One of the prevalent theories of aging – the free radical theory – states that our bodies’ age because, over time, our cells are damaged by something called free radicals, the unstable molecules produced through our normal bodily functions. Fortunately, we do have tools that will lessen the damage done by free radicals: we call them free radical scavengers, commonly known as antioxidants.
“Scientists now believe that free radicals are causal factors in nearly every known disease, from heart disease to arthritis to cancer to cataracts. In fact, free radicals are a major culprit in the aging process itself.” Dr. Lester Packer
Some of the more common antioxidants include green tea, Vitamins A, C and E (which can be found in abundance in many types of berries) and most beta carotenes (think carrots).
While there are great benefits to the above antioxidants, they pale in comparison to astaxanthin, the most powerful antioxidant known to date. Natural astaxanthin is a free radical scavenging machine, as it is sixty-five times more powerful than vitamin C, fifty-four times more powerful than beta-carotene, and fourteen times more powerful than vitamin E[i].
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that is grown from a type of microalgae called the Haematococcus pluvialis. This microalgae is visible in many sections of our food chain, which is responsible for the bright pink color of flamingos and shrimp as well as the pink flesh of wild salmon.
I suggest Astaxanthin supplementation because it is very difficult to consume enough of this powerful antioxidant through food sources alone. In addition, farmed-raised seafood is usually fed synthetic astaxanthin, a petrochemical by-product not formally approved for human consumption.
While we are only beginning to understand the powerful protective features of Astaxanthin, research indicates that there is a long list of health benefits making it worthy of taking daily.
Astaxanthin is an Anti-aging Internal Sunscreen
Astaxanthin works hard to protect the body’s largest organ: the skin. I like to think of it as an internal sunscreen that works by protecting against the damaging effects of UV radiation. In the past I would burn very easily, but after taking just 4 mg of astaxanthin daily for two weeks, I noticed that I was able to stay out in the sun much longer without getting red and uncomfortable. Despite the incredible benefits of Astaxanthin, I still recommend using a natural sunscreen as the skin on the face is much thinner and more susceptible to sun damage.
There are numerous studies that consistently show that a daily dose of astaxanthin can help with skin’s elasticity, smoothness, age-spots or freckles and overall moisture levels, keeping your skin looking fresher and younger[ii].
A Powerful Anti-inflammatory
As we get older, we want to not only look good, but we also want to feel good. Unfortunately, as we age, our immune system and DNA are more prone to damage from inflammatory responses. Many health experts believe that chronic systemic inflammation is an underlying cause of many age-related diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. A common test to gauge inflammation in the body measures the amount of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein produced by the liver in response to inflammation. In as little as eight weeks, natural astaxanthin has been shown to reduce the levels of CRP by up to 20 percent[iii]. Although this study was conducted in 2007, the pharmaceutical industry has yet to develop a prescription drug that can boast these types of results.
Astaxanthin for Eye Health and Protection
I remember growing up, watching my grandparents struggle with bifocals, cataract surgeries and other types of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). Clinical studies confirm that numerous and continuous injury to the eyes (think about all of the hours you spend looking at a computer) is the major cause of ARMD. This is a common problem that over 60 million people worldwide suffer with. In fact, it is the major cause of blindness for people over the age of 50, with over 10 million people reporting total loss of vision[iv].
One of the unique qualities of Astaxanthin is that it can cross the blood-brain-retina barrier. What this means is that once in the retina, Astaxanthin is able to protect the eyes from injury due to excessive light and free radicals. Numerous clinical studies carried out over the past five years have determined that an Astaxanthin supplement can be used either as a preventative or treatment in this regard[v]. The good news is that getting older does not necessarily mean that you have to begin the search for a pair of bifocals!
Things to Consider
If you are considering an Astaxanthin supplement, it is best to start with 2-4mg per day. There are no studies that suggest that there is any fear of overdosing on astaxanthin, but even on this relatively small dosage, many people see and feel noticeable results within 30 days. Many of my patients who are professional athletes prefer a larger dose.
I also recommend taking a natural product rather than synthetic versions, as all of the clinical studies that show health benefits have been the result of natural Astaxanthin. The brand that I personally used is made by the Hawaiian-based company called Nutrex, an environmentally conscious company that that guarantees that its products are free of pesticides, herbicides and produced using a fully sustainable method.
Free radicals and oxidative stress are a part of normal life; despite this, we can help slow or even turn back the hands of time with the use of powerful antioxidants like Astaxanthin. Combined with a healthy diet and a proper amount of daily exercise, Astaxanthin is a supplement that I believe can help you age backwards!
Erin Douglas is a registered yoga instructor and a classically trained homeopath. Her life-long passion for healing has taken her all over the world from learning yogic philosophy and healing in India to studying Vipassana meditation in Northern Thailand with the Buddhist monks. She received her formal training in classical homeopathy at the renowned Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario, the first province in Canada to regulate homeopathy. She operates a complementary medicine healing clinic and every month, organizes seven and fourteen day spiritual yoga retreats and adventures in Waikiki, Hawaii. For more information on joining an upcoming Hawaiian Adventure Yoga Retreat or to book a homeopathic or nutritional consultation, feel free to check out her website or send an email.
[i] The Silent Inflammation that Afflicts 3 out of 4 Americans, Dr. Mercola, July 12, 2011
[ii] Astaxanthin, canthaxanthin and beta-carotene differently affect UVA-induced oxidative damage and expression of oxidative stress- responsive enzymes. Camera E, Mastrofrancesco A, Fabbri C, Daubrawa F, Picardo M, Sies H, Stahl W. Exp Dermatol. 2009 Mar;18(3):222-31. Epub 2008 Sep
[iii] Effect of daily use natural astaxanthin on C-reactive protein. Health Research & Studies Center, Gene A. Spiller, PhD, Antonella Dewell, MS, RD, Sally Chaves, RN, Zaga Rakidzich. Los Altos, CA. Study Report, January, 2006
[iv] Astaxanthin: The Most Powerful Nutrient Ever Discovered for Eye Health, Mercola, November 23, 2010
[v] Astaxanthin the Newest Eye Healthcare Dietary Supplement, Dr John Minatelli, Valensa International, Resources