Astaxanthin, Vision and Macular Degeneration

If baby flamingos are born white, what makes adult flamingos pink?

It’s astaxanthin (as-ta-xanthin), a fat-soluble carotenoid found in the micro-algae Haematococcus pluvialis that, when eaten by marine crustaceans (lobster, shrimp, crayfish and krill) and other fish (trout and salmon) gives them their pink hue.

There are over 700 carotenoids, but most of us have only heard of a few, like lutein, beta-carotene, lycopene and zeaxanthin.

Astaxanthin is the carotenoid on the rise, recognized for being a powerful antioxidant that also has anti-inflammatory properties.

There’s something special to Astaxanthin. Even though diets high in carotenoids reduce the risk of developing cataracts and Macular Degeneration, Astaxanthin has been called a “super-carotenoid” and the “ultimate” antioxidant.

“Super-nutrient” is the way Dr. Joseph Mercola described it, claiming that astaxanthin is “the most powerful nutrient ever discovered for eye health.

Dr. Mercola enthuses, “Scientists have studied lutein, zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin and astaxanthin for their respective abilities to protect the retina. But none function to the degree that astaxanthin does in terms of potency as a free radical scavenger and/or permeability across your blood-brain-retina barrier,”

It is astaxanthin’s unique structure that allows it to cross the “blood-brain-retina barrier,” which allows its antioxidant activity to reach the brain, the eyes and the nervous system, lower the risk of Macular Degeneration.

As a scavenger, it prevents cell damage by trapping and killing free radicals better than canthaxanthin and zeaxanthin do.

As an antioxidant, astaxanthin is hundreds of times more powerful than Vitamin E, three times more powerful than beta-carotene and three times more powerful than lutein. It also enhances the action of Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Besides protecting against free radical damage and oxidative stress, astaxanthin also improves blood flow to the eyes, especially the critical capillaries which supply blood to the retina. By fighting free radicals, astaxanthin and lutein protect the macula, which is the center of the retina.

As we know (see the earlier post, Lutein and Zeaxanthin and Macular Degeneration), only the carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein, which also cross the blood-brain-retina barrier, are found in the retina.

It was the work of Dr. Mark Tso of the prestigious Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University that demonstrated astaxanthin’s abilities to protect the eyes, and which other researchers have since confirmed.

You’ll find astaxanthin in sea creatures like lobster, krill and salmon, which eat the microalgae that contains it.

Dr. Mercola recommends wild Pacific salmon because it contains 100% natural astaxanthin. He also recommends staying away from synthetic astaxanthin, which is commonly found in animal feeds.

Zeaxanthin, by the way, is the most common carotenoid – found in kiwi, grapes, oranges, squash and peppers. Orange peppers have the highest concentration of zeaxanthin.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in egg yolks and dark-green leafy vegetables: turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, spinach, parsley, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, Brussel sprouts, corn and peas.

People who eat a lot of spinach and kale, both high in lutein and zeaxanthin, have a lower risk of Macular Degeneration, and a lower risk of cataracts, too.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are found  in egg yolks and dark-green leafy vegetables: turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, spinach, parsley, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, Brussel sprouts, corn and peas.

People who eat a lot of spinach and kale, both high in lutein and zeaxanthin, have a lower risk of Macular Degeneration, and a lower risk of cataracts, too.

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