The Most Powerful Nutrient Ever Discovered for Eye Health

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Scientists
long ago discovered that a class of naturally occurring pigments
called carotenoids held powerful antioxidant properties that are
crucial for your health.

But only recently
has one particular carotenoid jumped to the forefront in terms of
its status as a "supernutrient," becoming the focus of
a large and growing number of peer-reviewed scientific publications.

This carotenoid
is called astaxanthin.

Astaxanthin
is produced by the microalgae Haematoccous pluvialis when
its water supply dries up, forcing it to protect itself from ultraviolet
radiation.

Astaxanthin
is leaps and bounds more powerful than beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol,
lycopene and lutein; other members of its chemical family. Astaxanthin
exhibits VERY STRONG free radical scavenging activity, and protects
your cells, organs and body tissues from oxidative damage.

What makes
astaxanthin so different from other nutritional elements? And what
can it do for your health?

The answers
to these questions will form the basis of the remainder of this
article, and I think you’ll be quite impressed.

Astaxanthin
is in a League of its Own

There are many
properties that make this carotenoid special. Here are the main
differences:

  • Astaxanthin
    is by far the most powerful carotenoid antioxidant when it comes
    to free radical scavenging: it is 65 times more powerful than
    vitamin C, 54 times more powerful than beta-carotene, and 14 times
    more powerful than vitamin E.
  • Astaxanthin
    is 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 this singlet oxygen.
  • Astaxanthin
    crosses the blood-brain barrier AND the blood-retinal barrier
    (beta carotene and lycopene do not), which has huge implications
    for the health of your eyes.
  • It is soluble
    in lipids, so it incorporates into cell membranes.
  • It is a
    potent UVB absorber.
  • It reduces
    DNA damage.
  • It is a
    very powerful natural anti-inflammatory.
  • No adverse
    reactions have been found for people taking astaxanthin.
  • It is virtually
    impossible to obtain the recommended daily amount of astaxanthin
    from diet alone because there are only two prime sources: microalgae
    and sea creatures that consume the algae (such as salmon, shellfish,
    and krill).

Carotenoids
101

Carotenoids
are the compounds in your foods that give you that vibrant cornucopia
of color — from green grasses to red beets, to the spectacular yellows
and oranges of your bell peppers — as well as all of the beautiful
flowers in your garden.

Almost all
living things obtain their colors from natural pigments.

Beyond their
visual splendor, these pigments have deeper value in that they carry
out a variety of important biological functions. They are critical
to the photosynthetic process and protect the plant or organism
from damage by light and oxygen. Many animals incorporate carotenoids
into their diets, which provide them with antioxidants and a source
of vitamin A activity.

By consuming
a plant or organism that contains these pigments, you gain a similar
protective benefit.

There are more
than 600 naturally occurring carotenoids, but most people are familiar
with only a few.

Carotenoids
are classified into two groups:

  1. Carotenes,
    which contain no oxygen atoms: lycopene (the red in tomatoes)
    and beta-carotene (the orange in carrots) are examples.
  2. Xanthophylls,
    which contain oxygen atoms: lutein, canthaxanthin (the gold in
    chanterelle mushrooms), zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin are examples.

Zeaxanthin
is the most common carotenoid found in nature (peppers, maize, kiwi,
grapes, oranges and squash).

At this moment,
about ten different carotenoids are likely circulating in your blood.
None of the carotenes tested to date are able to cross your blood-brain
barrier — but astaxanthin does.

All Carotenoids
are Not Created Equal

Some carotenoids
(including beta-carotene, lycopene, and zeaxanthin) act not only
as antioxidants, but also as pro-oxidants when present
in your tissues in sufficient concentrations — which is not a good
thing.

Astaxanthin
is unique in that it cannot function as a pro-oxidant, making it
highly beneficial.

Zeaxanthin
is already abundant in your diet, provided you eat enough fresh,
raw, vegetables and some fruit. Your
best source of lutein is from the yolks of eggs
— but make sure
they are organic
eggs laid by free-range pastured hens
.

Astaxanthin
is different in that you are probably not consuming much of it,
and certainly not enough to take advantage of all its benefits.

Astaxanthin
is the most commonly occurring red carotenoid in marine and aquatic
animals, especially salmon, giving it its characteristic pink color.
Salmon and other sea creatures, like other animals, cannot synthesize
astaxanthin themselves and must obtain it from their diets, which
include zooplankton and krill. These smaller organisms feed on the
microalgae, which are the original producers of the pigment.

Laboratory-made
astaxanthin is now commonly used worldwide to supplement fish feeds
in order to obtain the desired pinkish to orange-red color. However,
wild
salmon are 400 percent higher in astaxanthin than farmed salmon
,
and 100 percent of theirs is natural astaxanthin, rather
than synthetic.

Astaxanthin’s
Long List of Health Benefits is Growing by the Day

There may be
no other single natural substance that performs so many beneficial
biochemical functions as this little-known carotenoid. Its scope
is truly amazing.

Here are just
some of the ways astaxanthin can positively impact your health,
according to the latest research:

  • Boosting
    immune function
  • Improving
    cardiovascular health by reducing C-Reactive Proteins (CRP), reducing
    triglycerides, and increasing beneficial HDL
  • GREATLY
    protecting your eyes from cataracts, macular degeneration, and
    blindness (which I will discuss at length below)
  • Protecting
    your brain from dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • Reducing
    your risk for many types of cancer (including cancers of the breast,
    colon, bladder and mouth) by stimulating apoptosis (cancer cell
    death) and inhibiting lipid peroxidation
  • Improving
    recovery from spinal cord and other central nervous system injuries
  • Reducing
    inflammation from all causes, including arthritis and asthma
  • Improving
    endurance, workout performance and recovery
  • Helping
    to stabilize blood sugar, thereby protecting your kidneys
  • Relieving
    indigestion and reflux
  • Improving
    fertility by increasing sperm strength and sperm count
  • Actually
    helping to prevent sunburn, and protecting you from the damaging
    effects of radiation (i.e., flying in airplanes, x-rays, CT scans,
    etc.)
  • Reducing
    oxidative damage to your DNA
  • Reducing
    symptoms from pancreatitis, multiple sclerosis, carpal tunnel
    syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and Lou Gehrig’s
    disease, and neurodegenerative diseases
  • I personally
    use it to help protect me from radiation damage when I am flying
    during the day. The radiation is reduced by 99 percent when flying
    at night so this is not an issue for night flights. However, it
    does have to be taken for three weeks to build up levels to provide
    this level of protection.

This impressive
list continues to grow as more studies are being published all the
time about this incredible nutrient.

Carotenoids
and Your Eyes

When you were
a child, odds are you were told, “Eat carrots — they’ll give you
good eyesight!”

There is some
truth to that old adage, as carrots contain carotenoids — many of
which are important for your eyes. Vitamin A, or retinal, is vital
to your retina — without it, you would simply go blind. But vitamin
A is readily available from your diet.

Of all the
carotenoids, only zeaxanthin and lutein are found in your retina,
which has the highest concentration of fatty acids of any tissue
in your body. This is because your retina is a highly light and
oxygen rich environment, and it needs a large force of free radical
scavengers to prevent oxidative damage there.

It is theorized
that your body concentrates zeaxanthin and lutein in your retina
to perform this duty. The concentration of these two pigments in
the macula of your retina are what give it its characteristic yellow
color. (The macula is actually called the “macula lutea” which literally
means “yellow spot.”)

Zeaxanthin
and lutein both cross the blood-brain-retina barriers, as astaxanthin
does.

It is interesting
that your eye preferentially concentrates zeaxanthin over lutein
in the central macular retinal area (called the fovea), where the
greatest amount of light impinges — and zeaxanthin is a more effective
singlet oxygen scavenger than lutein. Your body seems to naturally
“know” this and accumulates it where it’s most needed!

Leading Causes
of Blindness: Macular Degeneration and Cataracts

Science is
now revealing that astaxanthin may be the ULTIMATE carotenoid for
eye health and prevention of blindness.

Blindness is
an enormous problem worldwide. These statistics
might disturb you:

  • Age related
    macular degeneration (ARMD) is the leading cause of blindness
    for people over the age of 50.
  • Sixty million
    people suffer from ARMD worldwide, and 10 million are blind.
  • Severe,
    irreversible vision loss affects 30 percent of people over the
    age of 55.
  • Cataracts
    are another major cause of blindness, affecting more than 20 million
    people in the U.S. alone. Cataracts are caused by lipid peroxidation
    of the epithelial layer of the lens. Although they can have other
    causes, most are related to aging.
  • Cataracts
    result in 3 million cataract surgeries every year.

Clinical studies
tell us that photic injury from the cumulative effect of repeated
“photic insults” and the resulting gradual loss of photoreceptor
cells is a major cause of ARMD. Therefore, anything you can do to
cut your losses from these photic insults will reduce your risk
for developing macular degeneration as you age.

Protecting
Your Retina with Astaxanthin

Vitamin C can
help protect you from retinal injury from excessive light energy,
and indeed, high levels of vitamin C are found in human retinal
tissues. But this common nutrient cannot do the job alone.

Epidemiological
studies have shown that diets high in carotenoids (especially lutein
and zeaxanthin) are associated with a reduced risk of cataracts
and ARMD. It has also been shown experimentally that regular consumption
of lutein supplements can increase your macular pigment density,
which may potentially reduce your risk for later development of
ARMD.

Scientists
have studied lutein, zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin, and astaxanthin
for their respective abilities to protect the retina. But none
function to the degree that astaxanthin does
, in terms of potency
as a free radical scavenger and/or permeability across your blood-brain-retina
barrier.

In studies,
canthaxanthin was actually found to be potentially damaging to the
eye as it caused eye inclusions, which can lead to retinopathy.
So this carotenoid was ruled out as a supplement.

Dr.
Mark Tso
of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University
(considered by most professionals to be the most prestigious ophthalmology
training center in the world) has clearly demonstrated that astaxanthin
is the clear winner when it comes to protecting your eyes. He discovered
that astaxanthin easily crosses into the tissues of the eye and
exerts its effects safely and with more potency than any of the
other carotenoids, without adverse reactions.

Specifically,
Tso determined astaxanthin could ameliorate or prevent light induced
damage, photoreceptor cell damage, ganglion cell damage, and damage
to the neurons of the inner retinal layers.

He concluded
that astaxanthin supplementation could be effective in preventing
or treating a whole host of eye diseases, including:

  • Age-related
    macular degeneration (ARMD)
  • Diabetic
    neuropathy
  • Cystoid
    macular edema
  • Central
    retinal arterial and venous occlusion
  • Glaucoma
  • Inflammatory
    eye diseases (i.e., retinitis, iritis, keratitis, scleritis, etc.)

Other researchers
(Shimidzu et al, Bagchi, Martin
et al
, and Beutner)
have since confirmed Dr. Tso’s finding that astaxanthin is the most
powerful antioxidant ever discovered for eye health, giving your
eyes an additional layer of long-term protection.

Prevention
of Cancer and Support for Your Immune System

Besides being
a huge discovery in the prevention of eye disease, astaxanthin is
showing great promise in cancer prevention, at least in animal studies.
Because astaxanthin is not commonly found in human serum, information
on its epidemiology in human health is lacking.

Several
studies have shown the effectiveness of astaxanthin as a cancer
preventative in rats and mice
:

  • In 2002,
    Kurihara et al studied the protective effect of astaxanthin against
    cancer in mice. He found astaxanthin “improved antitumor responses
    by inhibiting the lipid peroxidation induced by stress.”
  • Tanaka et
    al (1994) showed that astaxanthin protected mice from urinary
    bladder cancer.
  • A second
    study by Tanaka (1995) showed that astaxanthin prevented oral
    carcinogenesis in rats, and that the inhibitory effect on cancer
    was more pronounced than that of beta-carotene, which they had
    previously tested.
  • A third
    study by the same research group (1995) found a significant decrease
    in the incidence of colon cancer in animals fed astaxanthin.

As a side note,
it is interesting that the principal dietary source of astaxanthin
is salmon, which is a central to the diet of Eskimos and other coastal
tribes of North America. These groups have demonstrated an unusually
low prevalence of cancer, which has traditionally been attributed
to the high levels of certain fatty acids in salmon.

But it is certainly
worth exploring the possibility that the astaxanthin
in their fish diets may have played a cancer-protective role as
well
.

Astaxanthin
was studied intensively by Harumi
Jyonouchi
of the University of Minnesota to determine if it
has benefit to immune function. They found that astaxanthin enhanced
antibody production and T-cell and T-helper-cell activity, and partly
restored diminished humoral immune responses in old mice.

Astaxanthin
also reduced
inflammatory symptoms in mice that had H. pylori infections
.

For an extensive
literature review, and much more about astaxanthin’s biological
effects and mechanisms of action, you can read “Astaxanthin
and Cancer Chemoprevention” by John E. Dore, Ph.D. of Cyanotech
Corporation
.

Boosting Your
Endurance and Fat Loss

Astaxanthin
may even improve your muscle endurance and enhance your ability
to metabolize fat!

Is there anything
this nutrient DOESN’T do?

Mice given
astaxanthin were found to have accelerated body fat reduction (i.e.,
“fat burning”) when combined with exercise, as compared to exercise
alone in a 2007
study by Aoi et al
. Aoi reports the carotenoid seems to exert
this effect by protecting the function of a lipid transport enzyme
on the membrane of mitochondria that “fuels” energy production.

The end result?

Buff mice.
Not that the world needs more physically fit rodents, but what works
on mice often works on YOU.

Protection
from Sunburn and Other Damaging Radiation

The ability
of Haematoccous pluvialis to protect itself from the effects
of intense ultraviolet radiation can actually help you avoid sunburn.
This is a result of the “singlet oxygen quenching” I discussed earlier.

Current research
is showing that, if you take 2 mg of astaxanthin daily for a month,
it will be very difficult for you to get sunburned.

The same powerful
antioxidant properties that protect the algae from the sun’s rays
will protect your skin as well. It takes a few weeks for the pigment
to build up in your tissues, so you can’t just swallow a few pills
just prior to your sun exposure and expect miracles.

Similarly,
if you find yourself needing an x-ray or a CT
scan
, you can gain some measure of protection from this radiation
exposure by taking 2–4 mg astaxanthin for several weeks prior to
the scan.

If you are
planning to fly on an airplane, you are also exposed to massive
amounts of ionizing radiation, especially
if you fly during the day
. In this case, it would be wise to
take a similar a dose of astaxanthin for the few weeks preceding
your trip.

Final Suggestions

You may recognize
the name astaxanthin because I have mentioned it in reference to
krill oil, which has been my favorite source of animal based omega-3
fatty acids for many years now. One of the reasons for that is,
krill oil naturally contains astaxanthin. And our
krill oil
has the highest concentration of astaxanthin of any
krill oil supplement on the market today.

Because of
the profound benefits this powerful antioxidant offers, I am excited
to announce that we are in the process of developing several astaxanthin
products that will be available in the near future.

If you are
going to give astaxanthin a try, I recommend starting with 2 mg
per day. If you are on a krill oil supplement, take that into consideration;
different krill products have different concentrations of astaxanthin,
so check your label.

Eating a variety
of fresh organic foods — and incorporating supernutrients like astaxanthin
— is the best approach to health, along with good sleep, exercise,
and earthing.
You may want to consider incorporating more raw foods into your
diet, and listening to this
interview with raw food expert David Wolfe
is an excellent starting
point.

Sources:

International
Carotenoid Society

“Astaxanthin
and Cancer Chemoprevention” John E. Dore, Ph.D.

November
25, 2010

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