Astaxanthin: 4 Reasons You Should Get To Know This Superstar Antioxidant

If you’ve ever wondered how wild salmon muster the endurance to swim upstream over long distances in extreme conditions, you may be surprised to learn that the answer actually lies in an extraordinarily powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin. (Pronounced asta-zan-thin) And while exploring the world to discover Earth’s most precious ingredients for optimal health and wellness, I landed in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. It was in Dutch Harbor that I saw the incredible power generated by the salmon swimming in the wild and became fascinated with the special algae that fuels their extraordinary energy.  These wild salmon tend to consume large quantities of pure astaxanthin via these microalgae, and it’s one major reason why these fish can conquer rough rivers and rapids swimming upstream for such long distances.  So what’s so special about astaxanthin? Let us count the ways! From unmatched cellular protection to improved skin health and so much more, the scientific studies on this unique and potent antioxidant are absolutely incredible!

What is Astaxanthin?

Astaxanthin is a pigment-based antioxidant known as a carotenoid—and it’s rightfully known as the “king of carotenoids.” It’s found naturally in shrimp, krill and salmon, but most things in nature ultimately get this unique antioxidant from special microalgae called H. Pluvialis.  This algae produces the deep red pigment as a way to defend against the sun’s harmful and drying rays and, as the animal kingdom would have it, the benefits of the impressively powerful antioxidant are then passed to the salmon, krill and shrimp that feed on it. (Fun fact: even flamingos get their bright pink hue from the astaxanthin found in the krill they feed on.)

What is Astaxanthin good for?

Sometimes I think the better question is what isn't astaxanthin good for It combats harmful inflammation, boosts energy and endurance, improves skin tone and texture, promotes cardiovascular health, improves brain function and memory, promotes clear vision and healthy eyes, and helps the immune system to function properly. For all these health benefits, astaxanthin should be the one powerhouse antioxidant you take every day for overall wellness.  Its unique molecular structure gives astaxanthin the ability to readily cross the barrier of any cell in the body, including the blood-brain and blood-retina barriers. But what really sets this special nutrient apart is what happens once it’s in cell. Because astaxanthin has both a hydrophilic end and lipophilic end—meaning one end prefers water and the other lipids that are the building blocks of the structure and function of all living cells—it can span your entire cell like a full protective shield that readily defends cells from destructive free radicals while locking in hydration and enhancing intracellular activity.  Here are four ways astaxanthin provides extraordinary health-boosting support for every cell and system in your body.

1. Astaxanthin is a next-level antioxidant
An early study out of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry compared the antioxidant activity of several carotenoid and related compounds. The researchers found that the general antioxidant activity of astaxanthin far surpassed that of related carotenoids—and by an impressive margin. In this study, astaxanthin was found to be 300 times stronger than lutein and lycopene, and 550 times stronger than vitamin E.  And even more incredible research soon followed.  Perhaps you’ve heard of a singlet oxygen. It’s part of a family of particularly destructive free radicals known as a Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS, for short). ROS has been associated with increased oxidation of LDL cholesterol and heart problems, insulin resistance and even premature aging. It’s so destructive, that researchers like to use an antioxidant’s “singlet oxygen quenching” power as one of the greatest tells of its protective potential in the human body. And when astaxanthin was put to the singlet oxygen quenching test, it did not disappoint. In fact, it wowed. It was this study that turned heads in the medical and scientific world and put astaxanthin on the map.  In the now-famous antioxidant comparison study, researchers tested astaxanthin against 26 of the most powerful antioxidant compounds known in the world and confirmed that in neutralizing singlet oxygen astaxanthin is: 
  • 40 times more powerful than beta-carotene
  • 100 times more powerful than vitamin E
  • 550 times more powerful than green tea’s ECGC
  • 800 times more powerful than CoQ10  
  • 6,000x (Yes, SIX THOUSAND TIMES!) more powerful than vitamin C
2. Astaxanthin gives inflammation the one-two punch.
We’ve discussed the woes of chronic, often silent inflammation. It causes harmful chain reactions in the body that slowly erode energy levels, immune function and heart health. But astaxanthin has demonstrated an astonishing capacity to stop inflammation in its tracks. Astaxanthin has been shown to interrupt the expression of COX-2 pathway and inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory mediators such as nitric oxide, interleukin 1B and prostaglandin E2. Some studies have even found that astaxanthin can reduce the inflammatory blood marker C-reactive protein (CRP) by an impressive 20 percent!  And while many natural solutions tend to take a little longer to work than conventional approaches—some even as long as 12 weeks—astaxanthin seems to break the mold. In one study, both CRP concentrations and plasma 8-OHdG—a biomarker for DNA damage—were dramatically reduced after just four weeks of dietary astaxanthin.  It’s no wonder more and more progressive doctors have been recommending astaxanthin for general inflammation-induced pain. 
3. Astaxanthin has been found to boost energy and endurance
The energy- and endurance-boosting benefits of astaxanthin aren’t reserved for omega-rich salmon. The algae-based antioxidant has been shown to fight fatigue and dramatically improve exercise endurance in us humans, too. In a study performed with cyclists, researchers found that astaxanthin supplements “significantly improved” performance, both in terms of cycling trial time and power output compared to the placebo group.   Astaxanthin was shown to increase strength endurance, as well—by as much as three times in just six months!  And bonus: After all the exercise and strength training, astaxanthin effectively interferes with the flurry of post-exercise free-radical activity that leaves muscles extra sore and achy. 
4. Astaxanthin can work wonders for your skin
It wasn’t until roughly 2011 that we started to see more research being done on astaxanthin’s potential for skin health. But now, study after study after study support astaxanthin as a next-level skin health ally that works wonders for the look, feel and overall plumpness of skin. But why is astaxanthin such a skin-saving powerhouse?  It all goes back to its ability to combat singlet oxygen and other destructive ROS compounds that our cells encounter every day. Because exposure to the sun’s UV rays are a major contributor the formation of these reactive compounds, skin is incredibly vulnerable. Every single day your skin is susceptible to fielding a full-on free radical assault that leads to skin inflammation, DNA damage and degradation of the precious elastin and collagen that keep skin looking plump and refreshed. But, as you may remember, astaxanthin supplements are uniquely suited to cover the full span of our cells with its free-radical fighting shield. One study found that astaxanthin was incredibly effective at helping curb oxidative stress caused by the sun’s powerful UV rays. In fact, it was shown to be 100 times more effective than lutein and beta-carotene against the oxidative stress caused by UVA radiation.  Astaxanthin also demonstrated impressive capacity to preserve skin’s cellular matrix and support collagen and elastin production. In a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, astaxanthin not only increased collagen production but had a markedly positive impact on cellular renewal.

Where to get your astaxanthin?

Consuming therapeutic doses of astaxanthin through food would be next to impossible. (You’d have to consume 165 grams of wild-caught salmon per day to even come close!) But don’t shy away from getting it through your diet when you can. Wild sockeye salmon, red trout, crab, shrimp and krill oil are all common sources for astaxanthin.  One of my favorite meals is wild salmon, with its bold flavor and healthy omega fats. For a delicious summer twist on including more salmon in your diet, try this Asparagus, Pea and Broccoli Salad with Wild Salmon. But to ensure that I am getting plenty of this potent antioxidant every day, I make sure to get a full research dose of astaxanthin as part of my daily wellness regimen.  NAOMI Astaxanthin features an extra-strength 12 mg dose of pure, organic astaxanthin to promote the wide array of health benefits this powerful antioxidant has to offer.  
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