In Western Culture, we most frequently visit the doctor’s office when we are already feeling sick. But in other more traditional cultures, a doctor or health care provider is paid to keep you well versus treat you once you’re sick. This concept can be applied in our day-to-day life by taking steps to strengthen your immune system. With flu season just around the corner in the northern hemisphere, we must start prepping our immune systems now for the winter season. There are many ways to help strengthen your immune system, such as getting enough sleep, eating less sugar, stress management, and regular exercise –to name a few. But including antioxidant supplements, such as astaxanthin, into your daily routine are vital to helping keep your immune system strong all year long.
What are Antioxidants
To understand antioxidants, we need to look at what oxidants or oxidation is first. Our body is full of trillions of cells that burn fuel/energy to power every bodily function and process, including repairing cells. The burning of this energy generates oxidants, also known as free radicals, and excess accumulation of these oxidants can lead to premature aging and many adverse health conditions. While oxidation is an entirely normal process in the body, these free radicals can throw the body out of balance and manipulate cells out of control. To help heal your body from excess oxidation, our body needs antioxidants to counteract the damage caused by these free radicals. When the body produces antioxidants at the same level of oxidants, your body remains healthy and in balance. But as we age, our body has more oxidants and fewer antioxidants – a double negative. Plus, the modern lifestyle of air pollution, chemicals, bad foods, and a sedentary lifestyle shifts the balance quite often towards excess oxidation. Therefore, we need to consume enough antioxidants through foods or supplements to shift the balance back in the right direction.
Astaxanthin – It’s what makes Salmon Pink
Astaxanthin is one of nature’s most potent antioxidants and the red carotenoid pigment in nature. It’s found naturally in select seafood such as wild salmon, trout, shrimp, krill, and lobsters. But the most concentrated source of astaxanthin comes from a freshwater microalga call Haematococcus Pluvialis. When exposed to environmental stress, the microalgae produce astaxanthin to help protect themselves and survive the challenging conditions. The astaxanthin that the algae generate is so powerful that it can protect these cells for up to 40 years.
6,000x More Powerful Than Vitamin C
Astaxanthin is a unique molecule as the shape of it allows it to span the entire cell membrane. Astaxanthin can cross both the hydrophobic (water layer) and hydrophilic (fat layer) of the cell, bringing even more protection to the entire body. It’s also one of the few antioxidants that can cross the blood- brain and blood-retinal barriers – most other antioxidants cannot do this. As an antioxidant, astaxanthin is one of the most powerful found in nature. It’s 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C! Astaxanthin has been studied extensively in over 200 clinical trials for a wide variety of benefits, including helping support joints, eyes, skin, the cardiovascular system, recovery from exercise, and it gives the immune system a needed boost.
How Does Astaxanthin Support the Immune System?
The immune system is a highly intricate network of cells, tissues, and organs that synergistically work together to help protect the body from infectious and potentially harmful bacteria and viruses. 1 When the body is attacked by a foreign microorganism or even chemicals or toxins, the immune system steps in and generates antibodies to defend against these harmful substances. The immune system remembers these antibodies and will quickly send these out during future attacks to prevent you from getting sick and building immunity. Astaxanthin can help improve this immune response process by increasing the number of antibody cells and may protect immune cells against oxidative stress. 2 This normal immune response generates inflammation, which is necessary for the short term to help promote healing and repair damaged tissue. 3 However, inflammation can be very damaging to the body when the immune system fails to eliminate the problem, and it turns chronic, persisting for months or even years. Astaxanthin also has the ability to balance and support the immune system 4 , helping defend the body from overactive immune responses that can lead to chronic inflammation. A human clinical study where participants received either 2mg or 8mg of astaxanthin or a placebo for eight weeks experienced various blood immune markers, including a significant increase in specific immune system cells' activity. They also experienced increases in the numbers of other immune cells and increases in natural killer cell activity. The study also showed decreased DNA damage and inflammation and enhanced immune system activity. The study concluded that supplementing with astaxanthin works to optimize immune response and reinforce overall immune function. 2
Prep Your Immune System with Astaxanthin
In the food chain, astaxanthin is predominately found in wild Alaskan salmon. But to make a significant impact on your health, you would need to consume at least 4 ounces of wild sockeye salmon each day to get what is available in a 4 mg astaxanthin supplement. Strengthening the immune system, astaxanthin has been shown to support the eyes, joints and tendons, cardiovascular system, skin (including protection from UV rays), and recovery from exercise.
Going into this winter season, I highly recommend working on taking measures to strengthen your immune system. With immune health being at the top of everyone’s consciousness, astaxanthin is my choice to support and promote my patients’ immune resilience.
1. MedLine Plus. (2020) Immune System and Disorders. Retrieved from: https://medlineplus.gov/immunesystemanddisorders.html#:~:text=What%20is%20the%2 immune %20system,body%2C%20they%20attack%20and%20multiply.
2. Park, Jean Soon, et al. (2010) Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans. Nutr Metab (Lond). Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20205737/.
3. Harvard Health Publishing. (2020) Fighting Inflammation. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-inflammation
4. Barlic, Ivana, et al. (2015) Effect of Astaxanthin Supplementation on Salivary IgA. Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Young Soccer Players. Hindawi Publishing Corporation. Retrieved from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2015/783761/.