Astaxanthin is a uniquely therapeutic carotenoid antioxidant that gives seafood, e.g. shrimp and salmon, its pink color. This phytonutrient is produced naturally in specific algae that pass on its free radical scavenging effects to the sea animals that eat them. Astaxanthin is known to be a powerful enhancer of brain function, eye health, immunity and joint function among many other things. In fact, GreenMedInfo.com has indexed research on over 100 potential therapeutic applications of astaxanthin.
The greatest concentrations of naturally occurring astaxanthin is in the unique microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis. This microalgae reproduces extraordinarily quickly, doubling in volume every week. These organisms have an amazing adaptive potential characterized by astaxanthin production which has allowed them to survive harsh environments over many years.
When H. pluvialis is grown commercially it goes through two major phases. The first phase is called the green phase where the algae are given an abundant source of nutrients that enhance cellular proliferation. During the red phase the cells undergo nutrient deprivation and are simultaneously exposed to intense sunlight.
This process of stress and scarcity induces something called encystment. This causes the cells to generate massive amounts of astaxanthin as a protective mechanism against environmental stress, not unlike the production of resveratrol in peanuts or grapes that have been exposed to environmental stressors.
Astaxanthin in Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon
Wild salmon naturally feed on red algae and accumulate astaxanthin within their muscle tissue giving them their characteristic pinkish-red color. Astaxanthin provides potent antioxidant protection that gives them their exceptional strength and amazing endurance to swim up rivers and waterfalls. Flamingos are white until they consume enough shrimp and algae that concentrates the astaxanthin pigment within their tissue.
Farm-raised salmon are fed genetically modified grains and dead animal parts. This is unnatural but inexpensive feed. The result is a sick fish that comes out with a grayish-white flesh. In order to make it look a more appealing pink the fish farms use synthetic astaxanthin that is produced from toxic petrochemical sources.
This chemical-based coloring, along with the toxic feed and medical interventions such as antibiotic treatments, are why the majority of farm-raised salmon have the potential to be toxic.
Astaxanthin has the unique ability to cross the blood brain barrier as well as the blood-retinal barrier while most carotenoids do not. This helps protect the brain and eyes from inflammatory damage and may reduce the risk for blindness, cataracts, macular degeneration, dementia, Alzheimer's Disease and other neurological disorders.
Astaxanthin works particularly well against peroxyl radicals that damage lipid cell membranes in a process called lipid peroxidation, i.e. rancidity. This is particularly important because all essential fats but, in particular, long-chain poly-unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are very fragile and susceptible to free radical damage. Astaxanthin is one of the most powerful antioxidants capable of inhibiting the oxidation of these essential fats.
Astaxanthin may also be one of the best supplements for athletes and individuals living active lifestyles. It is known to increase overall strength and stamina as evidenced in the ability for wild salmon to swim upstream. Studies have shown that it has a beneficial effect on muscle damage and the ability to buffer oxidative stress in athletes. This effect was shown to reduce recovery time and minimize joint and muscle soreness after a challenging training session.
An ideal range for astaxanthin consumption appears to be about 4-8 mg/daily. This is equivalent to 4-8 oz of wild Alaskan pink salmon. Most individuals are not able to consume this amount of wild salmon daily and therefore supplementation is recommended.