Despite an extensive list of potential benefits and ‘encouraging’ recent findings, Chinese scientists report in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research that “more extensive, well-controlled clinical trials, especially for 9-cis-astaxanthin, are suggested for each of these categories”.
The global astaxanthin market is estimated to be worth about $200 million by 2015, most of which is used as a pigment to enhance the pink coloration of fish such as salmon. The human uses market is growing and estimated at about $35-60 million, according to 2008 data from Frost & Sullivan.
Most astaxanthin is derived from the algae, Haematococcus pluvialis, which is commonly consumed by fish and crustaceans and is responsible for their pink coloration.
Its main health benefits are eye and skin health although it has also been linked to joint health and central nervous system health and is said to have an antioxidant payload 500 times that of vitamin E.
Beyond such benefits, the review concludes: “[The potential protective effects]against various diseases by astaxanthin are likely to involve antioxidant mechanisms including prevention of oxidative damage and cellular necrosis or apoptosis induced by oxidative stress; other potential mechanisms include decreased expression or production of inflammatory mediators and cytokines by suppressing the activation of nuclear factor-kB, decreased expression or production of transforming growth factor-b1, increased levels of circulating adiponectin and insulin sensitivity, decreased activity of the renin-angiotensin system, and antimicrobial activity against H. pylori, etc. “
UV light causes chemical changes in the body that can suppress the body’s immune system and stimulate the growth of cancer cells by generating toxic substances known as free radicals. These substances, which attack and damage our DNA, are believed to be one of the factors that cause skin cancer. Certain molecules in some vitamin-rich foods can absorb these free radicals. Astaxanthin is proving to be one of the most effective and efficient free radical “sponges” found in nature, soaking up the toxic molecules to prevent them from causing further damage. A potent antioxidant, astaxanthin is more than 500 times stronger than vitamin E and 10 times stronger than vitamin A (betacarotene). It can also enhance the immune system, helping to reduce the inflammation that leads to sunburn.
Source: Molecular Nutrition & Food Research