Astaxanthin’s free-radical activity protects the immune system
Immune-system cells are extremely sensitive to free-radical damage, in part because their cell membranes contain a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids (a common target of free radicals). Antioxidants in general, and astaxanthin in particular, offer important protection against free-radical onslaught to preserve immune-system defenses.
Although there are numerous animal model and laboratory studies of astaxanthin and immunity, until recently there has been a lack of clinical research. This dietary supplement, in animal-model research, enhances antibody production and even restores, in part, the decreased humoral immune response typical of older animals.1,2 In human cells studied in the laboratory, astaxanthin enhanced immunoglobulin production.3
In the first human study examining astaxanthin’s effect on immune response, researchers from Washington State University divided 42 women into one of three groups: placebo, 2 mg astaxanthin, or 8 mg astaxanthin daily.4 After eight weeks of supplementation, blood levels of astaxanthin in both astaxanthin groups were found to be significantly higher and, not surprisingly, were highest in the subset of women taking the highest amount of astaxanthin. In addition, both levels of astaxanthin supplementation improved activity of natural killer cells, which target and destroy cells that have become infected with viruses.
Taking astaxanthin also raised levels of T and B cells, key cells of the immune system. This study also found that a marker of DNA damage was much lower in the astaxanthin groups, compared to the placebo group. In addition, C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) was also significantly lower in those supplementing with astaxanthin.
During times of inflammation, a type of free radical called reactive oxygen species are released at the site of inflammation, putting surrounding tissues at risk for free-radical damage. The body’s antioxidant vitamins can be depleted by trying to quench the free radicals generated by inflammation. Additionally, the reactive oxygen species can aggravate health problems associated with inflammation, such as asthma and exercise-induced muscle damage. Laboratory and animal model research documents that astaxanthin can fight inflammation, even in cases in which vitamin E is not effective.
Jyonouchi H, et al. Studies of immunomodulating actions of carotenoids. I. Effects of beta-carotene and astaxanthin on murine lymphocyte functions and cell surface marker expression in in vitro culture system. Nutr Cancer 1991;16(2):93-105.
Jyonouchi H, et al. Immunomodulating actions of carotenoids: enhancement of in vivo and in vitro antibody production to T-dependent antigens. Nutr Cancer 1994;21(1):47-58.
Jyonouchi H, et al. Effect of carotenoids on in vitro immunoglobulin production by human peripheral blood mononuclear cells: astaxanthin, a carotenoid without vitamin A activity, enhances in vitro immunoglobulin production in response to a T-dependent stimulant and antigen. Nutr Cancer 1995;23(2):171-183.
Park JS, et al. Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans. Nutr Metab 2010;7:18.