The multiple benefits of astaxanthin for active nutrition

The evolving sports nutrition consumer base spans a diverse landscape of active and health-conscious individuals, and natural astaxanthin can provide numerous benefits for active lifestyles.

Tryggvi Stefansson, Chief Operating Officer

July 6, 2020

10 Min Read
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The sports/active nutrition category has experienced unprecedented long-term, continuous growth. This is largely due to the broadening of the consumer base, moving beyond serious athletes and bodybuilders, to encompass a variety of active and health-conscious individuals, including more women and older consumers.

The evolving sports nutrition consumer base spans a diverse landscape of active and health-conscious individuals, interested in more than just bodybuilding and marathons. In order to remain competitive, sports nutrition brands must continue to help these consumers meet fitness, muscle health and performance goals, while also seeking innovation to support active lifestyles, unique diets, healthy aging and more.

The global sports nutrition market size was valued at US$15.6 billion in 2019 and a CAGR of 8.9% is projected for 2020 to 2027, according to Grand View Research.

When formulating sports and active nutrition products, one ingredient should not be overlooked—astaxanthin. Natural astaxanthin has gained significant attention in the last decade, and has been extensively studied, demonstrating numerous benefits for active lifestyles, including support for performance, recovery, cardiovascular health, healthy inflammation response and reducing oxidative stress.

Exercise, oxidation and free radicals

While moderate exercise has many health-promoting effects, strenuous exercise, especially in unfit individuals, may have the opposite effect. Physical activity enhances metabolism that leads to increased production of free radicals and other reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Exercise leads to the production of ROS via several sources in the skeletal muscle.1 When muscles burn calories by oxidation, free radicals and other reactive oxygen species (ROS) are formed as a by-product.2 Free radicals can cause damage to the muscles fibers and reduce their ability to contract.3 Evidence suggests that some muscle proteins can actually be modified by ROS generated due to exercise.1

Athletes are shown to have increased levels of free radicals in the blood, and lower levels of antioxidants.4 One reason heavy exercise without proper antioxidant support has negative effects is that free radical formation exceeds the capacity of antioxidant defenses in the body. Another reason is that blood flow is closed off to some tissues, organs and parts of the muscles during exercise. This causes a lack of oxygen (ischemia). When oxygen returns to these areas, various free radical compounds are formed.5

An excess of free radicals/ROS creates oxidative damage and together with the production of lactic acid can contribute to reduced capacity, fatigue and a depletion of muscle energy stores during strenuous or prolonged muscle work.6,7

Antioxidant supplementation can have favorable effects on lipid peroxidation (the process in which free radicals “steal” electrons from the lipids in cell membranes, resulting in cell damage), after exercise.8

Feel the beat: Support for heart health

Having a healthy cardiovascular system is also critical for remaining active, healthy and strong. The oxidative stress caused by ROS is a key contributor to cardiovascular disease.9 Research has shown that astaxanthin can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, improve lipid profiles, and promote better blood flow.10,11,12,13

One study demonstrated how astaxanthin supports cardiovascular health by improving blood lipid profiles in healthy seniors. It showed that astaxanthin has a protective effect against cholesterol and triglyceride oxidation.10,14 A growing body of research indicates that astaxanthin may decrease the risk for atherosclerosis by decreasing endothelial inflammation and oxidative stress.15

Astaxanthin may also act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory therapeutic agent in models of cardiovascular disease. There have been numerous human studies using astaxanthin to assess its safety, bioavailability and efficacy relevant to oxidative stress, inflammation and the cardiovascular system. There have been no adverse outcomes reported. Studies have demonstrated reduced markers of oxidative stress and inflammation and improved blood flow.16 Another study supports the antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties of astaxanthin, demonstrating its effectiveness as an appropriate therapy for cardiovascular oxidative stress and inflammation.17

On the rebound: Support for exercise recovery

Recovery ability from exercise stress may be improved by supplementing with astaxanthin.18 Astaxanthin has been shown to limit oxidative stress in blood and muscle tissues.19 Natural astaxanthin neutralizes ROS/free radicals and thus reduces fatigue and muscular ailments that are caused by these compounds. As a bioavailable antioxidant, astaxanthin is transported throughout the body to organs and muscle tissues, combating excessive free radical production. Natural astaxanthin improves muscle endurance and strength by helping to reduce oxidative stress.

Lactic acid builds up during physical exertion and can cause burning in the muscles and fatigue. One clinical study showed a 28.6% reduction in lactic acid on average from taking 6 mg of natural astaxanthin per day for one month.20 Other clinical studies have found that natural astaxanthin neutralizes exercise-induced free radicals, protects the activity of antioxidant enzymes, reduces muscle fatigue and inhibits the formation of lactic acid.20,21,22,23,24 Astaxanthin can reduce exercise-induced damage, including associated white blood cell infiltration that induces further damage.25

Improving athletic power and performance

Astaxanthin as a nutritional supplement can improve aerobic exercise performance, while providing additional health benefits, especially helping to keep ROS in check.26

A placebo-controlled study including 21 competitive cyclists demonstrated that 4 mg/day astaxanthin improved cycling time trial performance. At the end of the four-week study, the placebo group showed no improvement in their cycling times, while cyclists taking natural astaxanthin were 5% faster on average, and their power output increased by 15%.21

Metabolism and body fat benefits

A recent study found that astaxanthin treatment accelerated the decrease of body fat accumulation with exercise training. The results suggested that astaxanthin promoted lipid metabolism rather than glucose utilization during exercise, leading to improvement of endurance and efficient reduction of adipose tissue with training.23

What makes astaxanthin a potent, superior antioxidant?

Comparison studies have shown that natural astaxanthin is 6,000 times more powerful than vitamin C, 100 times more powerful than vitamin E, and five times more powerful than beta-carotene in neutralizing singlet oxygen quenching—a particular type of oxidation.27

Astaxanthin has the ability to trap several types of ROS/free radicals. In addition, the way astaxanthin neutralizes harmful ROS/free radicals is gentle on the body’s cells. Other antioxidants can be harmful since they may turn into highly reactive molecules.28 Natural astaxanthin is considered as a “superior antioxidant” because of its molecular structure and localization within the cell membrane, which increases the potency of astaxanthin compared to beta-carotene and vitamin E.29

Astaxanthin is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, and the blood-retinal barrier, allowing it to provide antioxidant protection throughout the body, including the brain, eyes and central nervous system. Its position does not modify the structure of constituent membrane lipids.30,31,32 Astaxanthin is both lipophilic and hydrophilic, meaning it loves both fatty tissue and water. This special and unique quality enables astaxanthin to work within the structure of the cells.

Astaxanthin from resilient, sustainable algae

Natural astaxanthin is generated as a survival mechanism of the algae Haematococcus pluvialis. These resilient algae accumulate large amounts of astaxanthin when under highly stressful conditions. The astaxanthin helps protect the algae from extreme temperatures, UV light and lack of nutrition. The protection is so effective that these algae can survive over 40 years without food or water! Astaxanthin provides cell protection for the human body as well.

Algae is more sustainable than conventional crops because it requires significantly less energy/input to be kept alive, thereby limiting environmental impact. This is particularly true when suppliers are environmentally mindful and utilize renewable energy throughout the production process. When sourcing natural astaxanthin, look for ingredients that are produced in a cGMP-compliant facility with strict protocols to ensure low evaporation, rigid contamination control, use of renewable energy, and maximized productivity.

Exercise can lead to an excess of free radicals/ROS ultimately causing oxidative damage. Together with the production of lactic acid, oxidative stress can contribute to reduced capacity, fatigue and a depletion of muscle energy stores during strenuous or prolonged muscle work. Natural astaxanthin supports cardiovascular health and improves muscle endurance and strength by helping to reduce oxidative stress.

Tryggvi Stefánsson is chief operating officer at Algalif. He has a Ph.D. in microbiology and genetics from ETH Zurich in Switzerland. He joined Algalif in early 2014 and from 2015 to 2019 he led the company’s R&D and scale-up department as science manager. He now oversees the production, scale-up and maintenance departments at Algalíf.


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About the Author(s)

Tryggvi Stefansson

Chief Operating Officer, Algalif

Tryggvi Stefánsson is Chief Operating Officer at Algalif. He has a Ph.D. in microbiology and genetics from ETH Zurich in Switzerland. He joined Algalif in early 2014 and from 2015 to 2019 he led the company’s R&D and scale-up department as Science Manager. Now serving as Chief Operating Officer, Tryggvi oversees the production, scale-up and maintenance departments at Algalíf.

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