(NaturalHealth365) There has been a recent explosion of interest – and scientific research – around the natural plant pigment, or carotenoid, known as astaxanthin. This colorful compound, responsible for the pink hue in the flesh of wild-caught salmon, is a product of a tiny (but important) microalgae known as H. pluvalis, on which marine life feeds.
Scientific analysis tells us that naturally vivid food colors can signal health benefits. And astaxanthin appears to offer up an impressive array of these. In fact, a recent review credits this pigment with neuroprotective effects that may play a role in addressing cognitive impairments. To learn more about the exciting benefits of the compound known as the “king of carotenoids,” read on.
Astaxanthin, one of the most powerful antioxidant compounds on the planet, can improve cognitive function
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the loss of neurons in the brain, which is believed to occur due to oxidative stress and inflammation. Deposits of harmful beta-amyloid proteins and neurofibrillary tangles, or “tau” tangles, also play a role in this devastating disease.
Astaxanthin appears to have the potential to help ameliorate these destructive factors. In a new evidence-based review published in Pharmacological Research, the authors showcased the astounding fact that this compound has 100 to 500 times more antioxidant (ORAC, or oxygen radical absorbance capacity) power than other beneficial nutrients – including vitamin E, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. Noting that astaxanthin has been shown to reduce brain injuries caused by ischemia, or insufficient blood flow, the scientists credited it with neuroprotective effects and noted its therapeutic potential for co-treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Research has also revealed a significant association between astaxanthin and improved cognitive function in humans. In a placebo-controlled trial published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, researchers concluded that supplementary astaxanthin, in amounts of 6 mg and 12 mg a day, improved cognitive function in healthy elderly adults.
Additional studies support astaxanthin’s key role in cellular antioxidant response
The latest review is not the only research to show astaxanthin’s protective effects. In an earlier review published in 2019 in the journal Molecules, researchers reported that this carotenoid is one of the few compounds capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and increasing antioxidant capacity in the brain. In addition, astaxanthin inhibits the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, thereby acting against the inflammation that can trigger neurodegenerative diseases.
The team called these effects “auspicious” and “promising” but acknowledged the need for more efficient delivery systems for astaxanthin to make it more bioavailable. By the way, astaxanthin may also benefit autism and help lift the mood. And according to yet another review published in PharmaNutrition, astaxanthin also protects the heart and liver, eases joint pain, boosts workouts, supports immunity, and promotes fertility. (When it comes to protecting health, this nutrient is truly a “jack of all trades.”)
Support skin and eye health with astaxanthin
Astaxanthin can also protect against ultraviolet-induced skin deterioration and photo-aging, meaning: it can visibly improve the texture and appearance of the complexion. One placebo-controlled study showed that 4 mg of supplementary astaxanthin a day led to substantial improvements in the elasticity of human skin. And a combination of oral supplementation and topical application caused significant improvements in wrinkles while reducing age spots and increasing moisture levels.
Incidentally, astaxanthin not only “pleases the eye” with the striking flamingo-pink coloration it lends to foods, but it helps preserve the health of the eyes as well. This versatile antioxidant has been shown to help to protect the retina and prevent glaucoma and cataracts.
For maximum benefit, opt for wild-caught seafood
You can increase your dietary intake of astaxanthin by eating Sockeye salmon and red trout. But make sure to choose wild-caught fish, as farmed salmon display grayish-white flesh rather than pink. By the way, in a sneaky move, some producers may add synthetic astaxanthin to mimic the healthy pink color of astaxanthin-rich tissues. The synthetic version, however, lacks natural astaxanthin’s health benefits. A good source for quality seafood is VitalChoice.com.
Astaxanthin is also available as a supplement, but make sure to choose natural astaxanthin extract that has been derived from H. pluvalis. By the way, you can also find this versatile compound in krill oil. Integrative healthcare providers typically recommend 4 mg to 12 mg of astaxanthin daily but consult your doctor before supplementing.
Bottom line: many researchers have been “wowed” by astaxanthin’s effects. The authors of the PharmaNutrition review borrowed from a famous quotation (“Let food be thy medicine …”) and titled their article “Let astaxanthin be thy medicine …” That’s quite the enthusiastic endorsement!
Sources for this article include:
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