Have you ever wondered what makes flamingos pink or how salmon get that lovely pink color? Well the answer is: astaxanthin.
What is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin (pronounced asta-ZAN-thin) is a natural occurring pigment and part of a group of the cartenoid family. Plants, such as sea algae or plankton, produce phytochemicals to help with their survival, and cartenoids are part of these phyochemicals. When algae is put in contact with the sun and UV radiation it produces the astaxathin to protect itself. You can think of it as an internal sunscreen that it is manufacturing.
How do flamingos, shrimp and salmon get their pink color?
When an animal such as a shrimp or krill, eats the algae or plankton containing astaxanthin, it gets absorbed into their system. This causes them to turn pink. Then as other animals further up the food chain, such as salmon or flamingos, eat the shrimp or krill, they too absorb the astaxanthin from these little creatures. The more astaxanthin an animal eats, the pinker their appearance.
Farmed salmon would actually not have pink flesh were it not for synthetic astaxanthin being added to their diets. Because they are not roaming the seas and rivers and naturally eating prey with astaxanthin inside them, such as krill, they would not be getting any astaxanthin in their diet in a farmed environment. So salmon farmers add synthetic astaxanthin to their food to get a pink color. In fact these synthetic colorings contribute 15%-25% of the cost of commercially farmed salmon feed. While it is expensive, what consumer would want to eat a white fleshed salmon? But even with synthetic feed, farmed salmon can’t compare to wild salmon in their deep, pink and almost reddish flesh. The next time you are at a fish counter in your local market, take a look at the farmed salmon’s coloring versus the wild salmon’s coloring and you will see the difference.
The Benefits of Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin is still being studied and we are still discovering the miraculous effects of this incredible cartenoid. But already we know that the benefits are numerous, including:
- reduced inflammation throughout the body
- reduced joint pain, muscle pain and tendon pain
- increased stamina for workouts and physical exercise
- younger looking more beautiful skin
- improved eyesight
- and numerous other benefits including protecting the body from oxidative damage
How Astaxanthin Improves Skin Health
One of the wonderful benefits of astaxanthin is that it can actually improve the quality and tone of the skin. It does this in two ways:
- Prevents UV damage from the inside- in the same way that the algae makes astaxanthin to protect itself from the sun from the inside out, when you take astaxanthin there is evidence that you also produce an internal sunscreen. This is not to say that you shouldn’t use a sunscreen on your skin, but there is evidence that prolonged use of astaxanthin allows people to remain in the sun for longer periods without getting sun burned or skin damage.
- There is also evidence that astaxanthin starts repairing skin from the inside getting rid of wrinkles and fine lines as well as age spots. Perhaps by reducing inflammation, it actually improves the elasticity and health of skin.
Besides adding beautiful coloring to birds and sea creatures, astaxanthin is one of the strongest antioxidants known to man. It is many times stronger than many of the more well-known antioxidants such as vitamin C, beta carotene, or vitamin E. So if you’re looking for a way to boost your skin health without glopping on chemical sunscreens, give astaxanthin a try!