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Nutrient - Astaxanthin - Sunshine superfood

By Orley Moyal MTech (Hom) SA

Throughout history, man has worshipped and harnessed the power of the sun. Nature has always shared this resource with us as photosynthesised energy and vitamin D. Recently, scientists uncovered another natural gift of sunshine, in the form of a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin. 

Astaxanthin is a red, carotenoid pigment, which is similar in structure to beta carotene. It is produced by green microalgae called Haematococcus pluvialis, which become activated and turn bright red when exposed to sunlight. Haematococcus is eaten by certain animals, including flamingos, salmon, crayfish and lobsters, and is responsible for their brilliant, pinkish-red colour.

Our bodies are constantly exposed to free radicals, which oxidise, or damage, our cells, resulting in degeneration and chronic inflammation, which increases with intensive physical activity, stress, ageing and disease.

Substances that prevent oxidative damage are referred to as antioxidants. Antioxidants scavenge and neutralise free radicals and are vital to the continuing health of every cell in our bodies.

A strong body of scientific evidence has highlighted astaxanthin’s potent antioxidant potential, which is thought to be many times higher than beta carotene, lutein, lycopene and vitamin E. Astaxanthin has a unique ability to penetrate through the fatty layer of cell membranes, protecting fats and other components in these membranes from free radical oxidation. Because astaxanthin is fat-soluble, it is also able to protect cholesterol from ‘going bad’ and oxidising, thus supporting cardiovascular health.

Astaxanthin also crosses the blood-brain and blood-retina barriers, enabling it to provide antioxidant protection in these important areas, and maintain healthy brain and eye function.

This powerful antioxidant has been shown to help regulate the immune system by assisting the functioning of T-cell antibodies and protecting against inflammatory damage.

It also supports a healthy reproductive system in both men and women.

Astaxanthin’s potent antioxidant properties may also protect muscle tissue against free radical damage during strenuous exercise, as well as inhibit secondary inflammatory responses, thereby supporting increased muscle endurance.

Recent research has shown that astaxanthin may help maintain a healthy digestive system.

Although sun damage is considered to be the leading cause of premature skin ageing and wrinkles, there are other important ageing factors, such as smoking, pollutants, fried foods and stress. Astaxanthin has been shown to protect the DNA in the skin cells against sunburn and UV light damage, as well as any other internal free radical-producing factors.

So, next time you’re enjoying the warmth of the sun and all the beautiful colours it illuminates around you, think protection – think pink! 

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