Last week we discussed how oxidative stress could unleash harmful effects in your body as free radicals take away electrons from healthy molecules like DNA, proteins and fat (check the entry here), damaging its functions. This sounds scary (and honestly, it is a bit), but Astaxanthin is here to help. Being an antioxidant, and not only that, being the most potent one on the planet, Astaxanthin can give electrons to free radicals so that they replace the ones your healthy organs would be giving away instead. This capability has a solid explanation based on how Astaxanthin is built and how your body allows different molecules to access other organs and tissues.
Natural Astaxanthin molecule. Both ends are polar; the chain is apolar.
You might remember (or not) from school biology classes that the cell membrane is composed of a lipid (fat) bilayer that is semipermeable and amphiphilic –meaning it has a polar end, both to the inside and the outside of the cell, and a non-polar region, in-between both polar ends—. Its main functions are to separate the inside of the cell from the outside environment, allowing the necessary molecules and nutrients to access the inside –thus the ‘semi permeability’—. It is bipolar; some things can go inside, some can’t.
One of Astaxanthin’s most remarkable properties is its chemical structure, similar to the cell membrane: two polar heads and a non-polar body. As you can imagine, this fits perfectly within the cell membrane, providing antioxidant protection everywhere: outside the cell membrane, within the membrane, and inside the cell. See the diagram below for reference comparing Astaxanthin with other antioxidants in and around the cell membrane.
Notice how Vitamin C stays outside the cell membrane while Beta-carotene remains within the membrane. Astaxanthin sits perfectly from one end to the other. Image reference Yamashita, Eiji. (2013). Astaxanthin as a Medical Food. Funct. Foods Health Dis.. 3. 254-258. 10.31989/ffhd.v3i7.49. Publication is available here.
As you just learnt, Astaxanthin’s unique structure can make it cross the cell membrane and protect its organelles, DNA, proteins and fat from oxidative damage. Additionally, Astaxanthin can cross two heavy barriers inside the human body: The blood-brain and the blood-retinal barriers. This makes it possible for Astaxanthin to deliver its protective functions to the eyes, brain, skin, heart, joints and muscles. We will dive into some of these organs. The others will be the theme for a future entry to target them.
You have understood the baseline for Astaxanthin’s simple mechanism for taking care of your organs: It is the most potent antioxidant in nature. It can penetrate and stay within the cell membrane. And it can access even the most formidable barriers in the body. This is the origin of this extraordinary antioxidant’s effects. Now let’s see how these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions affect different organs.
Skin is the largest human organ and, consecutively, the one in which ageing is most evident. Ageing is a process that has intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and the latter can be prevented with Astaxanthin’s antioxidant effects. In this organ, the most prominent extrinsic factor providing reactive oxygen species (ROS) comes from UV light from prolonged sunlight exposure, which accounts for 90% of skin deterioration. UV sunlight can damage collagen and lipids in the skin, the former responsible for skin structure and the latter for skin moisture and keeping it radiant and smooth. Several clinical studies in humans have shown that Astaxanthin’s antioxidant effect protects the skin from wrinkles and the loss of elasticity and moisture, lessening the skin’s ageing deterioration.
Please note that MMP refers to Metalloproteinases, the proteins responsible for ROS-induced collagen and elastin degradation. Astaxanthin inhibits MMP expression, reducing wrinkles and ageing.
The muscles suffer slightly differently from oxidative stress. They won’t break apart as they are much stronger than skin and aren’t exposed to UV light. Instead, they will get exhausted. Exhausted muscles won’t lose their functions, but they will be way less effective in doing so. Fatigue will often come from exercise, either intended like in training or performing during sports, or unintended, such as when you clean the whole house until your back hurts or spend the entire afternoon coating the roof! This fatigue is caused, among some other causes, by elevated oxygen demand from the muscles to obtain energy. As reviewed, cells produce ROS as they obtain energy, which may unleash protein degradation severe enough to damage muscle tissue. Some studies have shown decreased lactate levels in sportspeople supplementing with Astaxanthin. This means Astaxanthin prevents oxidative damage and its havoc and helps you get back on your feet after intense physical activity. Astaxanthin can penetrate the cell and protect the mitochondria’s membrane, where most ROS accumulate.
This principle is also behind eye protection. The eye is surrounded by multiple tiny muscles responsible for accommodation, the process by which the eye can follow a moving object and maintain it in focus regarding distance. Screen usage is particularly stressful for the eye, being so bright and close to it. Moreover, Astaxanthin can also protect other eye structures, such as the choroid and the macula. The choroid’s function is to provide oxygen and nutrients to the eye via the blood vessels, and the macula’s function is to process sharp central vision due to its high concentration of cone cells. The macula is especially prone to age-related degeneration, something already covered in the skin section.
In summary, Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant that can penetrate practically all structures in the body, preventing further damage by exposure to different types of oxidations derived from extrinsic stress or intrinsic energy production, including age-related symptoms. Supplementing with Astaxanthin can help mitigate said effects, more if sourced from a natural production enhanced by the Atacama Desert’s inexhaustible sunlight, which helps produce a full-power natural Astaxanthin.
You can learn more about the clinically studied benefits of Astaxanthin and the mechanisms of action in different body cell structures here. Stay tuned for a third entry regarding how Astaxanthin compares to other antioxidants and why it should be added to your cabinet.
Remember, we will be exhibiting in Vitafoods Europe in Geneva next week alongside our Lus Health Ingredients European partners. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to discuss Astaxanthin further.
Have a great weekend!