A natural red pigment
Astaxanthin is a red colored active ingredient that has become widely recognized in recent years, especially in the beauty industry. Its name is a bit difficult to pronounce, but it is actually something we encounter very often. Humans have been eating seafood like shrimp, crab, sea bream, salmon, etc., since ancient times, and astaxanthin is the red pigment found in these types of seafood.
Humans have been eating brightly colored vegetables for a long time and are also considered healthy foods. Beta-carotene, the orange component in carrots, and lycopene, the red component in tomatoes, are types of carotenoids, and one of the reasons brightly colored vegetables are considered healthy is because they are rich in these types of carotenoids. And astaxanthin is, in fact, also a type of carotenoid.
So, why then are seafood like salmon, shrimp, crab, sea bream, etc., colored red? These types of seafood feed on things that are rich in astaxanthin, so their vibrant red coloring is most assuredly not for decoration. It is for survival in the wild.
Astaxanthin gets passed on to eggs
Take salmon as an example. Salmon are born upstream in a river, and then travel to the open ocean, where they migrate over long distances. They later swim back up their native river in order to lay eggs. They are subjected to an environment that is much harsher than other fish. It is said that the reason they are able to withstand this harsh environment is due to astaxanthin.
Salmon are actually a type of white meat fish. While migrating about in the open ocean, salmon consume krill that are rich in astaxanthin, and this astaxanthin accumulates in their muscles. This accumulated astaxanthin protects their muscles from the extremely strenuous swim back up the river where they were born – a journey they complete without eating.
After completing their trip upstream, salmon lay eggs in shallow pools that are free from predators, and then die. However, by passing astaxanthin on to their eggs at this time, they protect them from damage due to strong UV exposure in the shallow water. In this sense, astaxanthin functions like a baton in the relay race of life.
What damage does it protect against exactly?
Incidentally, what type of damage does astaxanthin protect salmon and their eggs against? The key to this is oxygen – a necessary component for humans, who must breathe to live.
We require energy to move our bodies, to think, to cry, to laugh and even to sleep. This energy comes from the oxygen and nutrients we take in when we breathe and eat. The oxygen and nutrients we absorb are transformed into energy inside our cells, and used in a variety of biological activities. Through this process, some of the oxygen transforms into a type of oxygen that is highly reactive. By its nature, the reactive oxygen produced in this way is capable of eradicating pathogenic bacteria that has invaded your body, so it necessary for life. However, when produced in excess, it begins to damage even healthy cells.
Causes for the excessive production of reactive oxygen include UV exposure, smoking, over-eating and drinking, mental stress, etc. And another is... rigorous exercise.
So, the nature of the damage it protects against is reactive oxygen – produced through the vigorous movement required to swim up the rivers where they were born, as well as that produced by UV exposure.
The power to protect you from damage
Does the technology to protect your body from excessive reactive oxygen really exist?
Humans have actually always possessed the ability to detoxify reactive oxygen – referred to as our “antioxidant ability.” This is why we suffer no negative effects in our daily lives. When broken down, the phrase “antioxidant ability” literally means “the ability to withstand oxidation.” In other words, it is the ability to protect ourselves from oxidation.
Cells are only able to function properly if your body is protected, and if reactive oxygen is continually produced in excessive amounts, then your body’s natural antioxidant ability is no longer sufficient. In addition, our antioxidant ability also weakens as we age.
For us to demonstrate our true abilities, we need to protect our bodies from damage by preventing the production of excessive levels of reactive oxygen and also consume strong anti-oxidative components.
Antioxidant power of astaxanthin
The chart to the right compares the effects of astaxanthin and other anti-oxidative components on singlet oxygen. Astaxanthin possesses extremely powerful antioxidant abilities that are reported to be 5 times stronger than beta-carotene, 800 times stronger than coenzyme Q10, and 6000 times stronger than vitamin C.
Singlet oxygen is a type of reactive oxygen that damages your body, and it is said to be related to the production of peroxide lipids, which are considered the cause of skin aging and muscle fatigue. There are many types of reactive oxygen, and within our bodies, we have the antioxidant abilities to detoxify them.
However, there is one type of reactive oxygen that we do not have the ability to detoxify – singlet oxygen. Therefore, we have no choice but to take something externally, and it has been reported that astaxanthin is the absolute best at suppressing singlet oxygen.
A unique position
The cells that make up our bodies are covered in a double-layered membrane called the cytoplasmic membrane. The inner-layer of which is fat-soluble and the outer-layer is water-soluble. Most well-known anti-oxidative components are only able to exist in either the water-soluble or the fat-soluble area – not both.
However, due to its unique structure, astaxanthin passes through the fat-soluble area in the cell membrane and exists with its ends sticking into the water-soluble area. In other words, it excels at being able to protect the entire cell.
Easy to warm up and cool down
“Pro-oxidants” are the side-effects of anti-oxidative components.
Most anti-oxidative ingredients work by acting as a “substitute.” That is, they protect the surrounding cells from damage by attaching themselves to reactive oxygen and becoming oxidized in their place. Oxidized anti-oxidative components then transform into pro-oxidants, which are toxic.
However, astaxanthin works by transforming reactive oxygen energy into heat energy, which is then expelled. It is considered a safe anti-oxidative component as it prevents the formation of pro-oxidants.
In addition to being a safe, extremely powerful anti-oxidative component, astaxanthin is also known for possessing extremely powerful anti-inflammatory effects.