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Astaxanthin may extend endurance by boosting mitochondrial action: Study

By Stephen DANIELLS , 28-Jan-2015
Last updated on 28-Jan-2015 at 13:27 GMT2015-01-28T13:27:30Z

Natural astaxanthin is obtained from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae
Natural astaxanthin is obtained from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae

The pinkish-orange carotenoid astaxanthin – one of the hottest ingredients in dietary supplements – may enhance endurance and slow fatigue by boosting mitochondria antioxidant defenses, says a new study from Brazil.

Scientists from Cruzeiro do Sul University and the University of Sao Paulo report that long-term supplementation with the antioxidant significantly delayed the time to exhaustion of lab rats in a swimming test by an impressive 29%.

“Exercise is associated to overproduction of free radicals in muscles and plasma, with pivotal participation of iron ions and glutathione,” explained the researchers in Nutrients .

Supplements of natural astaxanthin AstaReal from Fuji-owned Swedish carotenoid player BioReal for 45 days were associated with significant induction of antioxidant responses in the mitochondria, which in turn “increased glutathione content during exercise, limited oxidative stress, and delayed exhaustion”, they wrote.

Red hot!

Astaxanthin already had a dedicated following among the long-distance runner and triathlete communities, based on the cardiovascular and joint health benefits of the ingredient, long before the ingredient exploded onto the national conscience in 2011.

Dr Joseph Mercola described the potent red antioxidant on the Dr Oz show as the “number one supplement you’ve never heard of that you should be taking”. Sales of products containing the carotenoid subsequently “skyrocketed”.

‘Natural’ astaxanthin is obtained from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae, which can be grown in a variety of ways, either in open ponds or closed bioreactors.             

Synthetic versions of the ingredient are also available on the market, notably DSM’s AstaSana-branded astaxanthin.

Study details

The Brazilian researchers supplemented lab rats for 45 days with astaxanthin at a dose of 1 mg per kg of body weight per day.

Results showed that the time to exhaustion in a swimming test was delayed by almost 30% in the astaxanthin-fed animals, compared to control. The carotenoid also limited “exercise-induced iron overload and its related pro-oxidant effects in plasma of exercising animals”, said the researchers.

Effects in the mitochondria of leg muscles (soleus or calf muscles) were also observed, with significant induction of the mitochondrial antioxidant enzymes, Mn-dependent superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase.

“As shown by other authors, ‘mitochondrial nutrients’” can reduce oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in many (patho)physiological conditions mediated by [reactive oxygen species/reactive nitrogen species or ROS/RNS],” wrote the researchers.

“On a larger scale, astaxanthin supplementation can be suggested as a nutritional additive to improve aerobic-like exercise performance in humans, with other putative health benefits associated, especially against ROS/RNS-related diseases,” they concluded.

Source: Nutrients
Volume 6, Number 12, Pages 5819-5838; doi:10.3390/nu6125819
“Astaxanthin Supplementation Delays Physical Exhaustion and Prevents Redox Imbalances in Plasma and Soleus Muscles of Wistar Rats”
Authors: T.G. Polotow, C.V. Vardaris, A.R. Mihaliuc, et al. 

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