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What is Astaxanthin?

By on May 13, 2013

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What is Astaxanthin

Astaxanthin is an antioxidant that is thought to be more than 6000 times more powerful than vitamin C, but what is it and where can you get it from?

As a carotenoid, astaxanthin is a fat-soluble pigment found in marine algae and in animals such as salmon and flamingos where it is responsible for the pink colour of their feathers and scales. Just like fish and fowl we can also benefit from astaxanthin from natural sources and the market for microalgae and synthetic astaxanthin supplements has really bloomed in recent years.

This nutrient plays a role in defending your cells against free radical damage. This kind of cellular attack is a key contributor to the ageing process and can instigate changes leading to wrinkles, dementia an heart disease. Astaxanthin is a great candidate for slowing down these processes as it’s fat-soluble nature means it can get to places that other, water-soluble antioxidants cannot reach.

Antioxidants like astaxanthin are also able to counteract the free-radicals produced when we exercise, making it possibly helpful for athletes wanting to recover faster, increase endurance, and improve strength and stamina. These benefits have however been both supported and disputed in studies but there are plenty of other reasons to take the supplement while further studies are carried out.

Astaxanthin is amongst excellent company with betacarotene and lutein as other examples of some of the more than 700 naturally occurring carotenoids that give fruits and vegetables their amazing array of colours. Purple aubergines, orange peppers, green kale and even the blue colour of blueberries are all caused by the combinations of these protective pigments with chlorophyll and other phytochemicals. However, unlike betacarotene, astaxanthin is only found in a limited range of foodstuffs, namely the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis and in the animals that eat this algae, such as krill and salmon.

In order to ingest enough astaxanthin to be of benefit a person would have to eat huge amounts of high quality salmon or flamingo meat, which would prove both costly and potentially harmful in regards to heavy metal toxicity and the negative effects of such consumption of animal products.

Instead, obtaining a dose of astaxanthin from a high-quality supplement can help quench free radical damage and delay cellular ageing.  Astaxanthin is pretty rare amongst antioxidants in that it can cross the blood brain barrier, where it can help protect cells of the central nervous system from oxidative damage and combat neurocognitive decline. It is especially good at quenching singlet oxygen, one of the most reactive oxygen species (ROS) responsible for considerable cellular damage.

Astaxanthin’s capacity to mop up singlet oxygen is 6000 times stronger than that of Vitamin C and hundreds of times stronger than the much praised fat-soluble antioxidant lutein.