Astaxanthin is one of a group of nutrients called carotenoids, and is the source of the redpigment found in some of the seafood we commonly eat, including lobster, salmon, shrimp and crayfish. It is an antioxidant, a nutrient that slows or eliminates the process of oxidation in the human body.
Oxidation is what causes metal to rust and fruits to turn brown, and does similar damage to our DNA. Oxidation is also the process behind aging in general, and carcinogenesis (the process by which normal cells are converted to cancer cells). It is behind such eye health problems as age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.
Antioxidants, such as astaxanthin, neutralize DNA-damaging free radicals, which impact hundreds of health conditions. Free radicals are formed when a molecule in your cells loses an electron, due to the presence of a virus or environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, herbicides or smoke. Free radicals are unstable and try to steal their needed electron from another compound, in order to gain stability.
The compound from which the electron is stolen becomes another free radical, which can begin a chain reaction, eventually resulting in the disruption of a living cell. Importantly, free-radical damage accumulates with age.
Antioxidants are thought to work because they donate one of their electrons to the molecules that are missing one, thus ending the stealing cycle.
Astaxanthin vs other carotenoids
In a growing body of scientific literature, astaxanthin is showing itself to be a more effective antioxidant than other carotenoids, such as b-carotene and lutein, and vitamin E. There have been at least eight human clinical studies using astaxanthin to assess its safety and bioavailability, as well as its effect on oxidative stress, inflammation and the cardiovascular system.
In a Japanese study in April, 2010, scientists found that astaxanthin significantly increased the amounts in the blood of good cholesterol and adiponectin, a hormone that modulates important metabolic processes like glucose regulation and fatty-acid catabolism.1 Good news for cardiovascular health.
Where to find astaxanthin
Astaxanthan supplements are made from certain species of fresh-water algae. Astaxanthin also is an important nutrient in krill oil. The krill feed on algae (zooplankton), which is loaded with astaxanthin, growing on sea ice in the Antarctic.
Food sources of astaxanthin –
• Shellfish (shrimp, crawfish, crab and lobster)
• Fish (wild-caught and farmed salmon, salmon roe, rainbow trout)
• Vegetables and fruit (any with red pigment, such as carrots and red peppers)
1. Yoshida H, Yanai H, Ito K, Tomono Y, Koikeda T, Tsukahara H, Tada N. Administration of natural astaxanthin increases serum HDL-cholesterol and adiponectin in subjects with mild hyperlipidemia. Atherosclerosis. 2010 Apr;209(2):520-3. Epub 2009 Oct 14.
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