Astaxanthin for health? What is this odd-sounding substance? Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant (technically a type of carotenoid) found in seafood sources like krill. As with other carotenoids, astaxanthin is colorful and gives a reddish color to cooked shellfish (shrimp, crabs, lobsters) or salmon. Natural supplement manufacturers also use microalgae or yeast to synthesize astaxanthin. Relatively free of side effects, this antioxidant has been shown to have a wide range of health promoting effects.
For instance, if you are suffering from some eye-related visual problems, astaxanthin may protect the retina from light damage. In a clinical study, astaxanthin, together wtih other eye-relevant natural substances lutein and zeaxanthin, can improve visual acuity in people with age-related macular degeneration. As an antioxidant, this versatile supplement may also help lower blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity, as well as improve exercise tolerance of muscles in the elderly. If you have inflammation in the body, especially in the intestines, astaxanthin may help reduce its effects by helping the leaky gut heal. One study indicated that it might even help prevent stomach ulcers.
Other research suggests that astaxanthin may prevent blood clot formation in stroke-prone animals with high blood pressure. On another front, astaxanthin can protect the liver from development of liver cancers and fatty liver conditions. Although many doctors worry about using antioxidants during chemotherapy (antioxidants might protect cancer cells from dying due to the chemotherapy effects), astaxanthin may actually not alter bone cancer cell survival in dogs. This type of finding is good news – it means that astaxanthin doesn’t save bone cancer cells from being killed by chemo.
An important area needing more medical advances for management is traumatic brain injury, a condition that occurs in combat soldiers exposed to nearby explosions, athletes in sports like football or boxing, or ordinary civilians involved in car accidents. Astaxanthin appeared to lessen swelling of the brain that is associated with traumatic brain injury in a mouse model for TBI.
Can anyone know for sure if taking astaxanthin will help their health conditions – no. This is the case with any drug, herb, nutraceutical, or surgery treatment. But you have to weigh and balance the risks and benefits. The risks seem to be minimal unless you are highly allergic to shellfish or seafood sources of astaxanthin — then be very careful and discuss this with your doctor before trying even one capsule of this antioxidant. You would have options of other types available to you, e.g., quercetin or resveratrol as examples. But if you tolerate shellfish, then bring it up with your doctor. Find a naturopath to help you decide if it makes sense for you.
As with most nutraceuticals, another common challenge is deciding what brand to buy. I usually start my research on that question on sites like Amazon.com. I read the reviews. I read about the manufacturer’s track record in producing safe products that meet whatever standards exist for active ingredients and contaminant testing. Here are some examples of brands of astaxanthin that I think are probably acceptable – Mercola, Jarrow, or NutriGold. Most of these supplement products contain 4 mg per capsule of astaxanthin. Do your own research, however, as things can change in a short period of time. The supplement industry is huge, but the situation is still buyer-beware. You never know if you are buying an item that even has the amount of active ingredient it claims on the label. Look for independent testing sites to see how your favorite brand compares with others before settling on a decision.
Remember – I am potentially an affiliate of companies whose products or services I discuss here. That means that I may receive a commission (financial compensation) for sales of items that you purchase from a third party. I have no direct role in making their products or delivering their services and cannot take responsibility for any customer service needs or adverse events that might occur if you decide to buy an item that I discuss.
Here’s a copy of the public press release on a new study in animals that offers promise for an adjunctive dietary aid for treating Alzheimer’s disease. This is not a cure, I hasten to point out, but it helps you function at the best level you can at the point in the disease that the dementia has reached:
Healthy diet could slow or reverse early effects of Alzheimer’s disease
Patients in the early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s Disease could have their cognitive impairment slowed or even reversed by switching to a healthier diet, according to researchers at Temple University.
In a previous study [http://www.temple.edu/newsroom/2009_2010/12/stories/alzheimers.htm], researchers led by Domenico Praticò, an associate professor of pharmacology in Temple’s School of Medicine, demonstrated that a diet rich in methionine could increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Methionine is an amino acid typically found in red meats, fish, beans, eggs, garlic, lentils, onions, yogurt and seeds.
“The question we asked now as a follow-up is if, for whatever reason, you had made bad choices in your diet, is there a chance you can slow down or even reverse the disease or is it too late — that there is nothing you could do,” said Praticò.
As in the previous study, the researchers fed one group of mice a diet high in methionine and another group a regular, healthy diet. After three months, they split the group receiving the methionine-rich diet into two, with one group continuing the amino-heavy diet while the second switched to the healthy diet for an additional two months.
“At the end of the study, when we looked at these mice, what we found — very surprisingly — was that switching to a more healthy diet reversed the cognitive impairment that had built up over the first three months of eating the methionine-rich diet,” said Praticò. “This improvement was associated with less amyloid plaques — another sign of the disease — in their brains.
Pratico said that the cognitive impairment that had been observed in the mice after three months on the methionine-rich diet was completely reversed after two months on the healthier diet, and they were now able to function normally.
“We believe this finding shows that, even if you suffer from the early effects of MCI or Alzheimer’s, switching to a healthier diet that is lower in methionine could be helpful in that memory capacity could be improved,” he said.
Pratico stressed that this was not a drug therapy for curing MCI or Alzheimer’s, but that it did demonstrate that a lifestyle change such as diet can improve some of the impairments that have already occurred in the brain.
“What it tells us is that the brain has this plasticity to reverse a lot of the bad things that have occurred; the ability to recoup a lot of things such as memory that were apparently lost, but obviously not totally lost,” he said.
Pratico also emphasized that the researchers believe that in addition to switching to a healthy diet, patients diagnosed with MCI or Alzheimer’s also need a regiment of physical as well as mental exercises.
“This combination won’t cure you, but we believe, as we saw in this study, that it will be able to slow down or even possibly reverse the effects on the cognitive impairment,” he said.
The study, “Normalization of hyperhomocysteinemia improves cognitive deficits and ameliorates brain amyloidosis of a transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease,” is being published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (http://www.fasebj.org/). It was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Copies of this study are available to working journalists and may be obtained by contacting Preston M. Moretz in Temple’s Office of University Communications at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The B vitamin-related natural substance, myo-inositol is in the news lately. Now new research suggests that changes in a set of genes that are active in smokers who go on to develop lung cancer might offer early detection and even prevention treatments. Once cancer is initiated, the factors that promote it can differ from those that initiate it.
In any event, the gene involved is called PI3K, which interacts with inositol. Patients in a trial of inositol for lung cancer prevention apparently showed reductions in the activation of the PI3K. So, inositol may tell the genetic and cellular changes that precede full expression of lung cancer to stand down and halt their progression toward disease.
Sounds worth exploring. As always, who knows if inositol would have actual clinical benefits and low risk, and it is up to each person at risk of cancer or with cancer now to decide at this point in time if the current unknowns about inositol are worth dealing with sooner rather than later (as usual, myo-inositol is widely available over the counter in health food stores). This is worth a discussion with your doctor, though, if lung cancer (or some other cancers where inositol might be helpful) is a concern for you.
Here’s the whole abstract about this latest study:
Sci Transl Med. 2010 Apr 7;2(26):26ra25.
Airway PI3K Pathway Activation Is an Early and Reversible Event in Lung Cancer Development.
Section of Computational Biomedicine, Department of Medicine and Pulmonary Center, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, MA 02118, USA.
Although only a subset of smokers develop lung cancer, we cannot determine which smokers are at highest risk for cancer development, nor do we know the signaling pathways altered early in the process of tumorigenesis in these individuals. On the basis of the concept that cigarette smoke creates a molecular field of injury throughout the respiratory tract, this study explores oncogenic pathway deregulation in cytologically normal proximal airway epithelial cells of smokers at risk for lung cancer. We observed a significant increase in a genomic signature of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) pathway activation in the cytologically normal bronchial airway of smokers with lung cancer and smokers with dysplastic lesions, suggesting that PI3K is activated in the proximal airway before tumorigenesis. Further, PI3K activity is decreased in the airway of high-risk smokers who had significant regression of dysplasia after treatment with the chemopreventive agent myo-inositol, and myo-inositol inhibits the PI3K pathway in vitro. These results suggest that deregulation of the PI3K pathway in the bronchial airway epithelium of smokers is an early, measurable, and reversible event in the development of lung cancer and that genomic profiling of these relatively accessible airway cells may enable personalized approaches to chemoprevention and therapy. Our work further suggests that additional lung cancer chemoprevention trials either targeting the PI3K pathway or measuring airway PI3K activation as an intermediate endpoint are warranted.
Here’s a recent abstract on a study suggesting that an inositol product might improve quality of life for breast cancer survivors. Myo-inositol is a lesser known type of B complex vitamin that the body can produce from glucose, but can be found in some nutritional supplements.
J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2010 Feb 12;29:12.
Efficacy of IP6 + inositol in the treatment of breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy: prospective, randomized, pilot clinical study.
Department of Surgery, General Hospital Zadar, 23000 Zadar, Croatia.
BACKGROUND: Prospective, randomized, pilot clinical study was conducted to evaluate the beneficial effects of inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) + Inositol in breast cancer patients treated with adjuvant therapy. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Patients with invasive ductal breast cancer where polychemotherapy was indicated were monitored in the period from 2005-2007. Fourteen patients in the same stage of ductal invasive breast cancer were involved in the study, divided in two randomized groups. One group was subjected to take IP6 + Inositol while the other group was taking placebo. In both groups of patients the same laboratory parameters were monitored. When the treatment was finished, all patients have filled questionnaires QLQ C30 and QLQ-BR23 to determine the quality of life. RESULTS: Patients receiving chemotherapy, along with IP6 + Inositol did not have cytopenia, drop in leukocyte and platelet counts. Red blood cell counts and tumor markers were unaltered in both groups. However, patients who took IP6 + Inositol had significantly better quality of life (p = 0.05) and functional status (p = 0.0003) and were able to perform their daily activities. CONCLUSION: IP6 + Inositol as an adjunctive therapy is valuable help in ameliorating the side effects and preserving quality of life among the patients treated with chemotherapy.
Studies have been accumulating to show that drinking a few cups of hibiscus tea daily can significantly lower elevated blood pressure in people with pre- and mild hypertension. In a paper that appeared in the Journal of Nutrition in February 2010, Tufts University researchers reported an average drop of over 7 mm HG for hibiscus versus only 1.3 mm Hg for placebo in these types of hypertensive people. The effect was stronger for systolic than for diastolic blood pressure. This is a potentially mild and helpful adjunct for treatment of this common and dangerous condition. Talk with your doctor, monitor your blood pressure, and see if this is right for you.