Astaxanthin: super anti-oxidant

Ed Hill  ·  Mar 01, 2015

Have you ever watched salmon swim upstream against strong currents and waterfalls to reach their spawning grounds, swimming almost continuously for a week or more? Natural Astaxanthin: The World’s Best Kept Health Secret by Bob Capelli with Gerald Cysewski, PhD, explains that their bodies are loaded with the most powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that has yet been discovered. It is astaxanthin (“asta-zan-thin”) that gives their flesh the beautiful reddish color. They get it from the microalgae haematococcus pluvialis, which is part of their diet. When the algae’s cells are under stress, such as lack of food, water, intense sunlight and heat, or bitter cold, they produce astaxanthin as a defense mechanism. This allows the cells to survive for up to 40 years in a dormant state, until conditions improve and they go back into their green, motile stage.

This amazing substance is now being grown in microalgae farms and produced as a supplement. Natural Astaxanthin was published by one of the world’s leading producers, Cyanotech, to bring together the most up-to-date information. Co-author and Cyanotech Chief Science Officer Gerald Cysewski holds a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and has spent 35 years researching microalgae. The book cites more than 200 studies to support the claims that astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant useful for treating a wide range of conditions and supporting optimal health. Researchers believe it works by controlling deadly “silent inflammation,” an underlying cause of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and many other life-threatening diseases.

Additional claims supported by research and testimonials are that astaxanthin:

  • reduces aches and pains from arthritis, joint soreness, and tendonitis.
  • gives energy, increases strength and improves endurance.
  • works as an “internal sunscreen” and improves the skin as an “internal beauty supplement.”
  • improves the body’s immune system.
  • protects the eyes and brain from damaging free radicals and oxidation.
  • supports cardiovascular health.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, one of the world’s most widely-followed physicians with a daily e-newsletter reaching millions of people, calls astaxanthin “the #1 supplement you’ve never heard of that you should be taking.”

Natural Astaxanthin explains that free radicals are highly unstable molecules, ready to react with anything they can, resulting in “oxidation.” Once oxidation begins, it can produce a chain reaction that generates more free radicals. Oxidation in the body is similar to what happens to metal when it rusts. Rust can destroy a strong piece of metal in just a few years. But this can be prevented by painting it. In a similar way, our bodies can use antioxidants to neutralize free radicals and render them harmless. Oxidation and free radical damage shows up when we age, as lines, wrinkles, dry skin, and even skin cancer, as well as loss of muscle tone. Internally, oxidation can damage DNA, and wreak havoc on all of our internal organs. Our bodies produce antioxidants to handle the small amounts of free radicals produced by digestion, breathing, functioning of the immune system, etc. But our bodies face an onslaught because of pollution, contaminants in our environment, vigorous exercise, eating the wrong foods, and stressful lifestyles. As a result, unless we supplement our diets with powerful antioxidants, they simply cannot keep up. The authors suggest that we can insure proper antioxidant protection by eating a good diet each day, with at least nine servings of organic fruits and vegetables. They recommend taking spirulina to augment this. And they recommend taking the most powerful antioxidant known—astaxanthin.

Besides being the least expensive, astaxanthin has several other qualities that make it better than the others. Unlike several well-known antioxidants, astaxanthin can cross the blood/brain and blood/retinal barriers to protect the brain and eyes from many serious conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia, macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and other eye ailments. Astaxanthin can protect all parts of the cells, both the fat soluble and water soluble parts. And because it can reach every cell, it can provide antioxidant protection throughout the entire body.

In addition, astaxanthin is a safe, natural anti-inflammatory. A health questionnaire taken by 247 astaxanthin users found that over 80 percent of back pain and osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis sufferers reported improvement. Astaxanthin was also reported to improve symptoms of asthma and enlarged prostate.

Another survey found that 88 percent who suffered from sore muscles or joints found that astaxanthin reduced their aches and pains. Another survey six years later found that of the respondents who reported suffering from joint, muscle or tendon pain, 84 percent found that astaxanthin helped them. Eighty-three percent experienced less pain, while 60 percent had increased mobility. Seventy-five percent said astaxanthin works the same or better than over-the-counter pain meds. Sixty-four percent said it works the same or better than prescription anti-inflammatories such as Celebrex or Vioxx. Apparently, astaxanthin works about as well as anything on the market for inflammation. But don’t expect it to work quickly—results are usually seen in two to four weeks, but may take six weeks. But a key difference is that astaxanthin has no known side effects or contraindications.

Another very significant benefit may be astaxanthin’s ability to combat “silent inflammation.” The number of diseases linked to silent inflammation is staggering: heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and more. We can feel perfectly healthy while silent inflammation slowly ravages our bodies, creating the diseases that will ultimately kill us.

Dr. Barry Sears, president of the Inflammation Research Foundation, wrote that Americans have the highest levels of silent inflammation in the world, with over 75 percent of people afflicted. He says there is no drug that can reverse silent inflammation, but there are anti-inflammatory diets and supplements that can.

A 2006 human clinical study analyzed the effects of astaxanthin on blood C-reactive protein, a marker for silent inflammation levels. On average, the treatment group experienced a 20.7 percent reduction in CRP levels in just eight weeks, while the placebo group saw an increase. In another study of CRP, after three months, 43 percent of the treatment group experienced enough of a reduction in their CRP levels to drop them from the high risk category for silent inflammation related disease, into the average risk group.

A study of carpal tunnel syndrome sufferers reported a 27 percent reduction in daytime pain after four weeks and a 41 percent reduction after eight weeks. Similarly, the duration of daytime pain decreased by 21 percent and 36 percent respectively. This study as well as extensive anecdotal evidence from CTS sufferers shows astaxanthin may be a viable alternative to surgery.

A study of 21 rheumatoid arthritis sufferers showed a reduction in pain scores by 10 percent after four weeks and more than 35 percent after eight weeks. The placebo group’s scores remained relatively constant.

Dr. Andrew Fry, director of the Exercise Biochemistry Lab at the University of Memphis, conducted a three-week study of 20 young men who regularly train with weights. The placebo group had significant joint pain in the knees immediately after a strenuous knee workout, and also at 10, 24, and 48 hours afterward. Remarkably, the treatment group, taking 4 mg per day, showed no increase whatsoever in joint soreness in their knees. Apparently astaxanthin completely prevented joint pain after exercise.

Numerous studies are cited showing that astaxanthin can reduce eyestrain, dryness, tiredness, and blurred vision. Others showed that it can improve visual acuity (ability to see fine detail) and depth perception. By improving retinal capillary blood flow, it can also prevent retinal damage. Its antioxidant effects can help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.

In a randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study in Japan, 12 mg of astaxanthin were given for 12 weeks to elderly subjects. The researchers found improvements in age-related forgetfulness, as well as cognitive and psychomotor function. Another study showed that after 12 weeks, subjects had decreased levels of phospholipid hyperperoxides (which accumulate in people suffering from dementia) as well as improved red blood cell antioxidant status. The researchers concluded that astaxanthin supplements may contribute to the prevention of dementia in humans as we age.

In other studies, it was found that astaxanthin is a potent neuron protectant, and could be used as a therapy for early stages of Alzheimer’s. It can also protect against brain damage during and after a stroke. Astaxanthin reduces brain cell death and can improve the proliferation of neural stem cells, showing that it may be useful for treating diseases such as Parkinson’s. It also shows potential for reducing anxiety and depression.

Astaxanthin also has many benefits to the skin. It can reduce fine lines and wrinkles, improve skin elasticity, reduce visible signs of UV aging within four to six weeks of use, maintain a youthful appearance, reverse premature signs of aging, and reduce the risk of skin cancer. Astaxanthin demonstrated 100 times the strength of beta carotene and 1000 times the strength of lutein at protecting against UVA and UVB oxidative stress. It acts as a natural sunscreen both when taken internally and when applied topically.

There are many cardiovascular benefits as well. Because of its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, astaxanthin can minimize the risk of heart attack or stroke, and reduce the damage if they do occur. A group of Japanese researchers did four separate studies on rats with high blood pressure. Within 14 days of astaxanthin supplementation, hypertensive rats showed a significant decrease in blood pressure, while those with normal blood pressure showed no decrease. It seems that astaxanthin may help reduce the consequences of heart attack by reducing constriction, increasing blood fluidity and restoring vascular tone.

In rodent studies, astaxanthin was shown to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic rats. The antioxidant activity of astaxanthin reduced oxidative stress on the kidneys and prevented renal cell damage. It also lowered blood lipid levels, and reduced oxidative stress on white blood cells. In another study, astaxanthin scavenged free radicals in the cellular mitocondria, leading to the conclusion that it might prevent the progression of diabetic nephropathy. It may also be useful in protecting the retina from harm due to advanced glycation end products (a consequence of diabetes).

Another study involved 20 couples who were trying to unsucessfully to conceive for a minimum of 12 months. The men were diagnosed as having abnormally poor semen quality. After three months of 16 mg per day of astaxanthin, five out of 10 of the infertile men got their wives pregnant! In another preclinical study, it was found that astaxanthin given to mothers-to-be significantly reduced the number of stillborn births.

Drs. Chew and Park demonstrated that astaxanthin at low dose (2 mg per day) could reduce oxidative damage to DNA by 40 percent!

A very promising study showed that astaxanthin inhibits 5a-reductace, making it useful in the treatment of benign prostate hyperplasia, and also as a possible means to prevent or help treat prostate cancer, especially in combination with saw palmetto extract. That combination showed a 20 percent greater inhibition of 5a-reductase than saw palmetto alone. Prostate cancer cells exposed to astaxanthin for nine days reduced growth by 24 to 38 percent depending on the dosage. It was also found that astaxanthin helped prevent enlargement of lymph nodes and excess protein in urine, both of which symptoms are associated with certain forms of cancer.

A preliminary study in obese mice fed a high fat diet showed that astaxanthin inhibited increases in body weight (specifically adipose tissue) and reduced liver weight, triglyceride levels (both liver and plasma) and reduced total cholesterol.

The authors emphasize that it is very important to get astaxanthin from a reputable manufacturer, because great care must be taken to ensure that it does not oxidize during processing, handling, encapsulating or tableting, and during packaging and storage. Cyanotech’s products are marketed by Nutrex, and you can read more about their quality assurance procedures on their website: nutrex-hawaii.com.

Of course the authors are advocating for their own product, but the concern about the quality of supplements is something buyers should be aware of. A story recently was published about the New York attorney general’s investigation into supplements marketed by national retailers like GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart. According to the New York Times, supplements like ginseng and ginko bilboba were tested and “did not contain any of the herbs on their labels.” Many of them contained cheap fillers like powdered rice, wheat, and soy.

But as long as you find a quality product, how much astaxanthin should you take? That depends on how well your body absorbs it. It is best taken with a meal containing fat to aid absorption. The recommended dosages range from 4-12 mg per day and Nutrex offers a convenient 12 mg size for a one-a-day capsule. The Nutrex 50-day supply is an Amazon.com best seller for about $20.

Ed Hill and his wife, Kathy, have been Samaritan members since 2003.

A PDF copy of Natural Astaxanthin is available at bit.ly/astabook

The information provided is for educational purposes and is not meant as medical advice. Please contact your own physician for advice on your particular situation.