Neuroprotective Effects of Astaxanthin

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Several other studies in the last two years have shown evidence that astaxanthin may be the best supplement for brain health:

  • Human brain cells were subjected to an oxidative stress-induced neuronal cell damage system at Nagoya University in Japan.3 Significant protection was found in cells pre-treated with astaxanthin. Additionally, pre-treatment with astaxanthin inhibited the generation of reactive oxygen species. The authors concluded, “The neuroprotective effect of astaxanthin is suggested to be dependent upon its antioxidant potential and mitochondria protection; therefore, it is strongly suggested that treatment with astaxanthin may be effective for oxidative stress-associated neurodegeneration and a potential candidate for natural brain food."
  • A different set of researchers at University of Pittsburgh’s medical school also found astaxanthin to have neuroprotective effects; they too attributed this to its potent antioxidant activity.4
  • Researchers at a biotechnology university in Taiwan concluded astaxanthin could be used as a potent neuron protectant and as a therapy for early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.5
  • Astaxanthin can protect against damage from ischemia, the condition where there is a deficient supply of blood to the brain as a result of an obstruction of the arteries, which results in stroke, brain cell death and impaired brain function.6 The researchers attributed astaxanthin’s benefits to its intense antioxidant activity.
  • Another study found that pretreatment with astaxanthin five hours and again one hour before ischemia provided protection against brain damage.7
  • Astaxanthin was found to be a potent agent against neurodegenerative disorders.8
  • Brain cell death was reduced by astaxanthin.9
  • Lastly, astaxanthin displayed an ability to improve the profileration of neural stem cells.10

The flurry of activity in 2009 and 2010 was not the first research on astaxanthin’s benefits for the brain; a series of tests on rodents prior to this at the International Research Center for Traditional Medicine in Japan showed astaxanthin’s potential as a supplement for the brain.11 In the first experiment, blood pressure was reduced by the introduction of astaxanthin to hypertensive rats. Blood pressure is a causative factor for many diseases including some associated with the eyes and brain. The researchers went on to examine the effects of astaxanthin on stroke-prone rats. They found after five weeks of continuous supplementation, the incidence of stroke was delayed in the treated group. Next, they established a possible mechanism for these results in-vitro, which they believed to be nitric oxide suppression.

The same study went on to demonstrate a neuroprotective effect on ischemic mice. In the case of these mice, ischemia was induced by blocking the carotid artery. In humans, this condition can be caused by plaque buildup, which can block the flow of blood through the carotid artery in the neck, the primary source of blood to the brain. This build up of plaque can lead to many different types of dementia.  

The ischemic mice were fed astaxanthin only once—just one hour before the ischemia was induced. Remarkable results were seen in the treated group—the mice performed better in a maze designed as a learning performance test. “The present results suggest that astaxanthin can attenuate the development of hypertension and may help to protect the brain from stroke and ischemic insults…In addition, astaxanthin showed neuroprotective effects at relatively high doses by preventing the ischemia-induced impairment of spatial memory in mice. This effect is suggested to be due to the significant antioxidant property of astaxanthin on ischemia-induced free radicals and their consequent pathological cerebral and neural effects. The current result indicates that astaxanthin may have beneficial effects in improving memory in vascular dementia." It appears that astaxanthin actually made these mice with restricted blood flow to their brains smarter by improving their memory.

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