Boosting cognitive power with natural astaxanthin


Astaxanthin is a natural carotenoid with multiple health benefits. It’s well known for its antioxidant capacity and is one of the most successful carotenoids on the market. Natural astaxanthin’s ability to support cognitive function is rooted in its strong protective effect on the human brain, reports Peter Ahlm, Marketing and Sales Manager at AstaReal

Cognitive functions are defined as mental processes that include the parameters of processing speed, learning, memory, decision making and attention. With increasing age, cognitive function changes; it peaks in early adulthood and starts to decline when we reach 50 or 60 years of age.

During the ageing process, the ability to increase cognitive development decreases substantially. Therefore, promoting cognitive health as early as possible can help to increase cognitive reserve and maintain intellectual activity during our later years.

Several studies have shown that dietary supplements containing astaxanthin may help to maintain cognitive functions such as memory and mental agility, and delay the development of dementia.1,2 With that in mind, younger generations in particular become an interesting consumer group of natural astaxanthin.

As younger people seek antioxidant products to support their well-being, natural astaxanthin is becoming more attractive to supplement manufacturers looking to expand their product lines. Now, let’s take a deep dive into the topic of astaxanthin.

A powerful and safe supplement

Animals and humans cannot synthesise astaxanthin but must absorb it through food. To achieve an adequate dose of astaxanthin through diet, however, is challenging; so, for most consumers, it’s more effective and convenient to take it as a dietary supplement. The primary and most abundant source for astaxanthin is the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis.

This unique alga can be found throughout the world in freshwater pools that regularly dry out, such as rock pools in the Stockholm archipelago of Sweden. Natural astaxanthin from the microalga Haematococcus pluvialis is a powerful antioxidant and often called “the king of antioxidants.”

Cognitive enhancer

Its unique molecular structure allows natural astaxanthin to cross the blood-brain barrier. This barrier is crucial to control and restrict the passage of molecules (such as pathogens) and cells (immune cells) from peripheral parts of the body into the central nervous system.

Being a nootropic, the brain is one of the most important target organs of astaxanthin. Nootropics are supplements or compounds that enhance cognitive performance. They increase mental functions such as memory and attention. Nootropics increase the blood circulation to the brain as well as boosting the energy and oxygen flow to the brain.

This is important because of the brain’s high consumption of glucose and oxygen. But, at the same time, the brain tends to produce active oxygen and free radicals, even though it’s composed of substances that are easily oxidisable, such as unsaturated fatty acids.

Oxidative stress and free radicals damage nerve cells and decrease cognitive function. Therefore, the elimination of free radicals in the brain supports cognitive health. As a potent antioxidant, natural astaxanthin plays an important role in the protection against oxidative damage. This is mediated by a variety of mechanisms, such as the elimination of singlet oxygen and radicals, the suppression of lipid peroxidation and the regulation of gene expression associated with oxidative stress.

The mitochondrion corollary

The energy production process that takes place in the mitochondria generates huge amounts of free radicals and can cause a redox imbalance, which fosters mitochondrial dysfunction and, ultimately, leads to neurodegenerative conditions. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are associated with mitochondrial damage.

Natural astaxanthin works against lipid peroxidation in the mitochondria and is, in this respect, 550 times more effective than vitamin E.3 It also decreases the oxidation of red blood cells, which is linked to the prevention of dementia.4

Randomised double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that supplementation with natural astaxanthin (12 mg/daily) for 3 months improves memory, mental agility and multitasking in senior participants complaining of age-related forgetfulness.1

Quality from AstaReal

The AstaReal Group is a pioneer in the cultivation and research of Haematococcus pluvialis, from which the valuable antioxidant is derived. In the early 1990s, AstaReal became the first company in the world to commercially produce natural astaxanthin from microalgae.

Today, with a portfolio of more than 70 human clinical trials conducted among in excess of 1800 participants, AstaReal is the most studied brand of natural astaxanthin worldwide. The majority of astaxanthin products on the market are derived from synthetic production.

There is evidence that synthetic astaxanthin is significantly more inferior than astaxanthin from microalga with regard of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.5 Furthermore, quality is paramount when it comes to natural astaxanthin.

As it is sourced from algae, the ingredient’s quality is affected by the environment in which these micro-organisms are cultivated. Therefore, when choosing an astaxanthin supplier, companies should pay attention to production methods, the stability and purity of their products, the astaxanthin content in the biomass and their quality certifications.

AstaReal’s cultivation process adheres to the strictest controls in the industry and refrains from cheaper outdoor production methods as they are susceptible to contamination. The pioneer cultivates and processes its algae indoors under controlled conditions in specially designed photobioreactors. This results in a safe, impurity free product with at least 5% astaxanthin content in the biomass.

One step ahead

Health prevention and the desire for a better cognitive function are becoming increasingly important, with more and more people aware of the benefits of preventing diseases at a young age rather than having to treat them in later life.

Manufacturers can use this growing awareness and understanding to shape their products and communication … sand create premium dietary supplements containing value-added specialty ingredients. Astaxanthin that’s produced in a natural way and backed by scientific research will appeal to health-conscious shoppers.

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  1. M. Katagiri, et al., “Effects of Astaxanthin-Rich Haematococcus pluvialis Extract on Cognitive Function: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study,” J. Clin. Biochem. Nutr. 51(2), 102–107 (2012).
  2. J.S. Yook, et al., “Leptin in Hippocampus Mediates Benefits of Mild Exercise by an Antioxidant on Neurogenesis and Memory,” Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 116, 10988–10993 (2019).
  3. Y. Nishida, et al., “Quenching Activities of Common Hydrophilic and Lipophilic Antioxidants Against Singlet Oxygen Using Chemiluminescence Detection System,” Carotenoid Science 11(6), 16–20 (2007).
  4. K. Nakagawa, et al., “Antioxidant Effect of Astaxanthin on Phospholipid Peroxidation in Human Erythrocytes,” Brit. J. Nutr. 105, 1563–1571 (2011).
  5. B. Capelli, D. Bagchi and G.R. Cysewski, “Synthetic Astaxanthin is Significantly Inferior to Algal-Based Astaxanthin as an Antioxidant and May Not Be Suitable as a Human Nutraceutical Supplement,” Nutrafoods 12, 145–152 (2013).