Astaxanthin

By David Ilfeld M.D.

The carotenoids are a large family of fat-soluble antioxidants with approximately 600 natural compounds. You are probably familiar with some well-known carotenoids, such as lycopene, which may help protect the heart and may help protect from cancer. Lutein is another carotenoid proven to improve vision and reduce the risk of macular degeneration in clinical studies. The other medical doctors and I, as part of the Nutraceutical Sciences Institute (NSI) family, are very enthusiastic about another carotenoid called astaxanthin, which is synthesized (formed) by algae, and is found in marine seafood. Only recently have scientific studies been done using astaxanthin. These studies show that astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant that may have more antioxidant activity than the three best-known carotenoids: lycopene, lutein and beta carotene. Beta carotene has its own antioxidant effects, and is also partially converted into vitamin A. In contrast, lycopene, lutein and astaxanthin are not converted into vitamin A. Thus, the effects of lycopene, lutein and astaxanthin are due to their specific antioxidant actions, without any connection with vitamin A. The following is a summary of the scientific studies on astaxanthin.

Astaxanthin may help improve the immune system. Jyonouchi and colleagues at the University of Minnesota have shown that astaxanthin can increase the antibody production of mouse lymphocytes in a dish in the laboratory. Old mice have a decreased ability to produce antibodies. Jyonouchi and colleagues showed that old mice treated with astaxanthin increased their production of antibodies. Furthermore, they found that astaxanthin increased antibody production by human lymphocytes in a dish in the laboratory. As you know, healthy immunity is critical to protecting your health from cancer, bacteria, viruses, etc.

Db/db mice are a genetically inbred strain of mice that develop complications of diabetes, including increased blood sugar, increased protein in the urine, and damage to the kidneys. In an article published in Life Sciences from May 2004, Uchiyama and colleagues showed that treating these diabetic mice with astaxanthin had beneficial results. Treatment with astaxanthin decreased the blood sugar and decreased the protein in their urine. In addition, treatment with astaxanthin helped protect their kidneys from being damaged. Astaxanthin has therefore been shown to partially prevent the development of diabetes and diabetic complications in mice.

Studies by several different groups of scientists have been done on the effect of astaxanthin on the development of cancer. Mice or rats were given chemicals known to cause cancer. Several different investigators showed that treatment with astaxanthin reduced the number of chemically induced cancers in the mouth, colon, breast and bladder. Therefore, astaxanthin appears to be beneficial in preventing cancer in mice and rats.

Astaxanthin has been shown to protect the retina from injury in rats. Astaxanthin easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, and as a result, may have beneficial effects for protecting the brain. Astaxanthin treatment of mice reduced damage to the heart caused by severe exercise on a treadmill. Furthermore, astaxanthin, with slight modification for intravenous injection, was shown to reduce damage to the heart in animals with experimentally induced heart attacks.

In summary, astaxanthin has been shown in experimental animal studies to improve immune function, decrease the risk of diabetes, reduce cancer cell growth, and protect the retina and heart. These amazing and fascinating studies suggest that astaxanthin may have a variety of important antioxidant actions that may help protect and improve your health. A study in humans showed that oral administration of astaxanthin at 4 mg per day for two weeks to 24 human volunteers resulted in 26% reduction of LDL-cholesterol oxidation. LDL-cholesterol (also known as "bad" cholesterol) causes heart disease and strokes after it becomes oxidized by free-radicals. It is this oxidized LDL-cholesterol that attaches to the arteries and initiates inflammation in the arteries, eventually leading to arterial narrowing and even blockages. There are many species of free-radicals. As such, it is important to use a powerful combination of antioxidants to neutralize these dangerous free-radicals that may lead to heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer and Parkinson's disease, and many other conditions, including aging. Carotenoids are some of the most powerful antioxidants with proven health benefits.

Nutraceuticals Resources

Nutraceuticals World
Nutraceuticals World is a bimonthly trade magazine focusing on manufacturers of dietary supplements, functional foods and nutritional beverages.

The Nutraceutical Institute
Nutraceutical Overview, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and St. Joseph's, Philadelphia's Jesuit University

American Nutraceutical Association
Develops and provides educational materials and programs on nutraceuticals and nutrition for health care professionals, consumers.




Author David Ilfeld is board certified in international medicine, rheumatology, allergy and immunology.




Author David Ilfeld is board certified in international medicine, rheumatology, allergy and immunology.




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