Have you heard of Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin, (pronounced as-ta-zan-than) is a unique type of antioxidant carotenoid that is responsible for giving prawns (shrimp), lobster, salmon and fish eggs their unique pink pigment and may account for many of the health benefits that come from consuming them in the diet.
Astaxanthin cannot be made by the human body, it must be consumed and it is considered one of the most potent nutritionally-derived antioxidants due to its high free-radical scavenging capabilities.
What is astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin was first discovered by a Austrian-German biochemist called Richard Khun in the 1930’s when he was trying to figure out what made lobsters turn bright red when cooked. As a result, the name astaxanthin comes from the combination of the “asta” (from Astacus gammarus, the scientific name for lobster) and “xanthin” (from xanthophyll, which is the class in which astaxanthin belongs) as Khun discovered that boiling lobsters freed the bonds that bound astaxanthin making it the dominant visible pigment. Richard Khun was responsible for many discoveries in nutritional biochemistry including carotenoids and identifying and isolating many B vitamins. For this work, he received a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1938.
Astaxanthin exists mostly amongst marine animals. It concentrates through the food chain as larger sea life consume the smaller astaxanthin-producing sea life (like crustaceans, microalgae and krill), amplifying the concentration. In marine animals, consuming astaxanthin helps protect their immune systems and strengthen their fertility.
What are the health benefits of Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin has amassed a remarkable portfolio of evidence for its free radical scavenging capabilities that benefit the brain, nervous system, muscles, mitochondria, circulatory system and vision. Through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, it’s been shown to support memory, cognition and age-related decline. With free radicals and inflammation at the heart of many chronic diseases, astaxanthin is a powerhouse for health and wellbeing.
Antioxidant actions of astaxanthin
Free radicals and lipid peroxidation are processes in the body that can damage cells and result in inflammation and poor health. The body has important antioxidant compounds to counter cellular damage in its cellular defence network known as superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione (GSH) and catalase (CAT). The body can make these antioxidants when it has the dietary and nutritive resources to do so, and astaxanthin works to support the optimal functioning of our SOD and CAT pathways to help the body offset harmful free radicals.
Furthermore, astaxanthin can help to protect cells from physical damage by becoming vertically integrated into the cell’s lipid bilayer, improving the integrity of the cell architecture and enhancing resistance to lipid peroxidation, which might otherwise cause damage to the cell. Astaxanthin can also protect the double membrane of the energy-producing mitochondria within the cell, helping to protect and boost its ability to output energy. Healthier cells are more resistant to structural damage and assault and functionally better at producing energy and warding off brain fog.
Anti-inflammatory benefits of astaxanthin
Inflammation is another way our cellular health can become compromised. Almost all kinds of chronic illness or disease has inflammation at the heart of the condition. Controlling the negative effects of inflammation can be a key target in improving overall wellbeing.
Astaxanthin is a unique compound that can target inflammation on multiple fronts. Not only can it work to inhibit the pro-inflammatory compounds that are made by the body, but it can also induce anti-inflammatory cytokines as well as impact the production of nuclear factor kappa-B (NFkB). NFkB is an important target when it comes to addressing long-term, chronic inflammation as once it is activated, it prolongs and perpetuates the inflammatory processes which can disrupt the body’s attempts to rebalance and shut inflammation off.
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Neuroprotective actions of astaxanthin
Inflammation and oxidative stress place a significant burden on our brain and nervous system. Astaxanthin’s targeted action on inflammation and oxidative stress helps to protect nerve cells from damage, optimise the cell structure and integrity and support mitochondrial function. These neuroprotective mechanisms help to safeguard the nervous system from the types of neurodegeneration associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the key ways that astaxanthin appears to help to improve memory and cognition is through its ability to upregulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression.[5,7] BDNF has an important role in protecting the neurons within the nervous system promoting neurogenesis and also has a metabolic role in the regulation of blood sugar and energy production. Low BDNF has been associated with a number of neurological diseases and diabetes thus the ability of this natural compound to support BDNF is of significant value to health and wellbeing.
How can we consume more astaxanthin?
With so many remarkable health benefits, astaxanthin has become a desirable dietary supplement. It would be difficult to consume the levels of astaxanthin that have been shown in studies to benefit memory, cognition, inflammation and circulatory health through diet alone. However, it would still be worthwhile to consume regular sources such as prawns, lobster, fish roe and salmon. Many people are turning to supplements of krill and microalgae to boost their levels of astaxanthin.
Cell Protect contains high-quality astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis Microalgae with AquaCelle ® to maximise absorption.
Galasso C, et al. On the Neuroprotective Role of Astaxanthin: New Perspectives? Mar Drugs. 2018 Jul 24;16(8):247.
Richard Kuhn and the Chemical Institute: Double bonds and biological mechanisms. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2022.
More to offer: benefits of astaxanthin. 2018 Nov 14. Ingredients-insight.com
FOX, D. Astaxanthin in the American Flamingo. Nature 175, 942–943 (1955).
Grimmig B, et al. Neuroprotective mechanisms of astaxanthin: a potential therapeutic role in preserving cognitive function in age and neurodegeneration. Geroscience. 2017 Feb; 39(1):19-32.
Kidd P. Astaxanthin, cell membrane nutrient with diverse clinical benefits and anti-aging potential. Altern Med Rev 2011;16(4):355-364
Damodara Gowda KM, Suchetha Kumari N, Ullal H. Role of astaxanthin in the modulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and spatial learning behavior in perinatally undernourished Wistar rats. Nutr Neurosci. 2020 Jun;23(6):422-431.
Bathina S, Das UN. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications. Arch Med Sci. 2015 Dec 10;11(6):1164-78.