(NaturalHealth365) Based on current data, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that roughly 38 percent of American adults will be diagnosed with some form of cancer at some point in their lives. It’s a disturbing statistic, and one that gives a compelling sense of urgency to the ongoing search for better methods of prevention. But, the question remains: can astaxanthin really help?
A group of exciting (relatively new) studies reveal how a natural plant compound, astaxanthin, can relentlessly target cancer cells by interfering with, disrupting and even destroying them at every stage of development – while leaving normal cells unharmed.
Step one: What exactly is astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin is a fat-soluble natural pigment, or carotenoid, responsible for the pinkish-orange hue of salmon, krill and Arctic shrimp. Technically speaking, only plants produce astaxanthin, but animals can acquire it through the foods they eat – as in the case of flamingos, which obtain their eye-catching coloration from their menu of shrimp (which feed on astaxanthin-rich algae.)
Astaxanthin, however, does a lot more than provide accents of color and beauty to the natural world. Like other carotenoids (such as beta-carotene), astaxanthin has potent disease- fighting powers.
Scientists say that astaxanthin benefits include anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and immune system-enhancing properties, and natural healers may advise it to improve vision, ease joint pain, enhance heart health and even minimize facial wrinkles.
Astaxanthin is the sworn enemy of chronic inflammation
Let’s not forget: inflammation – which scientists say is at the root of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and cancer – is implicated in promoting cancer cell growth and survival.
Animal studies have shown that astaxanthin helps reduce inflammation in mucosal ulcers – thereby helping to prevent adenocarcimona.
And, in a study involving human lymphoma cells, astaxanthin interfered with the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha – a substantial benefit.
Astaxanthin’s extraordinary antioxidant powers help combat oxidative stress
Researchers have found that oxidative stress – caused by potentially-toxic free radicals – promotes the growth and spread of some cancers. A cell study of human lymphoma cancer cells revealed that astaxanthin halted the production of harmful reactive oxygen species and protected against oxidative stress.
The outstanding antioxidant capacity of astaxanthin has been estimated by scientists to be 6,000 times more powerful than vitamin C, 800 times more powerful than the enzyme CoQ10, and 150 times more powerful than anthocyanins, the beneficial bluish-purple pigments found in blueberries.
Other astaxanthin benefits include improved communication among healthy cells
Individual cells in organs and tissues communicate with each other by way of gap-junction channels between cells, an important function for maintaining health. In fact, disruption in this communication can set the stage for inflammation, cellular damage – and cancer.
Astaxanthin enhances gap-junction channels and improves the vital ability of healthy cells to communicate with each other -an essential function in inhibiting cancer development.
Researchers say: Astaxanthin induces the death of malignant cancer cells
Apoptosis is the programmed destruction of damaged or dysfunctional cells. However, cancer can elude this beneficial process – meaning that its cells can survive and multiply unaffected by apoptosis.
Reinstating the mechanism for apoptosis is a valuable technique for fighting cancer – and it’s one that astaxanthin can help with. Studies have shown that astaxanthin promotes apoptosis in both oral and liver cancer cells.
In one study involving human hepatocellular carcinoma cells (liver cancer tumor cells) researchers found that astaxanthin induced a high level of cell death – causing them to identify it as a potential therapy for liver cancer.
This research is especially encouraging in light of the fact that liver cancer is notoriously difficult to treat, and features a high recurrence rate.
Astaxanthin halts cancer cell proliferation and reduces tumor size
Studies support the ability of astaxanthin to selectively stop the proliferation – or multiplication – of cancer cells.
In animal studies, scientists noted that the plant pigment seemed to decrease the proliferation of liver, breast and lung cancer cells – while leaving normal, healthy cells unharmed.
Of several cancer-fighting carotenoids tested – including beta-carotene and capsanthin – astaxanthin was found to be the most effective at preventing the reproduction of human leukemia cells.
In a 2017 study recently published in Marine Drugs, researchers studied astaxanthin’s effects on tumor initiation and progression.
Mice with laboratory-induced prostate cancer were given either high-dose astaxanthin, low-dose astaxanthin or placebo.
After 31 days, researchers found that tumor volume and weight in the high-dose astaxanthin group decreased by roughly 40 percent – an impressive result.
Significantly, the group that received no astaxanthin experienced no shrinkage in tumors. Benefits weren’t seen in the low-dose astaxanthin group either – a fact which highlights the importance of sufficient dosages of astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin limits cancer formation, progression and invasion
Metastasis, the invasion of cancer cells into organs, tissues and bones, is an important (unwanted) step in cancer progression – and this potentially deadly process is helped along by enzymes known as matrix metalloproteinases, or MMPs.
But – almost as if saying “not on my watch!” – astaxanthin battles the production of MMPs, inhibiting it at every turn.
And, it doesn’t stop there. Researchers found that astaxanthin also reduces angiogenesis – the ability of tumors to create new blood vessels in order to obtain essential oxygen and nutrients.
In addition, a study showed that the signaling pathways involved in the growth and spread of oral cancer were significantly inhibited by astaxanthin.
There is also evidence that astaxanthin can make conventional cancer drugs work more effectively. In a study of lung cancer cells, a combination of astaxanthin and pemetrexed, a chemotherapy drug, was more effecting in inhibiting cancer cell growth than pemetrexed alone.
How do I raise astaxanthin levels?
You can increase dietary amounts of astaxanthin by eating wild-caught Pacific sockeye salmon, which delivers 3.2 mg astaxanthin per 3-ounce serving.
Red trout and Coho salmon are also high in astaxanthin, while other good sources include lobster, shrimp, crayfish, crabs and salmon roe.
However, experts advise limiting your seafood and shellfish consumption – due to possible mercury contamination.
Astaxanthin – derived from microalgae – is available in supplementary form, and may be a better bet. To avoid the possibility of heavy metal contamination, opt for reputable, high-quality brands.
Before supplementing with astaxanthin, consult with a trusted integrative healthcare provider – especially if you have a serious health condition.
It turns out that astaxanthin may have more to offer than just its visually pleasing color. As cell and animal studies seem to indicate, pinkish-orange astaxanthin could very well take its place in the pantheon of natural cancer therapies – and become synonymous with the color of healing.
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