Astaxanthin may not be a familiar name, although you consume a little any time you eat salmon. Astaxanthin is a carotene – carotenes are natural pigments, similar in molecular structure to the more familiar beta carotene that colors carrots and other vegetables and fruits. Astaxanthin gives salmon its distinctive reddish hue, but it does much more: astaxanthin works as powerful antioxidant in plant and animal cells, which translates into a broad range of beneficial effects on cellular function. Astaxanthin, as shown in a growing body of research studies, published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, is even more potent and versatile than its carotene cousins.
Like beta carotene, astaxanthin is good for the eyes, the skin and other tissues where antioxidants are needed. Recent studies point to astaxanthin as a nutrient for the brain. An in-vitro (test-tube) study reported to the International Congress of Nutrition and published in the journal Forum of Nutrition, SH-SY5Y cells, which are used in experimental models of neuron function, were bathed in astaxanthin and then exposed to chemicals that cause “oxidative stress” in cells. (Antioxidants are substances that counter oxidative stress in biological systems, hence the term “antioxidant.”) Astaxanthin successfully protected the treated cells from damage. Based on this, and previous research showing that astaxanthin is capable of crossing over from the bloodstream into the brain, the report suggests that “pre-treatment with astaxanthin may be effective for oxidative-stress associated neurodegeneration and a potential candidate for natural brain food.”
High quality natural Astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis, grown under controlled conditions to ensure purity and safety, is available as a supplement in the US.
Liu X, Osawa T. Astaxanthin protects neuronal cells against oxidative damage and is a potent candidate for brain food. Forum Nutr. 2009;61:129-35.