Roseate Spoonbill, Platalea ajaja is a South American bird that migrates through Texas yearly. It enjoys a diet of crustaceans (shrimp). The shrimp are loaded with the pink carotenoid pigments, canthaxanthin and astaxanthin. These carotenoid pigments come from algae and are brightly colored. When devoured, the pigments deposit in the bird’s feathers, turning them pink.
Carotenoids help the algae absorb sunlight so that they can create energy through photosynthesis. The absorption wavelengths determine the color. In animals, whether they swim, crawl, fly or walk, these molecules deactivate free radicals and stabilize enzymes. They are known as antioxidants. One of the pigments that give birds their pink feathers, and also give salmon and lobster their color, is astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin has antioxidant properties. What is an antioxidant? It is a molecule that can scavenge free electron-oxygen radicals that would otherwise damage body tissue. It has been associated with benefits in aging, cancer, heart, and eye disease. This scavenger reaction can:
1. block inflammation in the kidney.
2. improve insulin sensitivity, making it easier to control diabetes.
3. neutralize the radicals created when fat cells release inflammatory hormones.
4. block the extra electrons that are sometimes released during the generation of energy by mitochondria.
5. Block the free radicals generated during exercise, and signal muscle synthesis.
Mitochondria are organelles (organs inside cells) that metabolize carbon molecules to create the electrons needed to drive an electric charge and store energy. They have both the functions of a carburetor - mixing fuel and oxygen, and a battery charger - converting electricity into a chemical reaction(1).
In a study of 42 elderly men over 4 months of supplements and 3 months of incline walking, astaxanthin, increased maximal voluntary force by 14.4% (2).
The best sources of astaxanthin are salmon, shrimp, rainbow trout, and lobster.
1. Sztretye M, Dienes B, Gönczi M, Czirják T, Csernoch L, Dux L, et al. Astaxanthin: A Potential Mitochondrial-Targeted Antioxidant Treatment in Diseases and with Aging. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2019;2019:3849692.
2. Liu SZ, Ali AS, Campbell MD, Kilroy K, Shankland EG, Roshanravan B, et al. Building strength, endurance, and mobility using an astaxanthin formulation with functional training in elderly. Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle. 2018;9(5):826-33.