Research shows that a little-known carotenoid called astaxanthin (pronounced asta-ZAN-thin) could add years, even decades to your life. In fact, it activated a “longevity gene” in a recent lab study.
Of course, with Thanksgiving coming up, I tend to think even more than usual about carotenoids. All those yellow and orange vegetables associated with the fall harvest — including pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, yams, yellow corn, and carrots — are full of these healthy, colorful nutrients.
Thirty years ago, I researched the carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables, such as zeaxanthin, lutein, and lycopene. And I helped discover their important roles in human nutrition and metabolism. Since then, lycopene has been found to support prostate health, and lutein and zeaxanthin have been found to support brain and eye health.
You can also find carotenoids in marine life and seabirds. For instance, did you ever wonder what makes flamingos pink? It’s all about the food chain. Their color comes from the carotenoids found in the shrimp they eat, which, in turn, comes from the marine plankton shrimp feed on.
Gloucester Biomarine, one of the local industries in my hometown, specializes in producing marine carotenoids. (The local industry in Gloucester had to come up with something new to produce, since the federal government ran them out of the fishing business, which had supported this historic seaport since the 1620s.)
Marine carotenoid linked to longevity
In the new study I mentioned above, researchers found that the marine carotenoid astaxanthin, which gives lobster and salmon their reddish color, may be a key to longevity. Researchers with the University of Hawaii (which is surrounded by rich marine resources of their own) conducted the study.
Specifically, the researchers looked at astaxanthin’s effects on a gene called FOXO3. All humans have this gene, but only one in three people have a variant associated with longevity.
To start, the researchers divided lab animals into three groups. The first group received a normal diet. The second group received a diet with low levels of a compound in astaxanthin called CDX. The third group received a diet with high levels of CDX.
They found that the animals receiving the highest amount of astaxanthin showed a 90 percent increase in activation of the FOXO3 “longevity gene” in their heart cells.
Of course, these researchers wanted to find a “magic bullet” effect of CDX on a “magic gene” — most likely so they can turn it into a drug.
But, as you might guess, I recommend just taking whole astaxanthin, as the benefits go well beyond any one gene, or any one constituent.
In fact, astaxanthin has many observed health benefits.
For one, like other carotenoids, astaxanthin acts as an antioxidant. It can neutralize free radicals with 6,000 times the potency of vitamin C. And it has 550 times the potency of vitamin E.
Second, research shows astaxanthin had direct effects on many common conditions, including:
• Pain: Studies show astaxanthin helps relieve rheumatoid arthritis pain. In one clinical trial, researchers gave patients just four mg of astaxanthin. The patients reported an 85 percent improvement in pain and a 60 percent improvement in mobility.
In addition, most of the participants reported that the supplement worked just as effectively as their prescription drugs. Indeed, it works in the body just like the prescription COX-2 inhibitors, such as the “celebrated” Celebrex.
Numerous other studies show astaxanthin helps with all types of joint pain — including repetitive strain syndrome, such as carpal tunnel.
• Colon cancer: In studies conducted in Japan, astaxanthin induced cell death of colon cancer cells. It also inhibited inflammation in the colon associated with colitis. The study authors said their findings suggest astaxanthin is a candidate for treatment in preventing colitis and chronic inflammation associated with colon cancer.
• Dementia: A study in the British Journal of Nutrition also found that supplementing with 6 to 12 mg daily of astaxanthin for 12 weeks reduced the levels of a marker in the blood associated with brain cell damage by 50 percent.
• Eye health: Astaxanthin helps delay the formation of cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration by protecting the eyes and retina from free-radical damage.
• Heart health: An analysis of eight clinical trials published in Future Cardiology found that astaxanthin prevents chronic inflammation and oxidative stress associated with heart disease. In a study in Nutrition and Metabolism, it reduced levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), one of the four cardinal risk factors for heart disease. (Remember: cholesterol in the blood is NOT a risk factor.)
But for those concerned about blood lipids and cholesterol, in a clinical trial published in the journal Atherosclerosis, researchers gave men and women with “high” cholesterol daily supplements of 6, 12 or 18 mg astaxanthin. After 12 weeks, they experienced no change in total cholesterol (actually a good thing). But they increased HDL “good” cholesterol — meaning LDL “bad” cholesterol also decreased. They also decreased triglycerides (blood fats).
• Skin health: Two Japanese studies found that participants who supplemented with 6 mg of astaxanthin daily for eight weeks and applied a topical cream containing 5 percent astaxanthin eliminated wrinkles around the eyes.
They also decreased the size of pigmented “age spots” and improved skin elasticity. Other studies show astaxanthin boosts fat loss, helps skin wounds heal, increases exercise endurance, increases muscle strength, and improves male fertility.
Mind you, a little bit goes a long way, as most studies found results with just 4 or 6 mg daily.
This dose would be minuscule if a manufacturer tried to make it into a single, isolated dietary supplement. Instead, you should look for astaxanthin together with liquid vitamin D for double the benefits. You can add the liquid to any beverage.
You can learn more about all the incredible health benefits of carotenoids in the November 2017 issue of my Insider’s Cures newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is a perfect time to get started.
“Astaxanthin May Be Key to Longevity,” Newsmax (www.newsmax.com) 10/9/2017