It is always amazing to me to find out more about what various nutrients provide for the stunningly complex, miraculous human body. Recent studies on astaxanthin [asta-zan-thin] continue to point out its versatility and impact on the core of health like mitochondria, anti-aging genes and geroprotection. Understanding how to help your body age well is like a detective searching for hidden treasures that open the door to bountiful health. Consider astaxanthin a hidden treasure amongst many other wonderful nutrients our foods and natural resources provide. Here are some recent findings with astaxanthin.
Oxidative Stress and Mitochondria
Oxidative stress is a major reason why aging occurs. Oxidative stress is the process by which free radicals like reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause subtle tissue changes and cellular damage like rust that develops on your car. As a result of oxidative stress, function breaks down and tissues change.
Mitochondria are highly sensitive to oxidative stress. Mitochondria make their own free radicals like ROS simply because of normal energy production, but many other factors stress mitochondrial function that are modifiable factors. These include smoking, alcohol, infection, stress, poor diets, extreme exercise, heavy metals, other chemicals, and inflammation.
Mitochondria are inside all of your cells except red blood cells. These organelles are responsible for making energy (ATP) and other functions. They are central to your vitality and neuroimmunoendocrine function. Your brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, and pancreas contain high amounts of mitochondria as these organs have high energy demands.
Too many ROS free radicals cause mitochondria to swell, break, and lose ATP production capacity. The progression of mitochondrial dysfunction increases with acute overwhelming stressors or years of chronic low-grade challenges. Eventually, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular apoptosis (death), aging, and tissue pathology ensues.
Astaxanthin’s Unique Shape Provides Superior Protection
Oxidative stress and mitochondrial health respond to many different things such as a healthy diet, adequate sleep and rest, appropriate physical exercise, several nutrients, and other means of self-care. Due to the unique shape of astaxanthin, this special carotenoid offers mitochondria superior protection against ROS stress.
Astaxanthin’s distinctive shape gives it a higher antioxidant capacity than other carotenes and it can attach to and span across cell membranes. Mitochondrial cell membranes are involved with moving electrons back and forth for energy production. Protection of this membrane is critical. Astaxanthin’s shape and functionality greatly aids protection for mitochondria found in your brain, heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and other tissues like your muscles.
Muscle tissues have many different types of stressors including heat stress. In a study published in August 2019, muscle tissue samples were exposed to heat-stress at 98.6 F to 109 degrees. ROS levels and mitochondrial structural integrity were evaluated before and after the heat stress.
Tissues treated with astaxanthin had preserved mitochondrial integrity and function. Otherwise, in the nontreated tissues, heat stress led to mitochondrial breakdown, fragmentation, and eventually cell death. These findings may compel you to consider astaxanthin support as you work and play outside in the heat.
Astaxanthin and Brain Aging
Ongoing evidence continues to demonstrate astaxanthin’s outstanding benefits for brain aging as it can cross the blood brain barrier. It has now gained recognition as a “geroneuroprotector”. A geroprotector is a compound that slows the rate of aging and may affect age-associated decline. “Geroneuroprotector” refers to powerful age-related protection for the brain and nervous system.
A comprehensive review study published July 2020 identified the many benefits of astaxanthin that make it a geroneuroprotector. Astaxanthin has the ability to modulate several cellular mechanisms and genes like NF-kappa B, AMPK, SIRT1, NRF2, FOXO3 related to longevity and anti-aging. Astaxanthin helps your brain make brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a powerful brain repair compound.
Astaxanthin protects neural plasticity (the ability of the nervous system to adapt to change) and cognitive performance in older subjects. It defends brain mitochondrial function, cell membranes, and nerves from free radicals and inflammatory stress, which aids brain function, cognitive skills, stress tolerance, positive mood and aging well. In addition, astaxanthin was shown to potentially ameliorate age-related muscle loss and strength.
Aging well requires healthy brain function, physical strength, and mobility. As one of those functions goes, so do the others. To maintain quality of life, it is all about “use it or lose it”. Astaxanthin offers a great dimension of support and protection to this principle.
Jet-Lag and Sugar Induced Oxidative Stress
Here is an interesting finding of astaxanthin buffering against the effects of jet lag and sugar stress that makes anyone feel older. A recent study evaluated how weeks of chronic jet-lag stress and intake of a sugar (d-galactose) induced wear-and-tear oxidative stress in mice.
One test group was fed astaxanthin for six weeks versus none in the control group. Results showed that the astaxanthin supported group experienced very significant anti-aging effects and amelioration of oxidative stress. Liver function, muscle energy, physical endurance and anti-aging gene effects were protected from the stressors.
Other studies on astaxanthin, anti-aging and blood sugar excess are also enticing. Blood sugar excess is highly stressful to mitochondria, cell membranes, capillaries, and nerves as it creates ROS free radicals and advanced glycation end products (AGE) which injures tissues and makes them stiff. Astaxanthin was shown to buffer against high levels of ROS from blood sugar excess and supports insulin secretion and function. Its antioxidant functions helped protect delicate nerve, capillaries, and mitochondria from AGE products.
Mold toxins or mycotoxins such as ochratoxin A, create substantial stress to your body. Ochratoxin A is the most widespread and potent type of common mold toxin. It is readily found in the food supply, i.e. grains, soybeans, pork, coffee, wine, cocoa, chocolate, grapes, dried raisins, Chinese herbal ingredients, and some seasonings. Ochratoxin A is commonly found in water-damaged buildings and heating ducts. Ochratoxin A12 can enter the blood stream and accumulates in organs like various parts of your brain (cerebellum, etc), heart, and kidneys where it leads to increased free radical stress.
A recent study evaluated mice exposed to ochratoxin A and measured kidney stress and antioxidant levels. Mice that received astaxanthin treatment had better antioxidant status (superoxide dismutase, glutathione, etc) and experienced less kidney stress compared to the non-supported group.
Two other compounds MDA and NRF2 were also measured. Malondialdehyde or MDA reflects lipid peroxidation or free radical oxidative stress to cell membranes. The group with astaxanthin support experienced reduced MDA levels, whereas the untreated, mold toxin exposed group had high MDA levels.
The other compound measured was NRF2. NRF2 is a very important key regulator of cell antioxidant responses. NRF2 was strongly supported with astaxanthin intake, whereas it was decreased in the other group. These are important factors pertaining to mitochondria health.
Other recent research shows astaxanthin very helpful in protecting the heart from ochratoxin A stress. It supported NRF2 activity and defended mitochondria from oxidative and mycotoxin stress. Given the burgeoning mold concerns from water-damaged buildings and mycotoxins in the food supply, strongly consider astaxanthin as part of your nutritional arsenal.
To get 4 mg of astaxanthin in your diet, you would need to consume about 7 ounces of wild-caught salmon every day. Astaxanthin is also found in other seafood and freshwater fish like trout, red snapper, crab, shrimp, lobster, and tilapia along with green microalgae like Haematococcus pluvialis algae extract. Farm-raised fish has less astaxanthin content. Unfortunately, intake is often limited or void of astaxanthin with many diets (plant-based, keto, Western) of modern day, which means you are missing out on this super antioxidant.
Wellness Resources Astaxanthin contains high purity AstaReal®, a natural astaxanthin sourced from the marine microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis. Wellness Resources Astaxanthin contains 6mg of astaxanthin per softgel capsule.
Astaxanthin offers powerful support in unique ways at the core of life energy that are significantly helpful for healthy aging. As you reflect on this material and read about additional ways that astaxanthin supports in the articles below, consider the addition of astaxanthin to your nutritional arsenal. Old age does not have to be for the birds. Do what you can to age well at any age.