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astaxanthin

Astaxanthin – The King of Antioxidants

Allow me to acquaint you with one of nature’s most potent antioxidants – astaxanthin (as-ta-xan-thin) – with the latest research showing promising results for those everyday concerns such as ageing skin, low immunity, tiredness and fatigue, aching joints, low fertility, poor cognitive function, below-par exercise performance – and so much more.

What is astaxanthin?

Astaxanthin is a bright red carotenoid pigment (natural colour) derived from haematococcus pluvialis (H. pluvialis), an algae with the highest levels of astaxanthin, accumulated to protect itself in response to stressors from its environment, such as starvation, high levels of salt, high temperature and radiation. The accumulation of astaxanthin turns the algae from green to red, and is responsible for the bright pink-red colouring of many marine animals such as salmon, crab and lobster and the brightly coloured feathers of flamingos, who obtain astaxanthin through their diet. Aside from its wonderful colouring, its main action is that of an antioxidant and, as such, providing protection to algae from environmental stressors as listed above.

Just as with algae, the human body is also exposed to environmental stressors; however, these lead to the creation of free radicals – for example, from factors such as poor diet, pollution, stress, exercise, smoking, alcohol and medication. Fortunately, the body has its own inbuilt antioxidant capabilities which it works hard to keep in balance. Issues arise, however, when an over-burdened body struggles to keep up, which can lead to oxidative stress and, in turn, cellular damage. Long term, oxidative stress is associated with chronic inflammation, autoimmune conditions, accelerated ageing and hormonal issues.

Astaxanthin can support combat against free radicals

Astaxanthin works in several ways to help to combat free radicals in the human body. Like all antioxidants, astaxanthin donates a chemical group to free radicals (compounds that have lost a chemical group and without it become unstable and lead to oxidative damage). With many antioxidants, they themselves can become pro-oxidant unless they are recycled by another antioxidant. Astaxanthin, importantly, has an unlimited ability to provide chemical groups without itself becoming a pro-oxidant. Astaxanthin also works by calming free radicals, absorbing the negative energy they emit. Finally, its unique chemical structure enables it to act through the entire cell, unlike fat-soluble antioxidants that tend to provide protection to the inner wall of the cell membrane, and water-soluble antioxidants that provide protection only to the outer wall. Since astaxanthin is able to span the cell membrane, it provides antioxidant protection to the inner and the outer wall, as well as the intra-membrane space.

Of all the carotenoids, astaxanthin is nature’s most potent, with the highest known ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) – a measure of its ability to combat oxidative stress. Astaxanthin’s ability to quench free radicals is 6,000 times greater than vitamin C, 800 times that of coenzyme Q10 and 550 times that of vitamin E.

Studies to date show astaxanthin’s ability to reduce and terminate oxidative stress, protect against unwanted inflammation and protect cell structure and function, providing health-enhancing properties in the following areas:

  • Astaxanthin for ageing skin – Skin ageing occurs over time, but the ageing process is accelerated by certain lifestyle factors and exposure to agents which cause oxidative stress in the skin – like, for example smoking, drinking alcohol, UV exposure from the sun and poor diet, amongst others. Studies illustrate that supplementation and topical application of astaxanthin improved the appearance of ‘crow’s feet’, improved elasticity, skin texture and moisture content over the course of 8 weeks (1). Who doesn’t want to keep that fresh-faced and crease-free complexion for longer?
  • Astaxanthin for exercise – Exercise leads to production of reactive oxygen nitrogen species (RONS) within muscle, which promote improvement in athletic performance. Without the body’s own antioxidant capabilities, RONS can cause a state of oxidative stress, the body can become overloaded during times of vigorous exercise, thus leading to oxidation, damaging molecules and potentially a negative impact on physiological function. Astaxanthin is not only a powerful antioxidant, but as it also upregulates the body’s own antioxidant capabilities, it helps to rebalance the oxidative stress caused by an over-production of RONS, with 3-5 weeks of astaxanthin supplementation shown to improve exercise metabolism, performance and recovery (2).
  • Astaxanthin for neuroprotection – Astaxanthin is a fat-soluble molecule, enabling it to pass the blood-brain barrier where it can exert its beneficial effects neurologically. With its ability to upregulate the body’s own antioxidant capabilities, as well as exerting anti-inflammatory effects, supplementing with astaxanthin can reduce the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), the build-up of which can lead to tissue damage and therefore loss of function following a cerebrovascular event (3).
  • Astaxanthin for cardiovascular disease – Studies suggest that taking astaxanthin before an ischemic event provides protection to the muscle tissue of the heart (4). It has also been shown to have a positive effect on cholesterol levels by decreasing overall triglycerides and increasing HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, which provides protection against atherosclerosis as HDL cholesterol carries LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol back to the liver to prevent it from forming plaques in the arteries (5).
  • Astaxanthin for eye health – Astaxanthin protects the cells of the eye following an ischemic attack (6) and also inhibits retinal damage following white light exposure (7). A 6mg daily dose of astaxanthin for 4 weeks has also been shown to improve the function of the eye in middle-aged participants with eye strain complaints (8).
  • Astaxanthin for immunity – Astaxanthin has been shown to boost the immune response and reduce DNA damage when exposed to infection (9).
  • Introducing Pure Essentials AstaPure Astaxanthin Complex

    Pure Essentials AstaPure Astaxanthin Complex is a natural extract from the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis (H. Pluvialis) – the same algae responsible for the pink-red pigmentation of wild salmon and crustaceans. AstaPure contains the highest available concentration of astaxanthin, as well as a complex of other beneficial carotenoids including lutein, canthaxanthin, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene, amino acids and fatty acids, which together offer a broad range of health benefits, enhance its bioavailability and increase cell membrane stability.

    Written by Maxine Sheils, Nutritional Therapist at Igennus Healthcare Nutrition.

    References
    1. Tominaga K., Hongo N., Karato M., et al. (2012). ‘Cosmetic benefits of astaxanthin on humans subjects’, Acta biochimica polonic, 59 (1), pp. 43-47.
    2. Brown D. R., Gough L.A., Deb S.K., et al. (2018). ‘Astaxanthin in exercise metabolism, performance and recovery: a review’, Frontiers in nutrition, 4 (76), pp. 1-9.
    3. Haijian W., Huanjiang N., Anwen S., et al. (2015). ‘Astaxanthin as a Potential Neuroprotective Agent for Neurological Diseases’, Marine drugs, 13 (9), pp. 5750-5766.
    4. Fassett R.G. & Coombes J.S. (2011). ‘’Astaxanthin: A Potential Therapeutic Agent in Cardiovascular Disease’, Marine drugs, 9 pp. 447-465.
    5. Yoshida H., Yanai H., Ito K., et al. (2010). ‘Administration of natural astaxanthin increases serum HDL-cholesterol and adiponectin in subjects with mild hyperlipidemia’, Atherosclerosis, 209 (2), pp. 520-523. 7.
    6. Otsuka T., Shimazawa M., Inoue Y., et al. (2016). ‘Astaxanthin Protects Against Retinal Damage: Evidence from In Vivo and In Vitro Retinal Ischemia and Reperfusion Models’, Current eye research, 41 (11), pp. 1465-1472.
    7. Tomohiro O., Masamitsu S., Tomohiro N., et al. (2013). ‘The Protective Effects of a Dietary Carotenoid, Astaxanthin, Against Light-Induced Retinal Damage’, Journal of pharmacological sciences’, 123, pp. 209-218.
    8. Kajita M., Tsukahara H. & Kato M. (2009). ‘The Effects of a Dietary Supplement Containing Astaxanthin on the accommodation Function of the Eye in Middle-aged and Older People’, Translated from medical consultation and new remedies, 46 (3), pp. 1-7.
    9. Park J.S., Chyun J.H, Kim Y.K, et al. (2010). ‘Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans’, Nutrition and metabolism, 7 (18) pp. 1-10.

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    Nutrient levels linked to brain health

    I recently wrote about the reported benefits of the nutrient choline for improved memory and brain health. A new study, soon to be published in the journal Neurology, has now investigated the link between brain health and other nutrients in the diet, including Vitamins B, C, D and E, omega 3 and trans fats.

    The study measured indicators of Alzheimer’s such as cognitive difficulties, brain shrinkage and memory problems. It found that nutrition could play nearly as strong a role as other factors such as age and high blood pressure.

    A healthy diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 may help reduce brain shrinkage in older life
    A healthy diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 may help reduce brain shrinkage in older life

    The researchers tested a group of 104 elderly people with average age of 87. They then tested the blood of each participant for levels of vitamins B, C, D and E, saturated fats, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol and trans fats. Each participant also undertook mental function tests including tests of memory, language skills and spatial skills. Finally each participant underwent an MRI scan to look at the size of certain brain structures related to Alzheimer’s.

    The team found that those who had higher blood levels of vitamins B, C, D and E and omega-3 fatty acids scored higher on the mental-function tests than those with lower levels of these nutrients. In contrast, those with higher levels of trans fats in their blood scored lower on these tests; they had more trouble with memory and language skills and were slower in completing the tests.

    Brain scans were then carried out on 42 of the participants, and found that those with nutrient-rich diets had larger brains as well as higher test scores. Again, the scans of those with high levels of trans fats in their blood also showed more brain shrinkage.

    A huge benefit of this study is that it used measurements of nutrients in people’s blood, rather than relying on individual’s food diaries and recall. As all nutritionists know, even with the best of intentions, food diaries and questionnaires can be inaccurate and misleading.

    The researchers, however, didn’t distinguish between nutrient levels raised due to foods rather than supplements. It’s therefore difficult to say whether taking supplements can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s as effectively as a nutrient-rich diet.

    Diets rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and oily fish provide good levels of vitamins and omega-3 fats. Trans fats are unhealthy ‘damaged’ fats found in margarine, some packaged food, fast food and baked goods.

    “These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet,” said study author Gene Bowman, a professor of public health at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

    The study team concluded that the findings suggest that nutrients work “in synergy” with one another to be protective of brain health.  Bowman concluded that “the combination of the B vitamins, the antioxidants C and E, plus vitamin D was the most favorable combination of nutrients in the blood for healthy brain aging in our population.”

    Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

    References
    G.L. Bowman, L.C. Silbert, D. Howieson, H.H. Dodge, M.G. Traber, B. Frei, J.A. Kaye, J. Shannon, J.F. Quinn. Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging. Neurology E-published ahead of print December 28, 2011.

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    Choline: The Brain Food

    A new study conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine suggests that the nutrient choline may improve cognitive function in healthy adults.

    Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which plays a part in memory and other cognitive functions. Low acetylcholine levels are linked with Alzheimer’s.

    A group of 1391 healthy (dementia-free) adults completed a food-frequency questionnaire administered from 1991 to 1995 and at a later date from 1998 to 2001. Each adult underwent cognitive tests and brain scans (MRI) at the later date. The tests measured factors such as verbal and visual memory. The brain scan also measured white matter hyperintesity (WMHI) – changes in the brain’s blood vessels that can predict conditions such as dementia and stroke.

    Broccoli is high in Choline
    Broccoli is a well known "super food" and is also high in Choline which may be good for brain health

    The researchers used the adults’ food questionnaires to determine whether dietary choline intake had an effect on brain function. The results found that adults whose choline intake was highest did better on tests of memory. Brain scans in this group of adults were also less likely to show areas of WMHI, indicating a decreased risk of dementia or stroke.

    The differences in test performance were small. “As far as your day-to-day functioning, it would not be an appreciable difference,” says senior researched Rhoda Au. However, she added, the findings suggest that people with lower choline intakes were more likely to be on a “pathway” toward mental decline than their counterparts with higher intakes.

    We cannot yet say for certain that choline in itself protects memory or wards off unhealthy brain changes. One possibility, Au noted, is that some other nutrients present along with choline are responsible. The study took into account factors such as calorie intake, fat intake, and levels of nutrients such as Vitamins B6 and B12. Even after adjustments were made for these factors, choline was still linked to improved test performance. However, further human studies would be needed to back up these research finding.

    It is generally recommended that men require 550 milligrams of choline per day, while women should get 425 milligrams. Several studies have found that generally choline intake in adults does not meet these requirements (2,3). To ensure an adequate supply of choline, you should ensure that your daily diet includes sources of choline such as salt-water fish, eggs, liver, chicken, beef, peanut butter, milk, broccoli and certain legumes, including soy and kidney beans. The supplement soy lecithin is also a good source.

     

    Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

    References
    (1.) Poly C, Massaro JM, Seshadri S, Wolf PA, Cho E, Krall E, Jacques PF, Au R. The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort Am J Clin Nutr December 2011 vol. 94 no. 6 1584-1591

    (2.) Bidulescu A, Chambless LE, Siega-Riz AM, Zeisel SH, Heiss G (2009). “Repeatability and measurement error in the assessment of choline and betaine dietary intake: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study”. Nutrition Journal 8 (1): 14.

    (3.) Bidulescu A, Chambless LE, Siega-Riz AM, Zeisel SH, Heiss G. Usual choline and betaine dietary intake and incident coronary heart disease: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. BMC Cardiovascular Disorders 2007, 7:20

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