Long ago, scientists discovered that there were a class of naturally-occurring pigments in the world that we know today as carotenoids. These substances were brimming with incredible properties and antioxidant benefits that are ideal for maintaining and improving health. Recently, one particularly carotenoid has been gathering a great deal of attention in the media and amongst medical experts, thanks to its ability to act as a super nutrient for fighting back against various health related problems.
The substance, known as Astaxanthin, is produced by a form of microalgae known as Haematococcus pluvialis. It occurs when the water supply in the algae dries up and it is forced to protect itself against the threat of ultraviolet radiation that comes from the rays of the sun. Astaxanthin is significantly more powerful than other carotenes, such as lutein and lycopene, as it is capable of producing very strong energy for scavenging free radicals. What’s more, it is also highly effective at protecting your body tissues, organs, and cells from damage of an oxidative nature.
What is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin can be found in algae, crab, salmon, lobster, and shrimp. For those who aren’t familiar with carotenoids, these are small pigment colors that work to promote good health within the human body. For instance, beta carotene is orange and Astaxanthin is red. Astaxanthin is responsible for giving lobster, shrimp, crab, and salmon flesh the pink color that we recognize today. Throughout the animal world, This is generally found in its highest concentration within the muscles of salmon, and scientists have suggested that this high concentration of carotenoids is what helps to give these animals the endurance that they need to swim upstream. In humans, Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant with a wide range of potential health implications. Unlike some other antioxidants such as zeaxanthin, beta carotene, and vitamin E, C, D and selenium, it is never allowed to become pro-oxidant within the human body.
Astaxanthin kills off the free radicals, which are harmful to the body. This process helps to stave off some age-related diseases that we are typically prone to such as macular degeneration because it prevents unstable molecules from causing damage to the cells in the body. On top of that, it helps to boost the way that the immune system works by increasing the activity and number of T cells and macrophages, which are protective cells within the body that fight off cancer and infection. Unlike other forms of antioxidants, Astaxanthin is available both inside and outside of the cell wall, which allows for complete free-radical fighting abilities.
Some carotenoids, including zeaxanthin and lycopene, cannot only act as antioxidants, but also as pro-oxidants when they are absorbed within the body in significant concentrations. Astaxanthin is unique in the fact that it does not do this, making it highly beneficial. At present, it is being made in laboratories across the world to help supplement fish feeds and obtain the desired pink color they need. However, most of the time wild salmon are found to be around four hundred percent higher in Astaxanthin than salmon from a farm, and 100% of their Astaxanthin is authentic.
Carotenoids in the Eyes
Since Astaxanthin is a form of carotenoids, it may help to learn more about how these can help to promote eye health. Of all of the different carotenoids that are currently available in nature, with the latest numbers predicted at around 600, only lutein and zeaxanthin can be found in the retina. Part of the reason for this is that the retina is a very oxygen rich and light environment that requires a large force of scavengers for removing free radicals if you want to prevent oxidative damage. It has been theorized that the body concentrates lutein and zeaxanthin in your retina in order to protect your eyes. The concentration of both of these pigments within the macula part of the eye is what gives this segment it’s characteristic yellow hue.
Like lutein and zeaxanthin, Astaxanthin can cross the blood-brain barrier. Despite the fact that we naturally have more lutein and zeaxanthin in our systems, science has begun to reveal that Astaxanthin may be the best possible carotenoid for people who suffer with various risks relating to eye health and visual conditions. In fact Astaxanthin may be essential for protecting the average person against blindness and promoting good eye health. Since blindness and visual problems continue to be a significant problem worldwide, it’s important to keep this nutrient in mind. For instance, the statistics currently stand as follows:
- AMD or age-related macular degeneration is seen to be the leading cause of blindness for people over the age of fifty.
- Around sixty million people are currently suffering from AMD across the world, and of that number about 10 million are suffering from blindness to some degree.
- Over the age of 55, severe and irreversible vision loss has been found to affect around 30 percent of the people who have eye problems in the world.
- Cataracts currently result in about three million different surgeries every year.
- Cataracts is one of the main causes of blindness today, affecting more than 20 million people across the United States alone. Cataracts are caused by peroxidation of lipids in the epithelial layer of the eye lens. Though they can occur for a variety of reasons, they are frequently related to aging.
Astaxanthin and Eye Health
Many carotenoids have been shown to have the capability of protecting the retina of the eye from oxidative damage over time. The lens of the eye is responsible for focusing incoming light onto the retina which transmits signals for vision up to the brain. In the center of the retina is the macula, which contains the highest amount of photoreceptors for visual acuity. Oxidation which comes from sunlight exposure gradually degrades the retinal membranes and leads to destruction and damage within the cells. Studies have indicated that Astaxanthin has the ability to cross the barrier between the blood and the retina and offer antioxidant efforts that reduce retinal destruction by preventing light-induced oxidation.
The interesting thing about Astaxanthin is that there may be no other single substance in the natural world that offers so many beneficial biological functions at once. The scope of Astaxanthin is incredible, and it can contribute to health in a number of different ways besides simply promoting visual acuity. For instance, here are some of the ways that Astaxanthin can positively impact your health:
- Promoting good immune function and making you less prone to disease.
- Improving cardiovascular health by lowering a person’s levels of C-reactive proteins and minimizing the number of triglycerides in the body while increasing the amount of HDL cholesterol
- Protecting your eyes from various visual problems including macular degeneration, cataracts, and even blindness – something we will discuss further below.
- Defending your brain against common age related conditions including Alzheimer’s diseasee and dementia.
- Reducing your risk of various kinds of cancer, such as cancers of the bladder, colon, breasts and mouth, by stimulating cancer cell death and reducing lipid peroxidation.
- Reducing various forms of inflammation – even from chronic conditions such as asthma and arthritis
- Improving endurance and recovery during everyday life and workout procedures
- Improving the speed of recovery for people suffering from injuries to the central nervous system and spinal cord
- Lowering your chances of suffering from sunburn and protecting you from the damaging effects that we face from radiation.
- Helping to stabilize blood sugar and protecting your kidneys
- Relieving acid reflux and indigestion
- Improving fertility by increasing sperm count and strength in males
The benefits of Astaxanthin are growing by the day as more research and studies are being published about its abilities as a nutrient and supplemental ingredient.
How Astaxanthin Protects Your Retina
In some cases, various nutrients such as vitamin C can help to protect you from retinal injury that occurs from being exposed to too much light energy at once. This is why high levels of vitamin C are usually found within the retinal tissues of the average human being. However, as useful as vitamin C can be, it’s worth noting that this nutrient cannot improve eye health and protect you from disease by itself.
Indeed, many scientific studies have found that diets that are rich in various types of carotenoids, particularly zeaxanthin and lutein, are often associated with a significantly reduced risk of diseases like AMD and cataracts. Research has also found that experimentation with regular consumption of supplements for lutein can also be useful in increasing your typical pigment density within the macula, which may reduce your overall risk of developing AMD.
Scientists across the years have studied the abilities of zeaxanthin, lutein, astaxanthin, and canthaxanthin for their various abilities and what they might be able to do in protecting the retina. Importantly, it seems that Astaxanthin is perhaps the most valuable nutrient when it comes to protecting eye health. In protecting your eyes, there are few substances that can deliver the same degree of protection and the same efficiency as Astaxanthin. Research has discovered that the Astaxanthin pigment is able to cross easily throughout the various tissues in the eye, and exert its antioxidant affects safely and with more potency than any of the other carotenoids that are currently being examined for their eye health abilities. Specifically, it has been determined that Astaxanthin can assist in preventing extra light induced damaged within the eye, and prohibit ganglion cell damage, photoreceptor cell damage, and damage to the various neurons located in the internal layers of the retina.
Astaxanthin supplementation could be particularly effective in treating and preventing a wide host of different eye diseases, including:
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Age related macular degeneration
- Venous occlusion and central retinal arterial occlusion
- Various inflammatory eye diseases such as scleritis, keratitis, retinitis, and more
Many of the studies that have been conducted have also found that Astaxanthin is particularly useful at offering long-term protection to those in need of solutions to improve their eye health. When supplements are taken over a long-term period, you should begin to notice improvements to your vision almost immediately.
Resources and References:
Astaxanthin – A guide into the natural benefits of Astaxanthin (NaturalEyeCare.com)
Eye health benefits help drive booming astaxanthin demand – How the research into Astaxanthin is promoting a demand for the nutrient across the world (NutraIngredients-USA.com)