Astaxanthin and Glutathione
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What is astaxanthin?
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There exists a limited body of research into astaxanthin and glutathione, namely, the effect of astaxanthin on glutathione levels and glutathione enzymatic systems.
The studies conducted so far are all animal or cell models and use astaxanthin at doses much higher than what can be found in human supplements or an average diet (salmon, trout, shrimp, lobsters and other seafood).
The studies mentioning the effect of astaxanthin supplementation on glutathione levels do not show that it raises glutathione levels in both blood and organ tissues, like
does, for example. But the studies do indicate that astaxanthin helps retain glutathione levels and stimulate GSH based antioxidant activity of blood plasma.
The one study where glutathione levels got assessed in mice concluded that “blood glutathione concentrations were not significantly affected by astaxanthin treatment”. It means GSH levels may have increased but it was statistically insignificant. ( Nakao R, Nelson OL et al. Effect of astaxanthin supplementation on inflammation and cardiac function in BALB/c mice. Anticancer Research, 2010 Jul;30(7):2721-5. PMID: 20683004).
However, in a later study, where supplemental astaxanthin and glutathione were studied in diabetic mice, it was noted that “astaxanthin intake significantly increased its deposit in plasma, and retained glutathione content, reduced the production of reactive oxygen species” (Chan KC, Pen PJ, Yin MC. Anticoagulatory and antiinflammatory effects of astaxanthin in diabetic rats. J Food Sci. 2012 Feb;77(2):H76-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2011.02558.x. Epub 2012 Feb 6. PMID: 22309505)
There is also a study where, after astaxanthin supplementation, glutathione levels increased in rat liver treated with CCl4, a chemical carcinogen. Researchers concluded that astaxanthin could prevent liver damage caused by this toxic chemical by means of stimulating cellular antioxidant system. (Kang JO, Kim SJ, Kim H. Effect of astaxanthin on the hepatotoxicity, lipid peroxidation and antioxidative enzymes in the liver of CCl4-treated rats. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 2001 Mar;23(2):79-84. PMID: 11484414)
The above animal studies prove that astaxanthin is capable of maintaining and even raising glutathione levels under conditions of elevated oxidative stress due to disease or chemical exposure.
There are also several recent studies into astaxanthin and glutathione enzymes where supplemental astaxanthin has been proven to be of great benefit to the activity of glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and glutathione reductase (GR). These enzymes play an important role in keeping glutathione in its non-oxidized state, they help recycle glutathione and serve as indicators of oxidative stress:
- Barros MP, Marin DP, Bolin AP et al. Combined astaxanthin and fish oil supplementation improves glutathione-based redox balance in rat plasma and neutrophils. Chemico-Biological Interactions, 2012 Apr 15;197(1):58-67. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2012.03.005. Epub 2012 Mar 21. PMID: 22465178
This study investigated the effects of daily (for 45 days) intake of fish oil and/or natural astaxanthin (1 mg/kg of body weight) on oxidative stress and functional indexes of neutrophils isolated from rats. Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cells in mammals and form an essential part of the innate immune system.
The results showed the beneficial effects of combined fish oil + astaxanthin supplementation for stronger immune action based on the significant increase in glutathione-dependent reducing (antioxidant) power, as well as increased activity of the glutathione-recycling enzymes glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and glutathione reductase (GR).
The researchers went on to conclude that “the bulk of data reinforces the hypothesis that habitual consumption of marine fish (e.g. salmon, which is a natural source of both astaxanthin and fish oil) is beneficial to human health, in particular by improving immune response and lowering the risk of vascular and infectious diseases”.
- Otton R, Marin DP, Bolin AP, et al. Combined fish oil and astaxanthin supplementation modulates rat lymphocyte function. Eur J Nutr. 2011 Oct 5. PMID: 21972007
This study investigated the effect of daily fish oil intake by oral gavage (through a feeding needle) and astaxanthin (ASTA-1 mg/kg body weight) on the redox metabolism and the function lymphocytes from rat lymph nodes.
After 45 days of fish oil + astaxanthin supplementation, increased activities of glutathione reductase (GR), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) were observed. The researchers suggested that adding astaxanthin to fish oil could be a good strategy to prevent oxidative stress induced by polyunsaturated fatty acids and also to strengthen immuno-modulatory effects of fish oil.
- Chan KC, Mong MC, Yin MC. Antioxidative and anti-inflammatory neuroprotective effects of astaxanthin and canthaxanthin in nerve growth factor differentiated PC12 cells. J Food Sci. 2009 Sep;74(7):H225-31. PMID: 19895474
This study showed that pretreatment with astaxanthin resulted in antioxidative and anti-inflammatory protection of nerve growth factor differentiated PC12 cells by means of significant retention of glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and catalase, after these cells’ exposure to hydrogen peroxide or 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium ion to induce cell injury.
- Zhao W, Jing X, Chen C, et al. Protective effects of astaxanthin against oxidative damage induced by 60Co gamma-ray irradiation. Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 2011 Sep;40(5):551-4. PMID: 22043699
The objective of this study was to investigate the protective effect of algae Haematococcus Pluvialis (naturally rich in astaxanthin) against the impairment of anti-oxidative system and DNA damage in mice induced by 60Co gamma-rays.
The mice in the astaxanthin group, especially the highest algae consumption group (166.7 mg/kg of body weight), exhibited increased glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity resulting in a certain degree of protection against oxidative impairment and DNA damage induced by 60Co gamma-rays.
All these studies prove the connection between supplemental astaxanthin and glutathione levels, as well as glutathione enzymes, which results in decrease of oxidative stress and prevention of cell damage.
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What is astaxanthin?
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Even though there aren’t any human trials yet linking astaxanthin with increased GSH levels, its potent antioxidant power has been proven by the above animal and cell culture studies, as well as by extensive research (including human trials) into astaxanthin’s possible application in many health conditions. Check out the list of other astaxanthin research articles
And, of course, I will do my best to keep this page updated as new research into astaxanthin and glutathione comes out.
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