Astaxanthin is the oceanic carotenoid that makes flamingos pink and salmon red. Astaxanthin is found in krill, the small crustaceans eaten by Antarctic whales.
Krill oil (KO), a popular nutritional supplement, contains astaxanthin, lecithin, and marine omega-3 fatty acids. Similar to more widely studied fish oil, KO also contains the long-chain fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These “good” fats are essential for basic eye and brain function.
However, KO also contains the phospholipid phosphatidyl ethanolamine (lecithin). The phospholipid bound nature of fatty acids found in KO improves omega-3 fatty acid absorption and bioavailability. This type of natural oil that contains astaxanthin is useful in our modern environment of high fat diets and an aging population.1
Astaxanthis and the eye
At least 4 mg to 6 mg astaxanthin are important for eye health. This is the amount found in one and a half servings of Sockeye salmon or three servings of Coho salmon, the other prime sources of DHA and EPA. Fortunately for our natural resources, astaxanthin is now commercially prepared in abundance from the haematococcus pluvalis algae under controlled aquiculture conditions of light and temperature.
Astaxanthin has a chemical structure that fully spans cellular membranes with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. By peroxyl scavenging measures, it is a far stronger antioxidant than zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin, lutein, B-carotene, and alpha-tocopherol. Astaxanthin crosses both the blood-retinal and blood-brain barriers.
Astaxanthin is also an important component of mitochondrial membranes, improving cellular energetics in a variety of diseases.2 There are now more than 60 human clinical trials for a variety of health benefits, including the eye. Ranges of 4 to 12 mg doses have been used in research studies.
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