Astaxanthin shows potential for brain health: Human study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Red blood cell

Daily supplements of astaxanthin – the pigment that gives salmon its pink color – may reduce the abnormal accumulation of compounds associated with dementia, says a new study from Japan.

Twelve weeks of supplementation with astaxanthin were associated with significant reductions in levels of compounds called phospholipid hydroperoxides (PLOOH), known to accumulate abnormally in the red blood cells (erythrocytes) of people with dementia, compared with placebo.

Writing in the British Journal of Nutrition​, researchers led by Kiyotaka Nakagawa from Tohoku University, report that, since the data shows that astaxanthin is incorporated into the red blood cells, as is seen with lutein, the pink pigment may “contribute to the prevention of dementia”​.

“The present randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human trial shows that when human subjects ingest astaxanthin, it is absorbed, distributed and accumulated in erythrocytes, where it exhibits antioxidative effects (inhibition of erythrocyte PLOOH),”​ wrote the researchers.

“It is interesting to note that the antioxidative effect observed in the present study was produced by a relatively short-term supplementation with astaxanthin (12 weeks),”​ they added.

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.

The new study also used astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis​ (Puresta, Yamaha Motor Company, Japan). Thirty health subjects aged between 50 and 69 were randomly assigned to receive 0 (placebo), 6 or 12 mg astaxanthin per day for 12 weeks.

Furthermore, levels of PLOOH were significantly lower in erythrocytes following astaxanthin supplementation with reductions in the order of about 40 and 50 percent in the 6 and 12 mg groups, respectively, compared with no significant change in the placebo group.

“In the present study, orally administered astaxanthin was incorporated into erythrocytes, and erythrocyte PLOOH levels decreased,”​ wrote the researchers. “On the basis of these points, it seems that similar to lutein, astaxanthin has the potential to act as an important antioxidant in erythrocytes, and thereby may contribute to the prevention of dementia.

“This possibility warrants the testing of astaxanthin in other models of dementia with a realistic prospect of its use as a human therapy,” ​they concluded.

Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1017/S0007114510005398
“Antioxidant effect of astaxanthin on phospholipid peroxidation in human erythrocytes”
Authors: K. Nakagawa, T. Kiko, T. Miyazawa, G. Carpentero Burdeos, F. Kimura, A. Satoh, T. Miyazawa

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