Astaxanthin has been termed a “super” nutrient because of its powerful antioxidant properties. It is approximately five hundred times more potent than vitamin E, fifty times more potent than beta-carotene, and many times more potent than vitamin A. Yet, the potential benefits of this nutrient are still being uncovered. Several studies have shown the benefits of astaxanthin for brain function in recent years.
This is one of the few nutrients that is able to cross the blood/brain barrier and enter directly into the cells. Once inside, its antioxidant properties help improve the function of these cells in several different ways. It has even been placed on a short list of potential “brain foods”.
Astaxanthin is a member of the carotenoid family of nutrients. It is the pigment that gives salmon and certain shellfish their distinctive red color as well as being the reason flamingos are pink. It is only produced in nature by one variety of red microalgae that is consumed by these animals in large quantities.
One could conceivably obtain a therapeutic dose by eating enough salmon if the fish was wild caught, not farm raised. However, it would take a substantial amount of the fish to provide enough of this nutrient to be able to avoid supplementation of the diet. Farm raised salmon and other fish contain even less of this nutrient. Even worse, the variety they contain is synthetic in origin and resembles motor oil more than a valuable nutrient.
One key feature of this nutrient is its ability to protect the cells from damage and/or cell death in the event of an ischemic attack or stroke. By preventing the buildup of oxidative toxins in the cells, it helped to limit damage by as much as 40 percent more in mice that were treated with it before having a stroke induced than in a placebo group that did not receive it.
It also was shown to improve production of certain neurotransmitters that are commonly in short supply during such an episode, improving memory and cognitive function. Treated mice were shown to perform better at memory tests involving a maze that they had been through many times before than those who were not treated.
In humans, this nutrient was shown to protect cells from the types of neuron damage seen in diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Another study showed that it lowered levels of the metabolite, PLOOH, which has been linked with dementia. This shows that supplementation with this one nutrient can help to prevent the onset of dementia in otherwise healthy patients.
The benefits of astaxanthin for brain function are still being explored. One thing that is certain is that this is a highly valuable nutrient for maintaining normal brain function into old age. It helps one to maintain his/her memory and protects the brain from damage associated with other conditions such as heart attacks or strokes. More importantly, it helps to prevent these conditions from developing in the first place. Supplementation with as little as four milligrams each day can make a huge difference in one’s overall and mental health.