Antioxidants have been front and center in the minds of health-conscious people everywhere for two decades. Vitamins C and E have commanded most of the attention, but in recent years polyphenols and carotenoids like beta-carotene have garnered a growing measure of respect. Well, there’s a new sheriff in town: astaxanthin.
What is astaxanthin, exactly?
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid, like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, yet with important differences. They naturally occur in a variety of brightly colored veggies, whereas astaxanthin is found primarily in microalgae, krill, salmon, and other marine organisms.
Unless you are eating large servings of wild Pacific salmon daily or are a baleen whale — you are not receiving the optimum amount of this powerful nutrient.
Carotenoids are remarkable antioxidants, protecting cell membranes and DNA from the damaging effects of free radicals. As a result, they are thought to slow aging and reduce the incidence of several chronic diseases, notably cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Astaxanthin differs in one important respect from other antioxidants: it is much more powerful.
Is it really that much better?
In a word, yes:
- Astaxanthin is lipid-soluble, so the body stores it in cell membranes. Other antioxidants are mostly water-soluble and must be replenished very frequently.
- In free radical scavenging, astaxanthin is 65 times more powerful than vitamin C and over 50 times more than beta-carotene.
- Astaxanthin excels in singlet oxygen quenching, protecting the DNA of skin cells from damaging UVB radiation. Consequently, astaxanthin may reduce the risk of skin cancer, at the same time promoting the health of those cells. It’s nature’s sunscreen!
- Astaxanthin easily crosses the blood-retina barrier, and may offer protection against macular degeneration.
- Astaxanthin also crosses the blood-brain barrier, perhaps reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Astaxanthin possesses powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
So astaxanthin is an anti-inflammatory agent, too?
Yes, because astaxanthin is a potent anti-inflammatory supplement, it may help arthritis sufferers, but its usefulness is much broader. Though infections and injuries elicit an acute, and useful, inflammatory response, dietary and lifestyle choices can keep those inflammatory fires burning long-term, perhaps resulting in one of these common complaints:
- Chronic fatigue
- Elevated blood sugar or hypertension
- Asthma or allergies
- Auto--immune disorders
All of these require medical attention, but also a comprehensive plan to diminish inflammation: proper diet, moderate daily exercise, healthy amounts of sleep, and stress management strategies. Increasingly, researchers are finding that certain natural substances can aid efforts to reduce chronic inflammation, and astaxanthin is one of your best choices.
So, what is a safe and effective daily dose?
First, astaxanthin appears to be very safe even at high doses, though long-term use at doses greater than 12 mg per day may cause some people to develop a healthy pink glow caused by accumulated astaxanthin in skin cells. However, you may not need that much each day. Dr. Rudi Moerck, an authority on astaxanthin, suggests that for most people, 4 mg per day is all that is required to derive significant benefits. You will notice benefits after about 6-8 weeks of steady supplementation. Some users even claim it has enhanced their endurance during workouts.
Never use astaxanthin as a substitute for regular servings of salmon. However, astaxanthin deserves your careful consideration as one component of an integrated approach to full vitality and vibrant health.