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Astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant carotenoid found in microalgae, fungi, plants, seafood, flamingos, and quail, shows promising potential in cardiovascular health due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Unlike traditional antioxidants like vitamins E, C, and β-carotene, which have failed to significantly reduce cardiovascular events, astaxanthin has demonstrated positive effects on biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation in limited clinical studies. Despite the small sample sizes and short durations of these studies, no significant adverse events have been reported, suggesting a favorable safety profile.

Experimental Studies on Cardiovascular Effects of Astaxanthin

Several animal studies have explored the cardiovascular benefits of astaxanthin. In models of non-cardiovascular disease, astaxanthin reduced oxidative stress, inflammation, lipid peroxidation, thrombosis, and scavenger receptor expression. In hyperlipidemic rabbits, astaxanthin improved plaque stability and reduced apoptosis in atherosclerotic lesions. Additionally, astaxanthin administration in rats resulted in decreased fat cell size, improved adiponectin levels, increased HDL, and reduced plasma triglycerides and non-esterified fatty acids.

Cardiovascular Studies

Animal models using myocardial ischemia-reperfusion have shown that prior treatment with astaxanthin significantly reduces myocardial damage. In rats, intravenous astaxanthin decreased myocardial infarct size dose-dependently. Similar cardioprotective effects were observed in rabbits and dogs, with reduced complement activation and inflammation.

Human Astaxanthin Studies

Although no clinical trials have specifically addressed cardiovascular outcomes using astaxanthin, several studies have investigated its bioavailability, dosing, and safety. Astaxanthin derived from marine sources showed higher plasma concentrations in participants consuming aquacultured salmon compared to wild salmon. Human studies have used doses ranging from 4 mg to 100 mg/day, with no significant adverse events reported. Astaxanthin supplementation in healthy volunteers and patients with conditions like reflux oesophagitis and obesity has shown reduced oxidative stress and inflammation.

Lipids and Metabolic Factors

In patients with moderate hypertriglyceridemia, astaxanthin significantly decreased serum triglyceride levels and increased HDL cholesterol. It also improved biomarkers of oxidative stress in obese and overweight individuals and enhanced adiponectin levels in those at risk of metabolic syndrome.

Ongoing Clinical Trial

The Xanthin trial, a pilot randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study, is investigating the effects of 8 mg/day astaxanthin on oxidative stress, inflammation, and vascular function in kidney transplant patients. Results from this study may lead to larger trials assessing cardiovascular outcomes in high-risk patients.

Conclusions

Astaxanthin demonstrates cardiovascular protective effects through its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. While animal studies provide promising data, well-designed clinical trials are needed to establish its therapeutic benefits in human atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Astaxanthin’s unique properties, including its strategic placement in cell membranes and efficient singlet oxygen quenching, suggest it may offer superior protection compared to other antioxidants. The absence of significant adverse events and satisfactory bioavailability supports further exploration in high-risk cardiovascular patients.

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