Astaxanthin: food for a healthy brain

By now most of us know that salmon is a nutrient-packed superfood, recommended as part of a healthy diet by Dr. Oz and practically every other health expert on the planet. Among the most powerful health benefits of salmon is one of its components known as astaxanthin (pronounced asta-ZAN-thin).

Some recent, well designed studies indicate that astaxanthin may:
• Support the body’s immune response
• Support healthy digestion
• Help protect against damaging UVA rays from the sun that cause the skin to age prematurely
• Support vascular and retinal health
• Support and enhance cognitive function

One of the most exciting research findings about this amazing micronutrient is its ability to support brain health. This makes it a powerful natural weapon in the anti-aging arsenal!

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid from microalgae, which is the source of the vivid orange-pink color in salmon, shrimp, krill and other crustaceans (also flamingoes, which dine on the same microalgae).

A close relative of beta carotene, astaxanthin has been extensively studied in human clinical trials. It is well known as a powerful antioxidant that protects cells against damage caused by free radicals, and supports healthy energy levels, skin, vision, immune system health, muscle endurance, circulation and cognitive function. That’s a lot of benefit from one nutrient!

About free radical damage … you may have heard this term but don’t know exactly what it means. Free radicals are a byproduct of oxygen, which is essential for life. However, these byproducts are responsible for a chain reaction called oxidation, which causes degenerative damage to cells and organs. Antioxidants help to repair this damage.

And when it comes to antioxidant benefits, astaxanthin has been shown to have the highest antioxidant capacity of the carotenoid family, as well as other nutrients. How high? University studies indicated that astaxanthin is up to 500 times more effective than Vitamin E, 10 times more effective than beta-carotene and four times more effective than lutein.

One of the most exciting properties of astaxanthin from a research standpoint is its ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier and deliver its health protection benefits directly to the brain. Researchers believe this ability gives astaxanthin a unique potential to support healthy cognitive function as we age.

Studies have shown that astaxanthin “significantly protected” neurons from damage such as that caused by Alzheimers and Parkinsons disease.

One study in particular found that while astaxanthin was busy lowering blood pressure in hypertensive mice, it also was protecting their neurotransmitters from the damage that normally would occur when they suffered heart attacks. Meanwhile, all the mice treated with astaxanthin performed much better at memory tests, suggesting it had improved their memory.

And another study indicated astaxanthin lowered the levels of PLOOH, a toxic dementia-related metabolite in the red blood cells of healthy older adults. In this study the researchers concluded that astaxanthin may well contribute to the prevention of dementia.

Sources:
Forum Nutr. 2009;61:129-35. Epub 2009 Apr 7.
British Journal of Nutrition 14 June 2011 105 : pp 1563-1571
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