Produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis, astaxanthin is gaining attention as a versatile antioxident with many applications, and is now being promoted by WholeFoods.

WholeFoods Magazine, a shopper’s guide to current health and nutrition information, and new and emerging product categories, has in its current issue dubbed astaxanthin “The King of Carotenoids.” The issue takes a deep look at practical information on the algal-derived super antioxident, describing its broad palate of applications and benefits.

A naturally-occuring carotenoid, astaxanthin has become a popular supplement for its unique benefits, particularly its protection against cellular damage, especially in the brain and vascular system. Astaxanthin can also play a role in helping to relieve pain and inflammation, support eye health and even help reduce damage from the sun.

Astaxanthin is produced by the microalgae, Haematococcus pluvialis, when its water supply dries up, forcing it to protect itself from a lack of nutrition and ultraviolet radiation by using astaxanthin as a “force field.” Although astaxanthin is produced in algae, it can also be found in marine animals such as salmon, shrimp and lobster, which consume the algae and in turn gives these animals their pink flesh color and even aids in salmon’s strength and endurance to swim up-river and through waterfalls.

Because astaxanthin is an antioxidant, it naturally neutralizes free radicals that can harm our cells. However, unlike most antioxidant vitamins and minerals that lose their antioxidant function once a free radical has been disarmed, astaxanthin remains active and can disarm several free radicals at one time, making it a more efficient antioxidant.

People commonly believe that skin wrinkles and age spots appear as a result of exposure to the elements such as the sun, wind and pollution. However, another factor may be oxidative damage. As we absorb toxins into our bloodstream, from pollution in the air, from pesticides in the food we eat, or any other factor, in-cellular oxidation is the result. Cellular oxidation can damage cell membranes and other structures such as the collagen in our skin, which can then become thinner, lose the ability to hold its shape and become less elastic eventually forming wrinkles.

Besides trying to avoid toxins to prevent the signs of premature aging, astaxanthin may be able to significantly reduce the oxidative load in the body by protecting the cells against oxidation.

Astaxanthin has also shown effective for eye and brain support. To help combat free radicals from enacting oxidative damage in the retina, two carotenoids, zeaxanthin and lutein, are concentrated in the macula of the retina. However as one ages, the body begins to lose the ability to produce high levels of the antioxidants it needs to fight off toxins that are targeting one’s organs and even fight off light damaging exposure such as high-energy light rays called blue light, which can reach deep into the eye, causing damage to the retina and has even be theorized in the development of age-related macular degeneration. New research suggests astaxanthin has the ability to cross the blood-brain barriers and the blood-retinal barrier to bring antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects to stop retinal destruction.

Astaxanthin’s ability to travel throughout the body allows it to target a number of high-stress inflammatory areas such as the joints, the heart, the brain, the eyes, and the skin. In a recent study involving obese adults, astaxanthin has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, ApoB and oxidative stress biomarkers. Another study with participants taking 6 mg of astaxanthin per day for 10 days showed an improvement in blood circulation, which may also help those with hypertension, a condition in which blood pressure in the arteries is elevated requiring the heart to pump harder to circulate blood.

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