These days, antioxidants are a fairly well-known class of nutrients. Names like lycopene and beta-carotene are part of everyday discussions about nutrition.But one antioxidant tends to get overlooked, despite the fact that it has more antioxidant power than beta-carotene and vitamins C and E. I’m talking about astaxanthin, an antioxidant related to beta-carotene that, amazingly, can neutralize free radicals without compromising its molecular structure.We’ll discuss this amazing antioxidant and why it’s important for your bones and your overall health, and then we’ll look at the best sources of this powerful nutrient.
Astaxanthin: the “Superman” of Antioxidants
Like beta-carotene and lutein, astaxanthin is a carotenoid. But it’s not just any carotenoid. Astaxanthin is more effective than the average antioxidant, and here’s why.Free radicals are produced as a by-product of cellular metabolism. They are called “free” because they have a missing electron that is normally paired with another. This makes them very unstable, and this instability is brought into balance when the free radical “robs” another cell of one of its electrons.But the problem is, the cell from which the electron was taken is now missing an electron – it’s a free radical itself now! So a chain reaction ensues, creating more and more free radicals that damage more and more cells by taking electrons.When antioxidants neutralize free radicals, they do so by either stopp
Why Astaxanthin is Different
ing the chain reaction once it starts, or preventing it from starting to begin with. Usually, they do this by giving up one of their electrons to neutralize the free radical, or they may break down the free radical molecule and make it harmless.In essence, there’s a paradox about antioxidants giving up electrons – they become unstable themselves. If you have enough antioxidants, this issue will take care of itself and body tissue will not be “robbed,” thus damaging cells. But wouldn’t it be better for an antioxidant to be able to stop free radicals and not become a free radical itself?Astaxanthin is such an antioxidant.Astaxanthin is unique in that it is able to donate an electron to a free radical and still remain stable and intact. This is due to its enormous surplus of electrons, so astaxanthin can donate many, many times over. Moreover, most other antioxidants are eventually broken down by chemical processes in the body, but there is no such process that breaks down astaxanthin.
Benefits of Astaxanthin
Recent research has revealed some fascinating benefits of this fat-soluble antioxidant. In a 2008 study, astaxanthin showed promise in preventing cardiovascular disease,3 probably due to its ability to reduce C-Reactive Proteins (CRPs), which are inflammatory markers. In addition, astaxanthin reduces triglycerides and increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
In 2011, University of California researcher Parris Kidd wrote an extensive review examining multiple studies that show the “diverse clinical benefits”4 of astaxanthin. Here are some of these research-backed benefits:
● Lowers oxidative stress in overweight individuals
● Lowers oxidative stress in smokers (imagine what it can do for non-smokers!)
● Improves blood flow in microcirculatory models
● Improves cognition
● Improves vision – in fact, astaxanthin’s ability to cross cell barriers in eye tissue means it can offer protection from diseases like age-related macular degeneration.
● Relieves reflux symptoms in people with H. pylori
● Decreases inflammation
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