What is it
Astaxanthin is, like beta carotene, a carotenoid. Beta carotene is probably the best known of all the carotenoids as it the best way to fulfil your body's Vitamin A needs. Astaxanthin has many powerful health benefits beyond many other carotenoids including: eye health, prevention of brain related degenerations (such as dementia) and organ and skin health. It has up to 550 times the antioxidant activity of Vitamin E, 10 times that of beta-carotene and surpasses Vitamin C as well.
More about Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin can be found in plants and animals throughout the world. It is most prevalent in algae and phytoplankton, but it also can be found in a limited number of fungi and bacteria. Because organisms like many Astaxanthin containing algae and plankton are the base of the food chain, Astaxanthin can be found in many animals as well. Any sea animal that has a reddish or pinkish color contains Natural Astaxanthin. For example, you can find Astaxanthin in salmon, trout, lobster, shrimp and crab. These animals eat krill and other organisms that ingest Astaxanthin-containing algae and plankton as a major part of their diets. And since lots of different animals such as birds, bears and even humans eat these sea animals, you can find Astaxanthin in all sorts of places.
As we mentioned before, the animals that have the highest concentration of Astaxanthin are salmon, where it concentrates in their muscles and makes them the endurance heroes of the animal world. Can you imagine what salmon would look like if they didn’t have any Astaxanthin? Not only wouldn’t they be able to swim up rivers and waterfalls for days on end, but they’d also look pale and worn out.
Have you ever seen a bird bath in summer that has dried up? Sometimes you'll see a reddish color where the standing water has evaporated. The red you’re seeing is Natural Astaxanthin.
What has happened is that some green algae (perhaps the one that commercial growers of Natural Astaxanthin use which is called Haematococcus pluvialis) have suffered stress. The stress is due to a combination of things: Lack of food, an absence of water, intense sunlight and heat, or even bitter cold. As a result of this stress, the algae's cells have hyper-accumulated the red pigment Astaxanthin. They do this as a survival mechanism—the Astaxanthin serves as a “force field” to protect the algae from lack of nutrition and/or intense sunlight. It’s an absolutely amazing fact, but due to the protective properties of Astaxanthin, these algae can stay dormant for more than forty years without food or water, suffering in the summer sun or in the winter cold; yet when conditions are appropriate and there is food and water and no extreme weather, the algae will go back into their green, motile stage.
What are its health benefits
Natural Astaxanthin has many powerful nutritional and health benefits:
- Crosses the blood-retinal barrier and brings antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection to the eyes, organs and skin
- Works effectively as a neuroprotectant – this helps prevent a range of brain-related conditions including dementia and age-related forgetfulness
- Spans cell membranes and bonds with muscle tissues to increase physical strength and endurance
- Works as a super powerful antioxidant and eliminates free radicals
550 times more powerful than Vitamin E
Hawaiian Natural Astaxanthins benefits derive from its superior antioxidant activity and from its ability to fight free radical damage and combat ongoing oxidative stress and can have up to 550 times the antioxidant activity of vitamin E, 10 times the antioxidant activity of beta-carotene and surpasses many of the antioxidant benefits of Vitamin C and other carotenoids.
Nature’s Most Powerful Antioxidant is NEVER A 'Pro-Oxidant'
There is a potential for some wonderful antioxidants, under certain conditions,to become ‘pro-oxidants’ and actually have a negative effect by causingoxidation in the body. Some of the better-known carotenoid antioxidants that can become pro-oxidants are beta carotene, lycopene and zeaxanthin (Martin, et al, 1999). Even such familiar antioxidants as Vitamin C, Vitamin E and zinc can become pro-oxidants. This is another important factor separating Astaxanthin from other antioxidants—it never becomes a pro-oxidant (Beutner, et al, 2000).
This is one more reason that Astaxanthin is clearly a superior antioxidant to others. A famous study of beta carotene on smokers was done in Finland in the 1990’s. In this study, it was found that smokers who took synthetic beta carotene supplements actually had a higher incidence of cancer than those taking a placebo. Of course, this synthetic beta carotene is also made from petrochemicals like Synthetic Astaxanthin. It can’t be expected to perform as well as natural beta carotene—the 'real deal' which is found in abundance in carrots and Spirulina.
Another distinctive property of Natural Astaxanthin is that it can protect the entire cell. Cells in our bodies have different parts; one part of each cell is fat soluble or 'oil-loving,' while the other part of the cell is water soluble or 'waterloving.'
Because of Natural Astaxanthin’s unique molecular structure, it can span the cell membrane and have one end of the molecule in the fat soluble part of the cell, while the other end of the molecule rests in the water soluble part of the cell. You can see how a water soluble antioxidant like Vitamin C rests on the top, water-loving polar layer of the cell. It cannot protect the entire cell. And you can also see that a fat soluble antioxidant like beta carotene lies in the center, oil-loving lipid layers of the cell. It cannot protect the entire cell either. But Natural Astaxanthin has this unique ability to span the cell membrane; unlike other antioxidants, it can protect the whole cell at once.
How does it work
Astaxanthin can be found in plants and animals all over the world. It is most prevalent in algae and phytoplankton and is also present in a limited number of fungi and bacteria. As a base part of the food chain, Astaxanthin is therefore present in many life forms including sea creatures, birds, mammals and humans.
It is a red pigment that is very powerful, acting as a kind of ‘force field’ that prevents long term damage to algae in cases where water or food is scarce or extreme weather conditions (heat, light or cold) are present and the greenness of the algae has ‘dried up’. The red pigmentation occurs in response to the stress and is effectively a survival mechanism.
Natural Astaxanthin can deliver these same powerful antioxidant, strength and protective properties to humans and this is why it is considered a superfood. There is a synthetic Astaxanthin produced by some chemical companies. We do not recommend or endorse the use of the synthetic version of this product.
What are Carotenoids?
For those of you who don’t know what carotenoids are, chances are you’ve eaten a few in the last 24 hours. Carotenoids are the pigments that give many of the foods we eat their beautiful colors. That ripe, red tomato you had in your salad last night is red because of a carotenoid called “lycopene.” The corn on the cob you had at the company picnic last summer is yellow because of another carotenoid called “zeaxanthin.” And of course, the carrots you eat (because you heard as a kid that you should eat carrots to help your eyes because “you’ve never seen a rabbit with glasses”) are orange because of “beta carotene.” In fact, “carrots” actually get their name from this famous pigment that makes them orange, “carotene."
Carotenoids are divided into two distinct groups: Members of the first group are called “Carotenes.” This is probably the more widely known group because of its most famous member, beta carotene. Some of the other well known carotenes are lycopene and alpha carotene. The other group, of which Astaxanthin is a proud member, is called “Xanthophylls” (pronounced ZAN-tho-fi ls). Some other notable xanthophylls are lutein and zeaxanthin.
The difference between these two groups is that Xanthophylls have hydroxyl groups at the end of the molecules. Astaxanthin has more hydroxyl groups than the other Xanthophylls, which allows it to do more in the human body than its closely-related family members like lutein and zeaxanthin.
You can see that they look similar, except for the ends of the molecule that have the hydroxyl “O” and “OH” groups. This small difference adds up to a huge disparity in terms of functional abilities of these carotenoid cousins.
Some of the many things that Natural Astaxanthin can do that beta carotene (and many other carotenoids) cannot.
There are over 700 different carotenoids, although most people have only heard of a few at best. They are produced in nature by plankton, algae and plants as well as a small number of bacteria and fungi. In plants and algae, carotenoids are actually part of the process of photosynthesis along with chlorophyll. Some animals can actually eat a certain carotenoid and then convert it in their body into a different carotenoid, but all animals must originally obtain carotenoids from their diet.
One example of an animal that can convert carotenoids that it ingests is the pink fl amingo. Flamingos eat algae that contain the yellow carotenoid zeaxanthin and the orange carotenoid beta carotene, and then their bodies convert them into the pinkish-red carotenoids Astaxanthin and canthaxanthin. Without carotenoids in their diet, the pink fl amingo would be an ugly beige color; and without the ability to convert the carotenoids it eats into Astaxanthin and canthaxanthin, the pink flamingo would be yellowish orange!
Carotenoids have a wonderful ability to interact with and neutralize “oxidants,” chemically reactive oxygen species known as singlet oxygen and free radicals. Natural Astaxanthin has the greatest ability to serve in this “anti”-oxidant function, which is why it is the world’s strongest natural antioxidant. But many other carotenoids also have an antioxidant effect.
An excellent example of how animals use carotenoids is seen in cold water fish such as salmon and trout. These fish accumulate Astaxanthin from their diets and deposit it in their fl esh to protect their tissues and cells from oxidation. This results in the healthy pinkish-red glow you see in fillets of wild salmon or trout. (Many fish farmers use synthetic Astaxanthin to mimic this color in their farmed salmon and trout—more about this unnatural process later.)
Some carotenoids are absolutely necessary for the existence of different species. For example, humans need Vitamin A. Vitamin A comes from beta carotene in our diet that the body converts into Vitamin A on an as-needed basis.
Contrary to high doses of pure Vitamin A which can be toxic, there is no toxicity level for beta carotene.
Beta carotene is the best known among the carotenoids due to many years of scientific study and publicity. It is a “pro-Vitamin A carotenoid.” Another way to say this is that it “has Vitamin A activity.” There are some other carotenoids that the human body can convert to Vitamin A, but beta carotene is the primary one. Taking natural beta carotene in food is the best way to fulfill your Vitamin A needs; the body only converts as much beta carotene to Vitamin A as it needs, but at the same time beta carotene has a host of other benefits in human nutrition.
Besides beta carotene, there are a few other carotenoids that are better known than Astaxanthin. Other famous carotenoids are lutein and lycopene. Lutein has gained fame in the last decade as a nutrient for eye health; lycopene has been marketed as a preventative nutrient for prostate cancer. Both are wonderful compounds, but neither has the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory strength of Astaxanthin, nor do they have the multitude of health benefits for humans and animals.
As we move down the list of carotenoids, we notice that, although there are over 700 different carotenoids, most are not exactly household names. Some people have heard of zeaxanthin, another excellent carotenoid being marketed primarily for eye health, but how many of us have heard of echinone, gamma carotene or fucoxanthin? Not many, although the more scientists study carotenoids, the more different names you’re probably going to hear. That’s because many carotenoids are wonderful nutrients that can help us to live better (due to their functional properties) and live longer (due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties). And Natural Astaxanthin is the best of the bunch, although as time passes researchers may find that other carotenoids hold great promise for human health as well.
How and where is it grown
The specific product Hawaiian Natural Astaxanthin is the world’s best selling Astaxanthin for human use. It is derived from algae grown in environmentally controlled ponds by the highly regarded Cyanotech Corporation in Hawaii. There are no pesticides, herbicides or GMO ingredients used in the process.
It was the first source of Astaxanthin for human nutrition reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the first approved for use by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Overhead view of Haematococcus ponds in Kona, Hawaii. Similar to leaves changing colors in autumn, Haematococcus Pluvialis microalgae turn from green to red as they hyperaccumulate Astaxanthin.
The Salmon Phenomenon
Have you ever seen a salmon swimming upstream? Look at the size of the salmon above and compare their size to the force of the water coming down the river at them. Now think about this—Salmon continue swimming up these raging rivers for up to seven days.
Let’s put this into human perspective: Take a six foot tall man and have him swim against 30 foot waves for a week straight and be able to reach his destination which is 100 miles away. How is it possible that salmon can make this heroic swim, which certainly is the greatest athletic feat in nature? - Natural Astaxanthin.
Natural Astaxanthin is found in the highest concentration in the animal kingdom in the muscles of salmon, and scientists theorize that this is what allows them to complete this epic swim. We have long known that exercise causes a great amount of oxidation in the muscles. So by concentrating the strongest antioxidant, Natural Astaxanthin in the muscles, the oxidation is thus prevented and the salmon are capable of doing something that seems almost impossible.
We certainly don’t want anyone to think that because we make the analogy with humans above that we’re suggesting that you run out to the health food store, buy a bottle of Natural Astaxanthin and then try to swim from New York to Paris.
But there is certainly sufficient evidence, both from testimonials and scientific studies, that taking 8 – 12 mg of Natural Astaxanthin per day will provide greater strength and endurance.
Natural vs Synthetic
A fascinating point to consider is how Natural Astaxanthin performed in the free radical scavenging antioxidant test versus synthetic Astaxanthin. Synthetic Astaxanthin is produced by a few huge chemical companies in huge factories from petrochemicals. While it seems very unnatural to take supplements made from the same oil you put into your car’s engine, the more important factor is how these two extremely different substances perform as nutrients: Although it has the same exact chemical formula as Natural Astaxanthin, synthetic Astaxanthin is actually a different molecule—the shape of the molecule is different, plus in its natural state, Astaxanthin is always paired with fatty acids attached to either one or both ends of the Astaxanthin molecule. This results in an “esterified” molecule, and makes Natural Astaxanthin far superior to synthetic Astaxanthin as an antioxidant and in many other ways, which we’ll explore later.
Another critical difference is that the Natural Astaxanthin tested is extracted from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae. When the microalgae hyperaccumulates Astaxanthin as a survival mechanism due to environmental stress, it also produces small quantities of other supporting carotenoids. The resulting complex is broken down as follows:
The additional carotenoids beta carotene, canthaxanthin and lutein work in synergy to make Natural Astaxanthin a more effective antioxidant than synthetic Astaxanthin. At the same time, they lead to far greater efficiancy in treating various health conditions and ensuring Natural Astaxanthin’s many health benefits.