All About Astaxanthin

Why are salmon pink, you may wonder? Let’s follow my favorite color-changing fish, salmon, from ocean to spawning grounds, and you’ll appreciate my prescription “Go fish!” even more. During the ocean phase of their life cycle, salmon feed on algae, krill, and small fish that are plentiful sources of astaxanthin. When the time comes for them to leave the ocean and, driven by some primitive GPS, return to their birth river to spawn and die, they will stop feeding, so they must depend upon the rich stores of fat, astaxanthin, and other nutrients they’ve accumulated at seas to sustain them during their final journey. The longer and more difficult this journey, the greater will be their stored energy reserves. In short, salmon returning to larger, longer, or more rapidly flowing rivers will generally provide the richest flesh.

To meet their energy needs, wild salmon store fat reserves required to sustain them after they leave the ocean. Because the good fat in wild salmon is so tasty and healthy, most are caught just before they leave the ocean, when their fat (and flavor) levels are at their peak.

Their flesh becomes pink by accumulating astaxanthin, which acts like a bodyguard to keep the fish muscle and fat strong and healthy. During their journey upriver, as the sockeye digest their stored fat, large amounts of astaxanthin migrate from their flesh into their skin, turning it bright crimson, hence their nickname, “red salmon.”

Strongly exercising muscles, like those in these fishy marathoners swimming upstream to mate, undergo oxidative stress, meaning lots of wear and tear. Astaxanthin blunts this muscle-fatiguing stress. Weight lifters and marathon runners often eat lots of antioxidants to help squelch oxidative stress.

Although the scientific data on astaxanthin are not yet conclusive, here’s why we suspect astaxanthin is beneficial:

Astaxanthin Benefits the Brain

Dementia and many other brain Ds – OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), BPD (bipolar disorder), ASD (autism spectrum disorder) – are often associated with inflammation of the brain tissue. Simply speaking, sticky stuff accumulates in and around brain cells, keeping them from accurately communicating with each other. Astaxanthin can act like anti-sticky stuff medicine for the brain. Its unique biochemical structure enables it to cross the blood-brain barrier, the thin layer of tissue that acts like a protective wrap and prevents some chemicals from getting from blood to brain. Neurochemists call astaxanthin a neuroprotectant because of its ability to protect sensitive fatty brain tissue from oxidation. Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant, which simply means it prevents rust. Aging is like rusting.

Astaxanthin Benefits Vision

Seafood is “see food.” Because the retina is actually part of the brain, what’s good for the brain is also good for the eyes. The two top nutrients in the retina are omega-3s and carotenoids. Astaxanthin may be a more powerful antioxidant than the well-known carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin are called natures’ sunglasses because they protect the retina from sun damage and age-related macular degeneration. The retina is full of capillaries, those silver lining vessels. An interesting study showed that people taking astaxanthin had improved blood flow to their retina.