Study supports astaxanthin’s immune boosting power

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Immune system Dna damage Inflammation

Daily supplements of astaxanthin – the pigment that gives salmon its pink colour – may protect DNA from damage and boost the immune response in healthy young women, says a new study.

The trial is reported to be the first comprehensive human study to investigate if astaxanthin may regulate immune response, oxidative damage and inflammation, state researchers from Washington State University, Inha University in Korea, and La Haye Labs, Inc.

“Our present study suggests astaxanthin to be a bioactive natural carotenoid that may be important to human health,”​ they wrote in the open-access journal Nutrition & Metabolism​.

A rosy future for the pink pigment?

The global astaxanthin market is estimated to be worth about $200 million by 2015, most of which is used as a pigment to enhance the pink coloration of fish such as salmon. The human uses market is growing and estimated at about $35-60 million, according to 2008 data from Frost & Sullivan.

Its main health benefits are eye and skin health although it has also been linked to joint health and central nervous system health and is said to have an antioxidant payload 500 times that of vitamin E.

Most astaxanthin is derived from the algae, Haematococcus pluvialis​, which is commonly consumed by fish and crustaceans and is responsible for their pink coloration.

Study details

Led by Washington State’s Boon Chew, the researchers recruited 42 young women with an average age of 21.5 and randomly assigned them to one of three groups: The first group received placebo capsules, the second and third groups received astaxanthin supplements providing a daily dose of 2 or 8 milligrams. The astaxanthin used in the study was provided astaZanthin by Washington State-based La Haye Laboratories.

After eight weeks of supplementation, the researchers noted that astaxanthin levels in the blood increased significantly in both astaxanthin groups, but not in the control group. Furthermore, a marker of DNA damage - 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) – was 32 and 43 per cent lower in the 2 and 8 mg astaxanthin groups, respectively, compared with placebo.

Reductions in levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, were also significantly lower following supplementation with the carotenoid.

With regards to the immune system, women who received the astaxanthin supplements experienced increases in the activity of their natural killer cells, without increasing the population of these cells. On the other hand, levels of both T and B cells increased, said the researchers.

“Therefore, dietary astaxanthin decreases a DNA damage biomarker and acute phase protein, and enhances immune response in young healthy females,”​ stated the researchers.

Next steps

The researchers confirmed that study is ongoing in this area, and that future trials would look to broaden the scope of the intervention.

“It is the initial scope of the study to focus on a narrow population with regards to age, gender and race; however, antioxidants generally show greater physiologic modulation under excess amounts of oxidative stress, in immuno-compromised individuals, and with longer feeding periods,”​ stated the researchers.

“These likely explain the lack of efficacy in certain response measures studied. Future studies with astaxanthin administration will include these parameters,”​ they concluded.

Regulatory developments

The science continues to develop to support the potential benefits of astaxanthin, but, according to European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA), the data is not quite there yet.

The NDA concluded last year: “A cause and effect relationship has not been established between the consumption of astaxanthin and the maintenance of normal joints, tendons or connective tissue, protection of DNA, proteins or lipids from oxidative damage, maintenance of normal visual acuity, and maintenance of normal blood cholesterol concentrations or the maintenance of low plasma concentrations of CRP.”

Source: Nutrition & Metabolism
2010, 7​:18, doi:10.1186/1743-7075-7-18
“Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans”
Authors: J.S. Park, J.H. Chyun, Y.K. Kim, L.L. Line, B.P. Chew

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