Astaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment that belongs to a class of chemical compounds called terpenes. Astaxanthin is available in its harvestable and usable form in several marine animals. Most notable marine organisms that carry the carotenoid include the pacific salmon, shrimp, crabs, etc. The presence of astaxanthin in these animals is evidenced from the pinkish-red colour of their meat. These animals imbibe the substance from other marine organisms such as algae, krill, plankton, etc. Marine algae is one of the richest sources of astaxanthin known to man.
Astaxanthin is available in land-based animals and plants as well, but in much small quantities as compared to their aquatic counterparts. Astaxanthin plays the primary function of protecting cells from damage due to environmental factors. The density of astaxanthin in an organism usually increases as it travels up the food chain. Correspondingly, the colour of compounds that have astaxanthin also change as it goes up the food chain, beginning with a yellowish-green and ending with a pinkish-red colour.
Astaxanthin is routinely used as a compound in animal feed and aquafeed, though it is used mainly to impart colour and not to boost the nutritional value or mass of cultured seafood or meat. However, its use in animal feed and aquafeed has led to a slew of research being conducted into astaxanthin. While initially the research focussed on the potential harmful effects of astaxanthin entering the food chain dominated by humans, it has subsequently revealed certain benefits as well. Consequently, astaxanthin is being explored as a dietary supplement as well, though its widespread use in this regard is still in a relatively nascent stage. However, some research has shown the following benefits of astaxanthin:
- Astaxanthin is rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants are basically substances that prevent oxidation of cells in the human body. Oxidation in cells is dangerous since it can lead to conditions that lead to uncontrollable growth of cells and tissues that can develop into tumours, which may also be cancerous. Thus, a healthy diet of foods rich in astaxanthin and astaxanthin as a dietary supplement can help reduce the risk of cancer in the long-term. Furthermore, certain studies are also being conducted into whether astaxanthin can help in treatment of cancers. Besides cancer, cell oxidation also has harmful effects on the skin as it encourages formation of wrinkles and accelerates skin ageing. Thus, astaxanthin can potentially help maintain a youthful looking skin.
- Astaxanthin accelerates the body’s use of fatty acids
Fatty acids are the primary cause of people being overweight and astaxanthin has proven that it accelerates burning of fatty acids during work outs. Thus, astaxanthin is a potential food supplement for a weight loss programme. Besides this, fatty acids are also responsible for poor heart health and cardiovascular illnesses. Thus, a diet rich in astaxanthin can potentially reduce the chances of heart strokes other and cardiovascular conditions.
- Astaxanthin can boost fertility
Astaxanthin has been shown to increase sperm mobility and sperm count in adult males. However, this research is still in the nascent stage, but has the potential to address the problem of male infertility.
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- Astaxanthin has anti-inflammatory properties
Astaxanthin can potentially reduce swelling and joint pains. This may lead to its use in dealing with joint conditions and joint aches among the elderly in the future. However, this research too is in a relatively recent stage.