From salmon and shrimp, to lobsters and flamingos, these animals all have one, very obvious trait in common: they share bright red and pink colors.
The reason for their bright, beautiful coloring is astaxanthin, which is a fancy name for the red pigment in microscopic sea algae called Haematococcuspluvialis– an integral part of these animals’ diet.
Over the last decade, nutritional science has revealed that astaxanthin is good for people, too. While it won’t turn your skin red or pink, astaxanthinwill help you fight inflammation to relieve joint pain, regulate immune function, support healthy cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as help protect your cells against oxidation that causes dysfunction and cancer.
If that isn’t enough, the latest research reveals that astaxanthin not only helps you prevent cancer, it can also help you fight existing cancers.
Astaxanthin is the strongest antioxidant in the carotenoid family. Studies show it’s nearly 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C– one of your body’s most critical antioxidant vitamins. So it’s no surprise that scientists set out to research astaxanthin’s effects on cancer development and growth. The results are exciting.
Stops growth and spread of cancer cells
In a laboratory study of esophageal tumors in rats, researchers found astaxanthin significantly reduced the incidence of visible tumors. In the results published last summer in the journal OncoTargets and Therapy, the scientists concluded that astaxanthin inhibited the expression of certain genes that contributed to growth of the cancer while also increasing important antioxidant and anti-inflammation pathways.
In another study conducted in Iran, and presented at the International Conference on BioMedical Sciences last year, researchers examined astaxanthin’s effect on breast cancer cells cultured in the lab. The results were promising: astaxanthin had an anticancer effect on breast cancer cells, though it was very dose dependent. The question at present is to determine exactly how high a concentration of astaxanthin is needed to produce the desired anticancer effect.
But perhaps most exciting is the research on astaxanthin effects on colon cancer. Last summer brought us a study from Scientific Reports revealing astaxanthin could successfully halt the metastasis, or spread, of additional malignant growths of colon cancer. Researchers found astaxanthin blocked a process called EMT that allows cancer cells to spread, stopping the spread of colon cancer in mice. They concluded that astaxanthin could work similarly in human patients.
This finding is important, considering colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, and if it’s not caught early your chances of survival can be dismal. The survival rate for early intervention of colon cancer is 90 percent, but for those cases that become metastatic, the survival rate plummets to closer to ten percent.
Finally, several studies have shown promise when using astaxanthin against skin cancer because, in addition to powerful antioxidant properties, astaxanthin can protect skin cells against UV damage.
What’s more, a study published a few years back in the International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research found astaxanthin can also prevent the growth and spread of skin cancer cells.
Fights inflammation to support
joint health, heart health and much more
Oxidation plays a role in several major diseases besides cancer, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration, as well as immune system disorders. This is why astaxanthin is also shown to benefit these conditions and fight aging.
Numerous studies show that astaxanthin’s antioxidant properties reduce inflammation and balance the immune system, making it a useful treatment for chronic problems like rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition, astaxanthin helps the heart in a number of ways. Studies show astaxanthin regulates blood fats, reducing bad LDL cholesterol and improving good HDL cholesterol. Astaxanthin also enhances blood flow and circulation, improving blood vessel and artery health.
In a study of patients with type 2 diabetes performed in 2018, researchers discovered astaxanthin helped lower blood pressure and improve blood sugar metabolism.
Research also suggests astaxanthin reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, slows down the development of Parkinson’s disease, and protects the liver against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Really, the list of benefits of astaxanthin to your health goes on and on and on. The question isn’t, should you take astaxanthin, but how much should you take?
If you’re taking astaxanthin as a supplement, quality and active ingredients can vary widely. Many research studies used between two mg and 24 mg per day, but optimal dosage for any one condition, including cancer prevention or treatment, is still unknown.
A review published late last year in the journal Phytotherapy Research found dosages of 12 mg to 24 mg a day resulted in no negative side effects.
There is conflicting research on whether astaxanthin and saw palmetto (an herb that promotes healthy prostate size and function) taken together increase testosterone levels– including a testosterone-related molecule called DHT– or reduce them. DHT contributes to prostate enlargement, which is virtually a plague among older men. So you might want to avoid combining astaxanthin and saw palmetto.
Whatever astaxanthin you choose, make sure it’s natural astaxanthin. There are chemically synthesized forms and I’d steer clear of those.
Of course, you can get astaxanthin directly from eating certain seafoods such as salmon. Four ounces of wild caught sockeye salmon gives you about 4.5 milligrams of astaxanthin, but I prefer a supplement instead of eating wild caught seafood because the latter can be a source of dangerous toxins such as mercury.
- “Antioxidant and Anti-skin cancer potential of a Ketocarotenoid pigment Astaxanthin isolated from a green microalga HaematococcuspluvialisFlotow.” By Santhose, Infant &Elumalai, Sujatha & Gopal, Rajesh. (2016).
- “Astaxanthin.”From WebMD, retrieved 21 April 2020.
- “Astaxanthin supplement shows promise in brain health category: Two studies.” 13-Nov-2019 By Danielle Masterson.
- “Astaxanthin suppresses the metastasis of colon cancer by inhibiting the MYC-mediated downregulation of microRNA-29a-3p and microRNA-200a.” By HyeYoun Kim, et al. Scientific Reports volume 9, Article number: 9457 (2019).
- “Dietary natural astaxanthin at an early stage inhibits N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine–induced esophageal cancer oxidative stress and inflammation via downregulation of NFκB and COX2 in F344 rats.” By Lingling Cui, et al, Onco Targets Ther.2019; 12: 5087–5096.
- “Effective Inhibition of Skin Cancer, Tyrosinase and Antioxidative Properties by Astaxanthin and Astaxanthin Esters from Green Alga Haematococcuspluvialis.” By Ranga Rao Ambati, et al. March 2013Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 61(16), DOI: 10.1021/jf304609j.
- “Safety review backs natural astaxanthin, but holds off on synthetic forms.” 06-Dec-2019 By Hank Schultz.
- “Success in metabolically engineering marine algae to synthesize valuable antioxidant astaxanthin.”From Kobe University, Japan, 13 December 2019.
- “The Cytotoxic Effects of Astaxanthin on Breast Cancer Cells.” By TaherehNaji, et al. International Conference on BioMedical Sciences (ICBMS19)September 27-28, 2019 Istanbul (Turkey).