By Dr. Mercola
Get ready to hear more and more about astaxanthin in the coming months and years, as researchers continue to uncover its remarkable and wide-ranging health benefits.
Extracted from marine algae, astaxanthin is what gives flamingos and salmon their pink coloring.
Astaxanthin is a member of the carotenoid family, which includes beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin, just to name a few -- but it's being recognized as one of the most potent and exciting antioxidants known to man, and is backed by extensive and compelling evidence indicating its potential therapeutic value in over 100 health conditions.
The latest published study on astaxanthin revealed yet another remarkable benefit: its ability to prevent three major causes of gastric ulcer formation.2
Astaxanthin May Protect Against Ulcers
A recent study examined the effect of astaxanthin on gastric mucosal damage caused by alcohol, aspirin and hydrochloric acid.
For the study, mice were pretreated with astaxanthin for one hour before being exposed to the ulcerating chemicals.
The researchers found astaxanthin significantly decreased the extent of the gastric ulcers. Astaxanthin also decreased the level of thiobarbituric acid reactive substance, which is a key indicator that there was a reduction in tissue-damaging oxidative stress. According to the study:
"These results suggest that astaxanthin has antioxidant properties and exerts a protective effect against ulcer formation in murine models."
Other research has found similarly compelling evidence that astaxanthin is protective against ulcers from a variety of causes, including:
- Protection against NSAID drug-induced gastric ulcers, with researchers noting it "may offer potential remedy of gastric ulceration."
- Protection against stress-induced gastric ulcers. Researchers stated, "The results showed that rats given Asx [astaxanthin] or vitamin C were appreciably protected against the evolution of gastric ulcerations in relation to control rats."
Along those lines, astaxanthin was found to reduce symptoms of acid reflux in patients when compared to a placebo, particularly in those with pronounced Helicobacter pylori infection, which is thought to be a major cause of ulcers. This, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg, as astaxanthin exerts beneficial effects on a long, and growing, list of conditions.
Astaxanthin's Many Healthy Effects
Researchers have discovered a number of areas where astaxanthin appears to be particularly helpful. For more information about its use for the following health problems, please see the hyperlinks provided, where I explain each in great detail:
- Eye health, including protection against cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness
- Inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and more
- Sunburn and wrinkle prevention
- Improved athletic performance
- Better brain health
Many of these impressive benefits are due to its potent antioxidant properties, although more is being discovered about its mechanisms of action every day. So far, we know:
- Astaxanthin is by far the most powerful carotenoid antioxidant when it comes to free radical scavenging: astaxanthin is 65 times more powerful than vitamin C, 54 times more powerful than beta-carotene, and 14 times more powerful than vitamin E.
- It's also far more effective than other carotenoids at "singlet oxygen quenching," which is a particular type of oxidation. The damaging effects of sunlight and various organic materials are caused by this less-stable form of oxygen. Astaxanthin is 550 times more powerful than vitamin E and 11 times more powerful than beta-carotene at neutralizing singlet oxygen.
- Astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier AND the blood-retinal barrier (beta carotene and lycopene do not), which brings antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection to your eyes, brain and central nervous system and reducing your risk for cataracts, macular degeneration, blindness, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
- It's a potent UVB absorber and reduces DNA damage.
- It's a very powerful natural anti-inflammatory.
- It cannot turn into a pro-oxidant like many other antioxidants can, so it will not cause harm even in larger amounts.
- It protects the entire cell—both the water-and the fat-soluble parts.
The last point is very interesting, and something that sets astaxanthin apart from other antioxidants. There are essentially three different types of carotenoids: water-soluble, fat-soluble, and an in-between group that can interface between water and fat, such as vitamin E and astaxanthin.
While water-soluble antioxidants need to be taken every day as they're easily expelled, fat-soluble ones, such as astaxanthin, lutein, or zeaxanthin, do not need to be taken daily. Ideally, you do want to take them daily at a modest dose, but it's not required, as they will to some extent accumulate in your fat tissues, which have a slower rate of turnover.
Can You Get Astaxanthin from Your Food?
Astaxanthin is found in many pink marine and aquatic animals, including wild salmon, shrimp, lobster and crab. However, even if you eat these types of seafood every day, it would likely not be enough to give you a therapeutic dose. You'd actually have to consume about three-quarters of a pound of wild-caught sockeye salmon, which contains the highest amounts of astaxanthin of all the marine foods, to receive the same amount of astaxanthin you'd get in a 4mg capsule if you were to take a supplement.
Furthermore, unless you're eating wild salmon, the likelihood of getting this valuable nutrient from your food alone falls even lower, as farm-raised salmon typically will not contain natural astaxanthin. If your salmon label does not read "wild" or "naturally colored," you're probably going to be eating a coloring agent somewhat closer to motor oil than an antioxidant ...
As Bob Capelli, vice president of Cyanotech, the largest grower of astaxanthin in the world, said in our recent interview:
"Synthetic astaxanthin is produced from petrochemicals. It's made in the laboratory in a very elaborate process that turns it from oil into astaxanthin. Frankly, it's a pretty amazing feat that they have figured out how to do this but … it's not natural and [the molecule] has a very different shape.
… The very important difference is that the natural astaxanthin is sterified, which means that on either one or both ends of the molecule there is a fatty acid molecule attached. Again, this is not proven. We don't know why but that's the theory of why it works so much better, because in animal tests that have been done on synthetic versus natural astaxanthin, there has been a remarkable difference in all sorts of things like immunity, disease resistance, growth rates, strength, all things like that.
Also, in a laboratory test on antioxidant strength, the natural astaxanthin from algae was 20 times stronger in free radical elimination than synthetic astaxanthin from petrochemicals. It's really like comparing apples to oranges. They have the same name, astaxanthin, but again, one is very different from the other. They don't even look the same under a microscope."
Astaxanthin is also found naturally in krill oil, and in fact this is what makes krill oil so incredibly stable compared to other omega-3 fats like fish oil. Krill oil, due to its astaxanthin-bonding, will remain undamaged by a steady flow of oxygen for an impressive 190 hours, according to tests conducted by Dr. Rudi Moerck, who has advanced training in biological sciences. That's truly incredible when you consider just how fragile omega-3 fats are (both animal- and plant-based omega-3 fats).
Like animal-based omega-3 fat, astaxanthin is an exception to my general rule to get your nutrients from food. Since it would be quite difficult to get therapeutic amounts of astaxanthin in your diet, it's a supplement worthy of consideration—especially if you would like to help prevent ulcers, or are already suffering from them, or any of the other health conditions addressed above.
I recommend starting with 4 mg per day and working your way up to about 8 mg per day, or more if you're an athlete or suffering from chronic inflammation. If you are on a krill oil supplement, which naturally contains astaxanthin, take that into consideration. Different krill products have different concentrations of astaxanthin, so check your label. Keep in mind that astaxanthin is a fat-soluble supplement, which means eating it along with some butter, coconut oil, eggs or other healthy fat will help ensure optimal absorption.
Other Important Steps for Remedying Gastric Ulcers
Typically, the answer to gastric problems like ulcers and acid indigestion is to restore your natural gastric balance and function. Not only is it useful for optimal gut function but it is crucial for your long-term health, as your gut flora can increase your absorption of nutrients tremendously.
It is very clear from reviewing the literature that you can't be healthy until your gut flora is optimized. That is one of the ways eating sugars harm you—they push your gut flora balance in the wrong direction.
So one of the first things you'll want to do is to make sure you're consuming enough good bacteria from traditionally fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, or in a probiotic supplement. This will help balance your bowel flora, which can help eliminate Helicobacter bacteria naturally. It will also aid in the proper digestion and assimilation of your food.
Next, if you have heartburn, acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease or any acid-related condition, the following strategies may help. For even more information, I encourage you to read natural health pioneer Dr. Jonathan Wright's excellent book Your Stomach: What is Really Making You Miserable and What to Do About It.
Eliminate food triggers -- Food allergies can be a problem, so you'll want to completely eliminate items such as caffeine, alcohol, and all nicotine products. Also, even if you have not been diagnosed with a clinically confirmed allergy to wheat, this exceptionally problematic grain contains anti-nutrients, lectins and difficult-to-digest disulfide-bonded proteins like gluten, which may result in an increased tendency towards the development of gastric ulcers and related gastrointestinal complaints.
Increase your body's natural production of stomach acid -- One of the simplest strategies to encourage your body to make sufficient amounts of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) is to consume enough of the raw material.
One of the most basic food items that many people neglect is a high quality sea salt (unprocessed salt), such as Himalayan salt. Not only will it provide you with the chloride your body needs to make hydrochloric acid, it also contains over 80 trace minerals, without which your body can't function optimally.
Sauerkraut or cabbage juice are some of the strongest stimulants for your body to produce acid. This is a good thing as many people have low stomach acid, which is the cause of their gut problems. Having a few teaspoons of cabbage juice before eating, or better yet, fermented cabbage juice from sauerkraut, will do wonders to improve your digestion as it can be made with high levels of Himalayan salt and the bacteria in the sauerkraut will help to heal your gut.
Take a hydrochloric acid supplement – Another option is to take a betaine hydrochloric supplement, which is available in health food stores without prescription. You'll want to take them during meals that contain protein, and take as many as you need to get the slightest burning sensation and then decrease by one capsule. This will help your body to better digest your food, and will restore the stomach acid barrier, which will help kill the Helicobacter pylori along with a wide range of other food-borne pathogens.
Modify your diet – Eating large amounts of processed foods and sugar/fructose is a surefire way to exacerbate acid reflux as it will upset the bacterial balance in your stomach and intestine. Instead, you'll want to eat a lot of vegetables, and high quality biodynamic, organic and preferably locally grown foods.
Optimize your vitamin D levels -- As I've mentioned many times in the past, vitamin D is essential, and it's essential for this condition as well because there's likely an infectious component causing the problem. Once your vitamin D levels are optimized, you're also going to optimize your production of 200 antimicrobial peptides that will help your body eradicate any infections that shouldn't be there.
You'll want to make sure your vitamin D level is about 60 ng/ml. As I've discussed in many previous articles, you can increase your vitamin D levels through appropriate amounts of sun exposure, or through the use of a safe tanning bed. If neither of those are available, you can take an oral vitamin D3 supplement.
Establish an exercise routine – Exercise is yet another way to improve your body's immune system, which is imperative to fight off all kinds of infections.