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Astaxanthin – the origin of nature‘s most potent antioxidant

Natural astaxanthin is known as a chemical compound that has several health benefits for humans; including reducing inflammation, accelerating muscle recovery, and enhancing joint, skin, and eye health. But what is the origin of this nature‘s most potent antioxidant – and what role does it play in nature?

Astaxanthin helps to outperform

Even though we might recognize astaxanthin as the pigment that provides flamingos, lobster, and salmon meat with their distinctive colors, the primary producers of the compound are simple multicellular microorganisms. When taking a step further to understand why this magical pigment is produced by these simple organisms, we must keep the forces of evolutionary biology in mind. For instance, Haematococcus pluvialis, the freshwater microalgae species used at Algalíf, produces astaxanthin in high concentrations to outperform other organisms that thrive in similar conditions. Astaxanthin production aids the algae in competition for light, nutrients, and other essential resources. In other words, astaxanthin has played a role in the success of Haematococcus pluvialis in the brutal process that we generally refer to as natural selection.

Benefits are very easy to see

Sometimes, evolutionary biologists have to spend a lot of time finding out what caused the selection pressure for certain features of present-day organisms – or to be more precise: how these features have helped the individuals to survive the competition of natural selection. However, this is not the case with the astaxanthin production in microalgae like Haematococcus pluvialis, because the benefits are very easy to see. As nature‘s most potent antioxidant, astaxanthin protects the microalgal cells from extremely reactive chemical compounds that can result from various environmental conditions.

Astaxanthin protects the cells

At optimal conditions, Haematococcus pluvialis does not produce any astaxanthin. Instead, the algae utilizes its resources to grow and reproduce at the green vegetative cell stage. Unfortunately, there are a lot of factors that can make the growth conditions for the microalgae unfavorable. For instance, during the warmest periods of the year, the temperature can get too high, which also leads to increased evaporation from the ponds and lakes where the microalgae lives, increasing the salinity and exposing the cells to ultraviolet light. Moreover, access to CO2 might decrease with elevated temperatures and essential nutrients might be lacking as well. When the microalgae sense these unfavorable environmental conditions, it reacts by shifting their operations toward the accumulation of astaxanthin and stop reproducing. Astaxanthin protects the cells through this harsh period and increases the chances of the cells surviving. When the conditions become favorable again, the cells can recover to the green vegetative state and resume growing and reproducing.

Winning the battle of natural selection

This extraordinary mechanism that has helped certain types of microorganisms survive harsh environmental conditions and win the battle of natural selection can also be beneficial to humans. The positive effect of astaxanthin as a food supplement has been reported by a large number of scientific studies and is common knowledge in the scientific community.

Jan Eric Jessen

An Algalif Blog by Jan Eric Jessen, M.Sc., Head of R&D.



The benefits of astaxanthin for humans will be explored in future blogs – keep up to date by following us at www.algalif.com.

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