It is estimated that more than 500,000 people in the UK suffer with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and 40 per cent of sufferers are over the age of 75.
To give your eyes extra protection, you may already be taking eye-specific antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin. Known collectively as xanthophylls, these carotenoids are found most abundantly in corn, kiwi, red seedless grapes, orange-coloured peppers, spinach, celery, Brussel sprouts, and squash.
Antioxidant vision power
What makes xanthophylls special is their ability to affect the eyes. Not all antioxidants can do that, since not all are able to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB is a protective mechanism designed to prevent infectious organisms and chemicals from entering the nervous system. Unfortunately, it also stops beneficial substances, like many antioxidants, from protecting those same organs. However, lutein and zeaxanthin can cross this barrier. Apparently astaxanthin can as well.
Astaxanthin [as-ta-zan-thin] is a xanthophyll (a derivative of the pigment, carotene). Its found in certain varieties of algae and produces a pink tint in the flesh of fish that consume it (namely, salmon, shrimp, crawfish, crab, lobster, and trout).
Laboratory research has demonstrated that astaxanthin has exceptional capabilities as an antioxidant (an agent that prevents the oxidation or mutation of cells) and as an anti-inflammatory.2, 3
A study found that as an antioxidant, astaxanthin is 4.5 times stronger than beta carotene.
Those results convinced some researchers that astaxanthin could quite capably deliver the same benefit as other antioxidants, namely lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol, neurodegenerative disease, and other age-related ailments. Now, researchers also surmise that it may help you keep your sight. This is a promising development and more research is needed to further explore the antioxidant powers of astaxanthin.
University of Illinois researchers made this key discovery in tests on rats. In a successful petition to patent astaxanthin, they state, The administration of astaxanthin also retards the progress of degenerative eye disease and [benefits] the vision of the individuals suffering from degenerative eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration.5
So it could be a good idea to include more astaxanthin in your diet. One simple way is to include more fish in your diet. While salmon is the richest source, not all salmon have the same chance to accumulate high levels of astaxanthin. Farmed fish have dramatically less astaxanthin than wild salmon.
There havent been any adverse effects reported by people consuming astaxanthin, whether in pill form, or in yeast or seafood. Nonetheless, there have not been long-term safety studies of supplemental astaxanthin in humans. If you are allergic to fish or seafood, you should avoid astaxanthin until you have consulted your doctor.
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Br J Ophthalmol 1998;82(8): 907-10
Lipids 1989;24(7): 659-61;
Physiol Chem Phys Med NMR 1990;22(1): 27-38;
J Agric Food Chem 2000;48(4): 1150-4
United States Patent No. 5,527,533;Tso, Mark O.M. and Lam, Tim-Tak; October 27, 1994