Karen Hecht, PhD, is scientific affairs manager for astaxanthin supplier AstaReal. Hecht spoke on the ingredient at NutraIngredients-USA’s Sports Nutrition Summit, which concluded last week in San Diego.
Astaxanthin is commercially produced via the cultivation of Haematococcus pluvialis algae. In nature, the ingredient can be found in the flesh of wild caught salmon, in the shells of some crustaceans and in the bodies of krill.
The high amount of astaxanthin in the flesh of salmon—and the protection it provides against oxidative stress—is postulated to be one of the things that allows the fish to make their spectacular spawning runs. In the case of salmon that spawn in Idaho’s Snake River tributaries, this is a more than 1,000 mile trip from the ocean, something that the fish do relying entirely on their fat reserves.
This led early developers of the ingredient to look at the carotenoid’s potential sports nutrition benefits. Quoting high ORAC values is all fine and good, but without a link to what that means in the body, it doesn’t mean much. Hecht said AstaReal set out to prove astaxanthin’s real world benefits.
Better power output
“We’ve seen in a clinical study of paramedic students doing strength and endurance training that after six months of supplementation with 4 mg of astaxanthin a day that there is a 55% increase of the number of weighted squats they are able to do compared to only a 20% increase in teh placebo group,” Hecht said.
Hecht also mentioned a widely quoted cycling time trial study, in which the supplemented group improved their power output by 15%, compared to a negligible increase in the placebo group.
This would seem to be potentially game winning differences. Hecht said that she believes that even with the work that has been done thus far, astaxanthin as an ingredient is still somewhat new to the sports nutrition industry. As the clinical evidence grows, she said she expects more brands to launch products including the ingredient.