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astaxanthin

The bigger picture for astaxanthin

Astaxanthin is a naturally-occurring carotenoid produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis as a defence mechanism against harsh environmental conditions. For humans, astaxanthin is one of the most powerful natural antioxidants known, with numerous health benefits supported by extensive scientific research and human clinical trials - but what might the future look like for this ingredient?

Ingredient overview

As a protective barrier between our body and its surroundings, the skin is exposed to many factors that induce free radical formation such as UV rays and pollutants. They can damage the skin cells and cause premature ageing. Moreover, our skin becomes thinner and more susceptible to these factors as we age, further increasing the production of free radicals. Astaxanthin acts as a free radical scavenger through its core functionality as an antioxidant and the efficacy of the compound therefor has a direct benefit for skin health and beauty from within. This has been backed up by numerous peer reviewed studies that have demonstrated that astaxanthin can reduce hyperpigmentation and wrinkle formation, improve skin elasticity and moisture content and prevent UV-induced skin damage.

Considerations for scientists

Important for scientists to be aware of is the source and the stability of the material in question. Astaxanthin offers several benefits in terms of product development and delivery formats but regardless of the general benefits, the specific source of the material should always be considered and evaluated.
Algae cultivated in locations with clean air and water offer significant advantages in terms of delivering a safe and clean astaxanthin product. Water is the most important ingredient in any type of algae cultivation and having a reliable source of clean, untreated water that is low in heavy metals and free of contaminants is of paramount importance.

The bigger picture 

Extracted oleoresins are the most frequently used astaxanthin formats and offer the greatest stability. Other formats such as formulated or natural powders are also available. Finally, novel formats are constantly being developed and these include water dispersible powders for beverage applications and other purposes.
The sourcing technology is very much about the continuous cultivation optimisation to increase productivity and thereby purity and stability. Indoor cultivation with state of the art LED lighting allows for optimum parameter control and output stability.
There is also a lot of focus on contamination control, both in the cultivation process itself but also in relation to the output of the process i.e. the finished consumer product. Here, the controlled indoor cultivation also offers significant advantages over open systems.
The future of astaxanthin is very bright and this mainly comes down to the unquestionable efficacy of the compounds itself. It is now up to the scientists and the people involved in the astaxanthin business to make sure that the cultivation is set up to reliably deliver a stable quality product that meets all industry standards.

Dr Tryggvi Stefansson is science manager at Algalif

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