Saturday, May 5, 2012

Astaxanthin Claims

Recently astaxanthin claims abound. There are a bunch of products sold that contain astaxanthin. They use such names like “ageless male” and Hawaiian astaxanthin. Those selling these products on the web or television make claims that their particular product with astaxanthin “provides protection for all of our cells”, prevents cataracts and much more.
It sounds like if you take astaxanthin you will stop aging, increase your testosterone and maybe not die.
And if you combine astaxanthin with saw palmetto extract, wow!
Who knows what might happen?

Is there scientific basis for any of these astaxanthin claims?
And what is astaxanthin?

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid chemically related to lycopene, lutein and beta carotene. Astaxanthin gives salmon and shrimp their reddish color.
Astaxanthin is commercially obtained from microalgae and shrimp shells.
Did you know that beta carotene was shown to increase cancer and deaths when given to male smokers?
The chemical structure of beta carotene and astaxanthin have much in common. 
See the chemical structures below. 

Beta Carotene 


Astaxanthin has anti-oxidant properties  but if you have read my post on anti-oxidants you would be very skeptical in general of taking pills that are so called anti-oxidants.

Should we try to outsmart our body by taking these presumed anti-oxidants, interfering with our natural pro- versus anti-oxidant balance?
And what happens when we do that especially if astaxanthin has anti-oxidant properties?

But really are there double blind placebo controlled trials that show that astaxanthin does anything good?
And has astaxanthin been shown to increase testosterone in placebo controlled trials?

Let me answer the last question first.

There was one open label study done in Cameroon.
And in case your geography is a bit weak, Cameroon is in Africa.
Cameroon is not exactly a hotbed for clinical research studies.

The supplement manufacturer was a co-author of that study conducted in Cameroon.
The study was done in 42 healthy men. That means these men did not have a low testosterone to begin with. 

This trial had no control group and used astaxanthin combined with a  saw palmetto supplement. The authors claimed that testosterone increased within 3 days using this supplement. That result is physiologically implausible and impossible to interpret without a placebo or control group. This is a dubious publication of poor quality done by someone with a clear conflict of interest.

And there are no other studies published in peer reviewed journals that show that astaxanthin increases testosterone levels.

As for saw palmetto, take a look at my post on saw palmetto.

How about studies showing slowing of aging with astaxanthin?
Nope, nothing.
Okay how about any randomized controlled clinical trials with astaxanthin?

In one of the best trials, 14 competitive cyclists showed better performance with 3 milligrams of astaxanthin as compared to placebo. On the other hand, in another study, muscle soreness and muscle injury were no different with astaxanthin supplementation as compared to placebo in resistance trained men.

Is astaxanthin safe?
A study with 6 milligrams of astaxanthin showed no problems but that study only lasted 8 weeks.
There are no long term trials evaluating the safety of astaxanthin. 
Astaxanthin may not affect blood clotting but that study was done with a synthetic astaxanthin.

Reductions of 25 percent in serum triglycerides and increases of 10 percent in HDL cholesterol have been seen with astaxanthin at a 12 milligram daily dose. But at the  18 milligram dose of astaxanthin , no change was seen in HDL cholesterol.  Strange that the lower dose "worked better" at least on HDL cholesterol.
The subjects studied were healthy Japanese adults with triglycerides averaging 150 mg/dl.,  a level fairly close to normal.

One study of 30 infertile men showed a beneficial effect on sperm parameters and fertility.

So astaxanthin shows some promise but most of those astaxanthin claims on testosterone, aging and more are without scientific merit.
More studies of astaxanthin safety and possible benefits need to be conducted. 

You might say that the main “ageless” attribute of astaxanthin is this:
hucksterism and scams are very much alive and well and will be forever, sadly even amongst some of the medical profession.

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