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Astaxanthin
 

Certain plant constituents have been established as exerting photoprotective effects such as antioxidants, including carotenoids, flavonoids and other polyphenols, tocopherols, and vitamin C. Researchers have shown that carotenoids are superior scavengers of singlet oxygen and sufficient scavengers for other reactive oxygen species.[1] As dietary antioxidants, carotenoids have been shown to confer photoprotective benefits to human skin, efficiently scavenging peroxyl radicals and hampering lipid peroxidation.[2]


 


Carotenoid pigments, which consist of over 600 compounds, are secondary metabolic plant products that confer yellow, green, red or orange color to fruits and vegetables. They are precursors to vitamin A (retinol). Astaxanthin, a member of the xanthophyll class of carotenoids and closely related to beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin,[3] is a red-orange carotenoid present in plants and algae that is also known to contribute to the color of seafood such as salmon, shrimp, and lobster. It is synthesized by only a few bacteria, including Brevibacterium, Mycobacterium lacticola, Agrobacterium auratim, and Haematococcus pluvialis, and the yeast Phaffia rhodozyma.[4] Astaxanthin can also be found in bird species, such as flamingoes and quails, but cannot be synthesized by them.[5]


 


The richest source of astaxanthin is the green microalga H. pluvialis,[6] which contains more than 80% astaxanthin in its cells.[7] Because of its rapid growth and high astaxanthin content, it is now produced at industrial scale, and its commercial production has grown significantly worldwide during the last decade.[8] Astaxanthin can also be derived from the fermentation of the pink yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous, extracted from crustacea (e.g., Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba), which have a limited ability to synthesize astaxanthin from dietary carotenoids, and produced synthetically. Mammals can neither produce astaxanthin nor convert dietary astaxanthin into vitamin A.[9]


 


Although this potent carotenoid is expensive to produce, isolate, and purify, investigators recently demonstrated a method of fermenting P. rhodozyma (X. dendrorhous) yeast cells with brewer malt waste yielding a significant amount of astaxanthin with demonstrated antiproliferative effectiveness in two tested breast cancer cell lines.[10] Indeed, astaxanthin is known to exhibit antiproliferative properties against skin and breast cancer.[11]


 


In in vitro studies during the last two decades, astaxanthin has been shown to exhibit significantly greater antioxidant capacity in comparison to beta-carotene.[12],[13],[14],[15] In fact, this xanthophyllic carotenoid has demonstrated up to several-fold stronger antioxidant activity than vitamin E and beta-carotene,[16],[17] as well as other carotenoids.[18],[19],[20] In addition, astaxanthin appears to have the potential to be significantly more effective than beta-carotene and lutein at preventing UV-induced lipid photooxidation.[21],[22]


 


In a study conducted 10 years ago, investigators found that beta-carotene, lutein, and astaxanthin exhibited protective activity against UVA-induced oxidative stress in cultured rat kidney fibroblasts. Of the three carotenoids, astaxanthin demonstrated the most potent protective capacity.[23]


 


Early this decade, investigators used human skin fibroblasts, human melanocytes, and human intestinal CaCo-2 cells to examine the protective capacity of a proprietary algal extract containing a significant amount of astaxanthin against UVA-induced DNA damage. They also compared the measured effects with those using a synthetic astaxanthin. UVA-induced damage was prevented by the synthetic astaxanthin in all cell types at all tested concentrations (10 nM, 100 nM, and 10 microM) whereas the algal extract conferred protection in all cell types only at the highest concentration. In addition, 2-hour exposure to UVA led to significant cellular superoxide dismutase activity in fibroblast cells along with a substantial decrease in cellular glutathione content. Eighteen-hour pre-incubation with 10 microM of either form of astaxanthin, however, prevented both of these UVA-induced changes in fibroblast cells. Simultaneous incubation with either form of astaxanthin also prevented UVA-induced depletion of glutathione content in CaCo-2 cells, but did not affect superoxide dismutase activity. Overall, the researchers concluded that the algal extract containing astaxanthin performed comparably to synthetic astaxanthin and warrants attention as an antioxidant that may deliver health benefits.[24]


 


Recently, investigators studied in vitro the effects of the carotenoids astaxanthin and canthaxanthin on gap junctional intercellular communication, which is integral in homeostasis, growth control and cell development and known to be impaired in cancer cells. They exposed primary human skin fibroblasts to 0.001 to 10 micromol/L of the carotenoids and used a dye transfer assay to measure gap junctional communication. Intercellular communication increased after 24- and 72-h incubation with canthaxanthin but decreased significantly with astaxanthin, with a reverse seen upon withdrawal of astaxanthin. Using Western blot analysis, the investigators found that astaxanthin influences channel function by altering the phosphorylation pattern of the protein connexin43, lowering the phosphorylation state.[25]


 


Derived primarily from algae or yeasts, a wide variety of astaxanthin products are available as nutritional supplements in health food stores.[26] Increasingly, astaxanthin is finding inclusion as an active ingredient in topical formulations.


 


Philosophy’s when hope is not enough spf age defense moisturizer is a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB SPF 20 sun protection formulation that contains astaxanthin, tocotrienol, vitamin C, peptides, and beta-glucan designed to moisturize the skin and protect it from sun damage.


 


In addition, astaxanthin, termed “the most potent antioxidant yet discovered” by Derma E, is a staple in products by this manufacturer, including Age-Defying Night Crème with Astaxanthin and Pycnogenol, Age-Defying Day Crème with Astaxanthin and Pycnogenol, Age-Defying Eye Crème with Astaxanthin and Pycnogenol, Anti-Aging Moisturizing Complex with SPF 15, Orange Blossom Age-Defying Hand and Body Lotion, and Lavender Age-Defying Hand and Body Lotion. ShenDea also includes astaxanthin as a main ingredient in its line of facial creams, gels and lotions, combining the carotenoid with pearl and grape seed extract.


 


Derma MD features astaxanthin in three products, including AstaXanthin Micro Peel, AstaXanthin Concentrate Tri-Complex, intended for post-procedural application, and “D” Puff Eye Repair Gel.


 


Conclusion


Along with pigmentary and other functions, carotenoids exhibit significant antioxidant activity. Much more research has been conducted on carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene, as compared to astaxanthin, but the evidence on this latter carotenoid is compelling. The effects of astaxanthin on crustaceans and seafood are well established, but recent research suggests that this potent antioxidant has the capacity to impart significant health benefits to human beings. More research, in the form of randomized, controlled trials is warranted to determine the efficacy and safety of this carotenoid in formulations intended to benefit the skin.




[1] Handelman GJ. The evolving role of carotenoids in human biochemistry. Nutrition. 2001 Oct;17(10):818-22.


[2] Eichler O, Sies H, Stahl W. Divergent optimum levels of lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein protecting against UVB irradiation in human fibroblasts. Photochem Photobiol. 2002 May;75(5):503-6.


[3] Hussein G, Sankawa U, Goto H, et al. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid with potential in human health and nutrition. J Nat Prod. 2006;69:443-9.


[4] Domínguez-Bocanegra AR, Guerrero Legarreta I, Martinez Jeronimo F, Tomasini Campocosio A. Influence of environmental and nutritional factors in the production of astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis. Bioresour Technol. 2004 Apr;92(2):209-14.


[5] Hussein G, Sankawa U, Goto H, Matsumoto K, Watanabe H. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid with potential in human health and nutrition. J Nat Prod. 2006 Mar;69(3):443-9.


[6] Hussein G, Sankawa U, Goto H, et al. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid with potential in human health and nutrition. J Nat Prod. 2006;69:443-9.


[7] Domínguez-Bocanegra AR, Guerrero Legarreta I, Martinez Jeronimo F, Tomasini Campocosio A. Influence of environmental and nutritional factors in the production of astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis. Bioresour Technol. 2004 Apr;92(2):209-14.


[8] Guerin M, Huntley ME, Olaizola M. Haematococcus astaxanthin: applications for human health and nutrition. Trends Biotechnol. 2003 May;21(5):210-6.


[9] Guerin M, Huntley ME, Olaizola M. Haematococcus astaxanthin: applications for human health and nutrition. Trends Biotechnol. 2003 May;21(5):210-6.


[10] Teo IT, Chui CH, Tang JC et al. Antiproliferation and induction of cell death of Phaffia rhodozyma (Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous) extract fermented by brewer malt waste on breast cancer cells. Int J Mol Med. 2005 Nov;16(5):931-6.


[11] Teo IT, Chui CH, Tang JC et al. Antiproliferation and induction of cell death of Phaffia rhodozyma (Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous) extract fermented by brewer malt waste on breast cancer cells. Int J Mol Med. 2005 Nov;16(5):931-6.


[12] Lawlor SM, O’Brien NM. Astaxanthin: antioxidant effects in chicken embryo fibroblasts. Nutr Res. 1995;15:1695-1704.


[13] Palozza P, Krinsky NI. Astaxanthin and canthaxanthin are potent antioxidants in a membrane model. Arch Biochem Biophys. 1992 Sep;297(2):291-5.


[14] Miki W. Biological functions and activities of animal carotenoids. Pure Appl Chem. 1991;63(1):141-6.


[15] Terao J. Antioxidant activity of beta-carotene-related carotenoids in solution. Lipids. 1989 Jul;24(7):659-61.


[16] Guerin M, Huntley ME, Olaizola M. Haematococcus astaxanthin: applications for human health and nutrition. Trends Biotechnol. 2003 May;21(5):210-6.


[17] Kurashige M, Okimasu E, Inoue M, Utsumi K. Inhibition of oxidative injury of biological membranes by astaxanthin. Physiol Chem Phys Med NMR. 1990;22(1):27-38.


[18] Hussein G, Sankawa U, Goto H, et al. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid with potential in human health and nutrition. J Nat Prod. 2006;69:443-9.


[19] Guerin M, Huntley ME, Olaizola M. Haematococcus astaxanthin: applications for human health and nutrition. Trends Biotechnol. 2003 May;21(5):210-6.


[20] Higuera-Ciapara I, Félix-Valenzuela L, Goycoolea FM. Astaxanthin: a review of its chemistry and applications. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46(2):185-96.


[21] O’Connor I, O’Brien N. Modulation of UVA light-induced oxidative stress by beta-carotene, lutein and astaxanthin in cultured fibroblasts. J Dermatol Sci. 1998 Mar;16(3):226-30.


[22] Guerin M, Huntley ME, Olaizola M. Haematococcus astaxanthin: applications for human health and nutrition. Trends Biotechnol. 2003 May;21(5):210-6.


[23] O’Connor I, O’Brien N. Modulation of UVA light-induced oxidative stress by beta-carotene, lutein and astaxanthin in cultured fibroblasts. J Dermatol Sci. 1998 Mar;16(3):226-30.


[24] Lyons NM, O’Brien NM. Modulatory effects of an algal extract containing astaxanthin on UVA-irradiated cells in culture. J Dermatol Sci. 2002 Oct;30(1):73-84.


[25] Daubrawa F, Sies H, Stahl W. Astaxanthin diminishes gap junctional intercellular communication in primary human fibroblasts. J Nutr. 2005;135(11):2507-11.


[26] Higuera-Ciapara I, Félix-Valenzuela L, Goycoolea FM. Astaxanthin: a review of its chemistry and applications. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46(2):185-96.



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