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Astaxanthin is a red-pink pigment found in various seafoods, and also in the feathers of flamingos and quails. It is structurally similar to beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) but has some chemical differences which may be safer.
It seems to be able to improve many blood parameters that could be beneficial to heart disease. At doses of 6-8mg daily, it can decrease the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and prevent it from becoming artherogenic (artery cloggin). It can increase general blood flow and reduce blood sugar in diabetics and blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats (humans not studied yet) with no effect on these measures in normal healthy persons.
Additionally, it is also a potent anti-inflammatory and has more anti-oxidant capabilities than vitamin A itself.
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Cardax (Disodium Disuccinate Astaxanthin), 3,3′-dihydroxy-b,b-carotene-4,4′-dione
Various sources of astaxanthin (food, bacterial, synthetic) may have different bioavailabilities and mixture of isomers.
Astaxanthin is fat soluble, and should be taken with food
A recommended dose of astaxanthin for humans is in the range of 6-8mg daily. Higher doses up to 20mg have been shown to be tolerated, but have not been studied beyond 2 weeks.
Toxicity of astaxanthin is not known.
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Dietary sources of Astaxanthin include:
Sea Urchin gonads, at 1mcg/g wet weight
Algae and Microalgae
As a molecule, it tends to be synthesized from marine sources of bacteria and seaweed and thus exists in marine sources as animals that eat marine sources. The feathers are the storage location for astaxanthin in birds.
Astaxanthin can also be synthesized from the bacteria Haematococcus pluviali in the (3S, 3S') isomer, although dietary supplements tend to be a mixture of various isomers. Astaxanthin can now be produced on an industrial scale. Astaxanthin can be derived from other sources (marine in nature, such as shrimp or krill) although the isomer in the final nutraceutical will depend on what the creature ingested during its life; due to this variability, Haematococcus pluvialis astaxanthin is most commonly used.
Synthetic astaxanthin also exists. The first synthetic version contained 3 isomers, the standard (3S, 3S') isomer alongside (3R,3′R) and (3R,3′S) in a 1:1:2 ratio and was known as Disodium Disuccinate Astaxanthin; this formulation was used in some studies and is notable. It is no longer available, but the same company that produced DDA (Cardax Pharmaceuticals) now has a new compound which is claimed to be more water-soluble and bioavailable relative to natural astaxanthin and DDA, this compound is known as CDX-085, and was used in one study thus far.
As different sources have differing levels of the active isomer, one form may have different biological effects (in regards to potency) than others.
Astaxanthin is known as a xanthophyll carotenoid. As carotenoids (parent classification) can be divided into either xanthophylls or carotenes (like vitamin A precursors) Astaxanthin falls into the former category.
Astaxanthin has two chiral centers and can exist as three isomers in nature as (3S, 3S'), (3R,3′R) and (3R,3′S). The first, 3S,3S', is the most common in nature.
Additionally, the three isomers can exist in four configuations. An All-E configuration (straight chained) and three Z-isomers (bent chain). The All-E isomer is most prominent in nature, but the Z-isomers have greater oral bioavailability. This may help explain how farm-fed fish provide more dietary astaxanthin than wild.
It exerts itself as an anti-oxidant due to multiple oxygenated groups, two per ring. Along with the xanthophyll canthaxanthin, astaxanthin has carbonyl groups at the end of its structure (polyethylene backbone) which make it a more potent anti-oxidant than alpha and beta-carotene.
Like all carotenoids, astaxanthin is absorbed alongside fatty acids via passive diffusion into the intestinal epithelium; thus astaxanthin should be consumed with some dietary fat for absorption. It is more dependent on fat for absorption, as a cartinol ester, than other carotenes.
Bioavailability can be increased by either consuming with fatty meals or by making a lipid-containing delivery system.
Astaxanthin is absorbed via micelles made from dietary fat and then travels through the blood as part of both LDL and HDL cholesterol. As a xanthophyll, it is more evenly spread between the two relative to carotenes (which favor LDL for transportation).
According to one study, Astaxanthin had a plasma elimination half-life of 52 hours with a standard deviation of 40. That being said, there appears to be large differences between individuals and non-linear kinetics of astaxanthin. Doses as small as 10mg can persist in the body for upwards of a day whereas superdoses of 100mg can persist for 72 hours. Saturation effects may also occur, as doses as low as 1mg can build up in the body given they are consumed continuously for 4 weeks.
Despite being very structurally similar to carotenes (which may turn into vitamin A in the body), astaxanthin does not seem to turn into vitamin A in the body; and thus no risk for vitamin A toxicity exists with astaxanthin under normal conditions. These 'normal' conditions do not apply to a Vitamin A deficiency, in which Astaxanthin can be forced into active Vitamin A in rats.
One study suggests that farmed salmon (fed possibly synthetic astaxanthin) have a greater relevance to human health relative to wild salmon (obtain astaxanthin via prey) as the astaxanthin is more bioavailable. As mentioned in the structure section, this may be due to a higher concentration of Z-isomer Astaxanthin relative to All-E configuration; the latter of which is less orally bioavailable but more prominent in nature.
Astaxanthin is approximately 40% less bioavailable in smokers.
Astaxanthin, due to its anti-oxidant abilities, can preserve the CPT-1 enzyme's function when faced with an oxidative insult by the lipid peroxide HEL.
Astaxanthin also showed a trend of using more body fat during exercise relative to glucose, as measured by Respiratory Exchange Ratio; and may explain the longer time to exhaustion in the astaxanthin group relative to control (as the measure was submaximal cardiovascular exercise). The dose of astaxanthin used in these studies was 0.02% feed intake, with the final feed intake not disclosed.
A combination of Astaxanthin and Saw Palmetto has been shown to increase testosterone while decreasing Dihydrotestosterone via inhibiting the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, at a dose of 800mg. Both compounds seem to be able to inhibit 5-AR independently.
In another study done on infertile men, astaxanthin had no effect on serum testosterone while improving sperm parameters. Placebo saw an improvement in testosterone.
At the moment, only one in vivo study has been conducted in healthy men. Compounds were provided by Triarco (producer of the brand name supplement) but the study was conducted independently.
Astaxanthin can act in a protective manner against lipid peroxidation and, due to its polar nature, has no adverse effect on membrane structure. Polar xanthopylls may cause some degree of membrane disruption.
Astaxanthin might exert some of its anti-inflammatory actions through inhibition of the CycloOxygenase-1 enzyme (COX1).
Astaxanthin, at 5mg/kg bodyweight, has been shown to protect the retina from damage induce by elevated intraocular pressure in rats. Protection has also been seen in the retina from injected excitotoxins at higher doses.
In animal models, astaxanthin shows benefit in protecting against cardiovascular damage; these studies mostly used Disodium Disuccinate Astaxanthin. Many of these studies tested dosages ranging from 25-200mg/kg bodyweight and, although confirmed safe in animal models, it is not known whether such a high dose is safe for human consumption.
Consumption of 6mg daily of Astaxanthin for a prolonged period does not seem to adversely affect any blood parameter in humans according to one study a dose which effectively improves blood rheology.
In vitro studies with higher dosages have suggested a very high therapeutic threshold, but interventions with more than 6mg have yet to be conducted for a prolonged period of time. A study known as the Xanthin study is currently being undertaken to assess whether 8mg daily is effective in post-kidney transplantation patients. a dose that has been shown to be safe and effective in a study lasting 8 weeks.
One human study noted no side effects with 21.6mg daily but was only 2 weeks in duration.
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