GLUT-4, a transporter of glucose, which transfers glucose into the cells and muscles rather than keeping it in the blood. It reduces insulin resistance and improves insulin sensitivity, which further promotes the uptake of glucose by the muscles and cells. Hence, glucose is used as a source of energy for the body and less of it remains in the blood. (10)

Astaxanthin For A Beautiful Skin

Astaxanthin benefits to promote a healthy skin. The anti-aging effects of this carotenoid are attributed to the presence of antioxidants in it. Astaxanthin fights signs of skin aging like, wrinkles, reduced elasticity, dark spots and fine lines and further prevents deterioration of the skin.

Overproduction of pro-inflammatory compounds cause signs of premature skin aging. Astaxanthin supplements inhibit inflammation-mediated skin deterioration and prevents accumulation of age-related oxidative stress.

It further restores skin moisture, which is otherwise lost due to free radical attack and premature skin aging.

An interesting study found that women who took astaxanthin supplements had improvements in their skin elasticity and skin moisture content as compared to those who did not take these supplements. It increases the production of collagen in the skin, a protein responsible for smoothing wrinkles and fine lines. (11)

Lowers High Blood Pressure

It is very well-known that high blood pressure puts an individual at an increased risk of having heart attack and stroke. Astaxanthin supplements help in reducing systolic as well as diastolic blood pressure in hypertensive individuals. It further delays the incidence of stroke in stroke-prone individuals.

Astaxanthin induces vasodilation, which helps in smooth blood flow throughout the body without exerting any pressure on the inner walls of the arteries. It further enhances the action of nitric oxide, a natural compound that helps in lowering high blood pressure by relaxing and opening the blood vessels. (12)

Also Read: Ayurvedic Treatment for High Blood Pressure

Improves Exercise Performance

Studies have observed that astaxanthin improves exercise performance, metabolism and recovery, as a result of its antioxidant activity. It prevents skeletal and muscle damage by enhancing the use of fatty acids in the body, which further helps in endurance. It increases the activity of enzymes present in the muscles, that help convert fat to energy.

It provides an ergogenic benefit by delaying the onset of fatigue during endurance performance. Oxidative stress is implicated in the onset of fatigue and muscle pain. Exercise and sports produce more free radicals as a result of elevated metabolism and stress. Astaxanthin, being a concentrated source of antioxidants scavenges free radicals and reduces oxidative stress. It decreases fatigue and stress and improves overall exercise performance. (13, 14)

Improves Brain Health

Increased inflammation and elevated oxidative stress within the brain can contribute to neurodegeneration. A high generation of free radicals and weakening of the antioxidant defense system contributes to a state of oxidative stress in the brain, which can affect memory, cognition, ability to concentrate and to learn and remember things.

In this regard, astaxanthin is an interesting compound because it protects the brain health by counteracting the negative effects of oxidative stress. It acts as a protective shield and protects the brain cells against damage and death caused by free radical attack.

Astaxanthin protects the neuronal integrity by suppressing the production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the brains of older individuals. It further promotes neurogenesis, a process in which, nerve cells are generated in the brain, which enhances memory and improves overall quality of life.

Thus, astaxanthin supplements can be beneficial for older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. (15)

Treats Male Infertility

Astaxanthin supplements are used for the sperm quality improvement treatment. Studies have found that astaxanthin improves sperm parameters, like sperm count and motility. Enhanced production of reactive oxygen species in the sperms causes infertility in men.

Known for its antioxidant activity, astaxanthin benefits to scavenge reactive oxygen species and blocks their negative action on the overall health. In seminal fluid, it reduces the generation of reactive oxygen species and increases sperm concentration and ameliorates fertilizing power. (16)

Astaxanthin Dosage

The general dosage of Astaxanthin Supplement is as follows.
Children2 to 4 mg *
Adults4-8 mg *
Maximum Possible Dosage20 to 50 mg Per Day **
* Once a day with water or juice
** Maximum tolerable dosage & yet not well known.
Best Time to Take: Along with Meal

However, ideal dose of astaxanthin supplement is not well established. The generally dosage recommended above in the table is most suitable and tolerable for most of individuals.

Astaxanthin-based products are available in the market in the form of Capsule, Tablet, Cream, Powder, Biomass, Energy drinks, Oil, Extract, or Soft gel. It is also available in combination with other multivitamins, carotenoids and herbal extracts.

The bioavailability of astaxanthin is higher from its supplements as compared to foods containing it. (17, 18)

Astaxanthin Side Effects

(What are the side effects of Astaxanthin?)

Astaxanthin is found to be safe when taken orally as a supplement or used for local application. Studies have reported no adverse effects on human health, when 6 milligrams of astaxanthin was administered per day. It has been used in a dose of 4 to 40 mg per day for up to 12 weeks without the occurrence of any adverse reaction. However, not much is known about the effect of Astaxanthin on the fetus and infants when used by the pregnant and breastfeeding women. Hence, women should avoid using Astaxanthin during these periods.

Precautions

Let’s investigate the details as to who needs to be careful about astaxanthin intake:

Pregnant Women and Breastfeeding Mothers

Pregnancy and lactation are sensitive stages, where a woman needs to be extremely careful about her diet and nutrition. There are no studies available that mention about the use and safety of astaxanthin during pregnancy and lactation. Hence, it is better to avoid its intake during these phases and stay on the safer side. If one still wants to use it, ask your doctor or healthcare professional before starting it.

Hypotension

Astaxanthin is an excellent blood pressure lowering agent, however this makes it beneficial only for individuals who have hypertension. People who already have low blood pressure should avoid taking astaxanthin, because this may further lead to drop in the blood pressure levels. If you are hypotensive, always seek your doctor’s advice before starting any new supplement. One should remember that, low blood pressure is as risky and dangerous as high blood pressure. (19)

Allergic Reactions

Hypersensitivity to astaxanthin or astaxanthin rich Haematococcus Pluvialis algae may cause adverse reactions. Such individuals should strictly avoid intake of foods containing astaxanthin and astaxanthin supplements. Allergy can affect the gut, skin and the respiratory system. In severe cases it may lead to anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening medical emergency, where the patient should be immediately rushed to the hospital. (20)

Hypoglycemia

There are greater chances that diabetic individuals who are on oral hypoglycemic drugs as well as astaxanthin may slip into hypoglycemia. Ask your doctor or diabetologist before starting with astaxanthin supplements because he will then adjust the dosage of your other drugs used to control blood glucose levels accordingly. Do not start with the supplements without asking your doctor. (21)

Bleeding Disorders

Astaxanthin reduces blood coagulation, which may be beneficial for individuals who are at a greater risk of heart diseases, but it may be dangerous for individuals with bleeding disorders or wounds. It may delay wound healing and increase bleeding risks. (22, 23)

Note

Astaxanthin is beneficial when taken after consulting the doctor. Eating foods containing astaxanthin is safe, however when it comes to supplements, one must seek medical advice from his/ her healthcare professional.

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