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Astaxanthin is a kind of red carotenoid, which has important applications in the nutraceutical, cosmetics, food and feed industries. Haematococcus pluvialis is the richest source of natural astaxanthin and is now cultivated at industrial scale. Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant with a free radical fighting capacity 500 times higher than that of vitamin E.

Research on animals and some human clinical trials have suggested that astaxanthin play a key role on several aspects such as protection against UV-light photooxidation, inflammation, cancer, ulcer’s Helicobacterpylorii infection, aging and age-related diseases, or the promotion of the immune response, liver function and heart, eye, joint and prostate health.

Astaxanthin and eye health

The structure of astaxanthin is very close to that of lutein and zeaxanthin but has a stronger antioxidant activity and UV-light protection effect. The deposition of astaxanthin in the eye could provide superior protection against UV light and oxidation of retinal tissues pointing to the potential of astaxanthin for eye health maintenance.

Astaxanthin and skin health

Astaxanthin is believed to protect the skin and eggs of salmon against UV-light photo-oxidation. Astaxanthin supplementation helped protect the retinal photo-receptors in the eyes of rats exposed to acute UV-light receptors in the eyes of rats exposed to acute UV-light injury and the in vitro protective effect of astaxanthin against UV-induced photo-oxidation was stronger when compared with b-carotene and lutein. These findings suggest that astaxanthin has an excellent potential as an oral sun-protectant. 

Astaxanthin and inflammation

Astaxanthin was found to reduce induced swelling of rat paw, that vitamin E did not reduce . More recently, dietary astaxanthin was found to help fight symptoms of ulcer disease from Helicobacter pylori. Astaxanthin reduced symptoms of gastric inflammation and was also associated with shifts in the inflammation response .

Astaxanthin and heart health

Astaxanthin could benefit heart health by modifying blood levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol and could also be beneficial to heart health by reducing inflammation presumably associated with the development of coronary heart disease .

Astaxanthin and cellular health

In The efficacy of astaxanthin in preventing in vitro peroxidation of mitochondria of rat liver cells can be as high as 100 times that of vitaminE. This highlights the unique capacity of astaxanthin in helping to preserver mitochondrial functions and its unique potential in the fight against aging. Astaxanthin’s superior role in protecting cellular membranes is believed to derive from its ability to protect both the inner part and external surface of membranes against oxidation (a result of the moieties of its polyene chain and terminal rings as well as of rigidifying membranes and modifying their permeability) . Antioxidants, carotenoids in par-ticular, are not only essential to cellular health because they help protect cellular components against oxidative damage but also because they have a role in regulating gene expression and in inducing cell-to-cell communications . Also carotenoids are active inducers of communication between cells at the cell-gap junctions (the water-filled pores in the cell membranes that permit cell-to-cell communications needed to modulate cell growth and, in particular, to limit expansion of cancerous cells) . Thus, it is hypothesized that carotenoids affect DNA regulating RNA responsible for gap-junction communications and that this role in cell-gap junctions communications might explain some of the anti-cancer activities of astaxanthin.

Anti-cancer properties of astaxanthin

Several studies have demonstrated the anti-cancer activity of astaxanthin in mammals. Astaxanthin protected mice from carcinogenesis of the urinary bladder by reducing the incidence of chemically induced bladder carcinoma. Dietary astaxanthin is also effective in fighting mammary cancer by reducing growth of induced mammary tumors by 50%,more  than b-carotene and canthaxanthin . Astaxanthin inhibitsthe enzyme 5-a-reductase responsible for prostate growth and astaxanthin supplementation was proposed as a method to fight benign prostate hyperplasia and prostate cancer .

Astaxanthin in detoxification and liver function

Astaxanthin is much more effective than vitamin E at protecting mitochondria from rat liver cells against lipid peroxidation . Astaxanthin also induces xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes in rat liver, a process that could help prevent carcinogenesis . Astaxanthin can induce xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes in the lung and kidney .

Astaxanthin and the immune response

Astaxanthin significantly influencesimmune function in several in vitro and in vivo assaysusing animal models. Astaxanthin enhances in vitroantibody production by mouse spleen cells and canalso partially restore decreased humoral immuneresponses in old mice . Other evidence also pointsto the immunomodulating activity of astaxanthin onthe proliferation and functions of murine immunocom-petent cells . Finally, studies on human blood cellsin vitro have demonstrated enhancement by astaxanthin of immunoglobulin production in response to T-dependent stimuli .

Astaxanthin and neurodegenerative diseases

Astaxanthin can cross the blood brain barrier in mammals and can extend its antioxidant benefits beyond that barrier. Astaxanthin,is therefore an excellent candidate for testing in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological diseases.

Safety of Haematococcus astaxanthin

Haematococcus astaxanthin does not appear to possess any health risks at the tested dosages. Haematococcus astaxanthin supplements have been available to the public for,3 years. Nevertheless, the large percentage of responses indicating a positive effect of Haematococcus astaxanthin supplementation on health conditions that have or might have a strong inflammation component as well as the positive comparisons of the efficacy of the supplementation with that of anti-inflammatory drugs are indicative of strong anti-inflammatory properties for astaxanthin .