Have you ever wondered why you see red when you look at some sea-faring creatures? It’s because of a red carotenoid pigment called astaxanthin which is produced by microalgae called Haematococcus pluvialis--a big name for such small organisms. In fact, astaxanthin is found in marine sea animals who dine on these microalgae such as salmon and is what gives salmon and other catches from the sea, such as lobsters and crabs, their red pigment.
But let’s back up the train a little bit and talk about cartenoids. They are naturally-occurring, fat-soluble pigments found in plants that give color to red, yellow, orange fruits and vegetables as well as several dark green vegetables. And while there are a number of them, the most abundant carotenoids in the North American diet are beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, lycopene, lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and our topic for today--astaxanthin.
And while astaxanthin may have us seeing red, that’s not all this carotenoid can do.
Closely related to beta-carotene and lutein, astaxanthin provides antioxidant benefits and, therefore, may play a role in defending cell membranes from free radical attack. Additionally, some findings have also indicated that astaxanthin can support a healthy heart and healthy cholesterol levels already in the normal range. Its antioxidant effects extend beyond this, however, and astaxanthin is purported to maintain eye health and support the skin structure during sun exposure.
Add its ability to support neurological health to the list of astaxanthin’s positive benefits, too.
And don’t forget its positive effects on the immune system. Astaxanthin is said to support a healthy immune system by supporting normal antibody-producing cells.
An additional plus for astaxanthin is that it may enhance the burning of fat—especially during exercise—and may support muscle endurance. That is, at least what was observed in one recent animal study. Researchers from the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology compiled a report on the astaxanthin animal study in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. Lead author Mayuni Ikeuchi inferred that there may be a causal link from ingesting astaxanthin and successful weight management.
In short, astaxanthin demonstrated a potential, positive, weight management effect among the mice that were studied. More research, particularly human, is warranted for these exciting findings.
Now that’s a pretty amazing carotenoid--even if it does have us seeing red.