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Astaxanthin for Antioxidant Health

In the last couple of decades, much has been said in the popular news about antioxidants and, by now, everyone likely knows that an antioxidant is good for you. However, exactly what an antioxidant is and why it's a good nutritional supplement are still a bit sketchy for most. Let's look at what this whole biological process is all about.

Oxidation and reduction are normal cellular processes. A molecule is oxidized when it gives an atomic electron to another molecule. The recipient molecule is then "reduced". Vital molecular interactions rely on this process. Energy is derived from this process. The oxidized donor molecules are also called free radical molecules or "free radicals". Free radicals are missing an electron and are desperate to find some other molecule to steal an electron from. This can, unfortunately, be a molecule that affects the DNA of the cell, the cellular structure or the function of the cell.

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Our body has mechanisms for the elimination of the oxidized molecules-enzymes that make them safe for us. Under normal circumstances, we deal with free radicals fairly well. In fact, free radicals are necessary for our natural killer cells that use these molecules to attack viruses and bacteria.

The problem comes in when we have conditions in or around our body that place an oxidative stress on us. Oxidative stress is when our body can't keep up with the number of free radicals. Diabetes, smoking, excessive sunlight, food additives and ozone all contribute to oxidative stress. Under this kind of stress, we are at risk for accelerated cell aging, cancer, heart disease, nerve and brain damage, eye damage, immune problems and inflammatory conditions. Because oxidative stress involves every cell in the body, any of our body systems can become dysfunctional under this condition.

This is where antioxidants can help. It's important to remember that not all antioxidants work the same nor do they have the same benefits and strength. For example, vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, zinc and selenium have some antioxidant properties. Recently, however, scientists have discovered newer and better antioxidants that work more efficiently and differently from the others. Astaxanthin is one of those amazing and powerful antioxidants.

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid (like beta-carotene), a long chain molecular pigment, that is extracted from a tropical microalgae strain called Haematococcus pluvialis. It is the molecule that gives color to salmon and some crustaceans. It has 500 times the antioxidant potency of vitamin E and 10 times the activity of beta-carotene.

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Considerable research has been done that point to astaxanthin's effectiveness as a nutritional antioxidant. Astaxanthin is unique as a natural antioxidant in that it doesn't simply rid the body of an antioxidant by donating an electron to neutralize it. It actually fits very well into the membrane of the cell and binds the free radicals to it. (Remember, if a molecule donates an electron to another molecule, it becomes a free radical itself-not always very beneficial.) Astaxanthin doesn't become a free radical when it binds an oxidized molecule to it.

Studies show that antioxidants like astaxanthin reduce the amount of oxidized (free radical) LDL-cholesterol. Oxidized LDL-cholesterol is implicated in the formation of plaques inside arteries that lead to heart disease, blood clots and strokes.

Other research reveals that astaxanthin reduces the amount of inflammation-induced cardiac cell death that occurs whenever a blood clot blocks the blood supply to an area of the heart.

Because astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier, it is found to reduce the effects of free radicals in the brain cause progressive cell damage and neurological dysfunction. Astaxanthin has been shown to be extremely neuroprotective. This substance provides brain health.

The eyes are particularly affected by free radicals; the usefulness of antioxidants in eye health is well established. UV radiation from sunlight affects both the lens of the eye and the retina. It's believed that UV radiation, by means of causing oxidative stress on the eyes, causes damage and clumping of the proteins in the lens. Astaxanthin, as a potent antioxidant, may help keep vision sharper and eyes healthier when exposed to the damaging UV rays in everyday sunshine.

Free radicals have long been implicated in the formation of other conditions by damaging the DNA of cells of all types. Organ related diseased conditions can be a result of oxidative stress-stress that is known to be relieved by antioxidants like astaxanthin.

Oxidative stress can lead to inflammation of the muscles and joints. Astaxanthin can reduce the pain of that kind of inflammation. One particular study on athletes found that their strength and endurance nearly tripled after using astaxanthin. With less pain and inflammation, athletic performance can be enhanced.

The skin itself is particularly prone to the oxidative damage from sunlight. Sunburn is nothing more than the inflammation one receives as a result of sun damage. Orally taking astaxanthin may be superior to sunblocks in preventing sun damaged skin that ultimately leads to the excessive aging of skin. Studies on the topical application of astaxanthin have also shown it to be beneficial to skin.

The formation of ulcers in the stomach is part of an inflammatory process that astaxanthin can protect one from. Experimental studies have shown that using astaxanthin is protective against the development of ulcer disease due to a variety of factors.

Astaxanthin has also been found to be beneficial to the immune system. It heightens the production of B-cells that produce antibodies and modulates other aspects of the immune system. Cell-mediated immunity by cells that kill infectious organisms is also enhanced.

Another study showed that a reduction in free radicals in the astaxanthin group, over the control resulted in improved sperm velocity and pregnancy rate.

People with insulin related problems may also find the benefit from astaxanthin. These types of people seem to be under a constant state of oxidative stress.

Astaxanthin seems to be a rare substance that, without side effects, has the potential to be extremely helpful for anyone looking to improve their overall health and functioning of many body systems. It has been found to be extremely bioavailable and is carried safely on a lipoprotein through the blood stream. It fits nicely into the cell membranes of human cells. It can be used alone or in combination with other nutritional supplements for body health. As research on astaxanthin progresses, its usefulness is likely to become even broader, giving those who want better health even more reasons to supplement their diet with this amazing product.

References:

  1. Witt EH, et al. "Evidence for UV light as an oxidative stressor in skin." Oxidative Stress in Dermatology . New York , NY : Decker; 1993.
  2. Dreher F, et al. "Effect of topical antioxidants on UV-induced erythema formation when administered after exposure." Dermatology . 1999;198:52-55.
  3. Naito Y, et al. "Prevention of diabetic nephropathy by treatment with astaxanthin in diabetic db/db mice." Biofactors . 2004;20(1):49-59.
  4. Comhaire FH, et al. "Combined conventional/antioxidant "Astaxanthin" treatment for male infertility: a double-blind, randomized trial." Asian J Androl . 2005 Sep;7(3):257-62.
  5. Chew BP, Park JS. "Carotenoid action on the immune response." J Nutr . 2004 Jan;134(1):257S-261S.
  6. Lockwook SF, Gross GJ. "Disodium disuccinate astaxanthin (Cardax): antioxidant and anti-inflammatory cardioprotection." Cardiovasc Drug Rev . 2005 Fall;23(3):199-216.
  7. Hix LM, et al. "Bioactive carotenoids: potent antioxidants and regulators of gene expression." Redox Rep . 2004;9(4):181-91.
  8. Hussein G, et al. "Antihypertensive and neuroprotective effects of astaxanthin in experimental animals." Biol Pharm Bull . 2005 Jan;28(1):47-52.
  9. Kim JH, et al. "Protective effect of astaxanthin on naproxen-induced gastric antral ulceration in rats." Eur J Pharmacol . 2005 May 2;514(1):53-9.
  10. Nishikawa J, et al. "Effects of astaxanthin and vitamin C on the prevention of gastric ulcerations in stressed rats." J Nutr Sci Vitaminol ( Tokyo ). 2005 Jun;51(3):135-41.
  11. Anderson ML. "A preliminary investigation of the enzymatic inhibitition of 5-alpha reduction and growth of prostatic carcinoma cell line LNCap-FGC by natural astaxanthin and saw palmetto lipid extract in vitro." J Herb Pharmacother . 2005;5(1):17-26.
  12. Pennathur S, et al. "A hydroxyl radical-like species oxidizes cynomolgus monkey artery wall proteins in early diabetic vascular disease." J Clin Invest . 1996;97:22-28.

 

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