By Dr. Mark Lange
Astaxanthin is a xanthophyll carotenoid of predominantly marine origin having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects demonstrated in both experimental and human studies. Humans cannot synthesize carotenoids and therefore are required to source them in their diet. Oxidative stress and inflammation are common pathophysiological features of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Therefore astaxanthin may have a potential therapeutic role in this condition.
Antioxidant therapies such as vitamin E, C and β-carotene have been assessed in clinical trials in patients at risk of cardiovascular events. The majority of the studies have been unsuccessful in reducing cardiovascular events and mortality. This may not be due to lack of efficacy of the antioxidant but could be because at risk participants have not been selected based on the presence of confirmed oxidative stress.
New, more portent and effective antioxidant therapies have been sought. One such agent is astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is 11 times more potent as a singlet oxygen quencher than β-carotene and 550 times greater than alpha tocopherol. It is a more potent quencher of singlet oxygen than other antioxidants and its molecular structure allows for spanning the cellular lipid bilayer to provide versatile antioxidant actions. The polar end groups overlap the polar boundary zones of the membrane, while the nonpolar middle fits the membrane’s nonpolar interior.
Astaxanthin may provide cardiovascular protection through reducing oxidative stress. The effect of dietary astaxanthin in doses of 0, 2 or 8 mg/day, over 8 weeks, on oxidative stress and inflammation were investigated in a double blind study in 14 health females. Although these participants did not have oxidative stress or inflammation, those taking 2 mg/day had lower CRP at week eight.
Astaxanthin’s effect on CRP was also investigated in a small double-blind trial. Subjects (ages 40-60; n = 19), with no diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, received three softgel capsules daily supplying either astaxanthin at 12 mg/day or placebo for eight weeks. Those supplementing with astaxanthin lowered CRP levels by about 20 percent.
Astaxanthin also appears to have positive effect on blood pressure. Oral astaxanthin administered to spontaneously hypertensive rats showed a significant reduction in BP after 14 days. In animal studies, it has been shown that astaxanthin enhances nitric oxide induced vascular relaxation, indicating that it may be exerting its BP effects via this pathway.
Astaxanthin is safe. The liver does not convert astaxanthin into vitamin A or otherwise biochemically transform it. Instead it becomes incorporated into low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein, which then distribute it to the tissues via the circulation. Excess intake of astaxanthin will not cause hypervitaminosis A toxicity. No significant side effects have been reported so far in published human studies in which astaxanthin was administered to humans.
Astaxanthin, a substance established as the most potent antioxidant yet discovered, has scientifically proven anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties supporting cardiovascular health. The fact that astaxanthin is naturally derived with no side effects makes it very attractive to people as a health supplement.