Astaxanthin Speeds Muscle Recovery for Athletes
Exercise is essential to boost immunity and keep healthy. My books and articles are full of evidence showing that exercise increases longevity and stimulates the immune system.
One of the reasons for this is that when we contract our muscles, we pump lymph around our lymphatic system. Our arteries and veins have the heart to thank for pumping blood around the body. But the lymphatic system has no heart to pump from.
This is important to know, because the lymphatic system carries immune cells to injured sites and then carries away toxins and broken down cells: Disposing them through our body’s waste streams.
How again does our lymph get pumped around? By muscle contraction. When our muscles contract – when we exercise – the contractions stimulate the nearby lymphatic vessels, so they pump the lymph fluid.
For this reason among others, exercise is tremendously important for the body’s health and longevity.
Strenuous exercise and inflammation
Strenuous exercise is better. But one of the issues with strenuous exercise is inflammation. Strenuous exercise temporarily increases inflammation in the body. Once the workout is over, our body surges with the metabolites created by cellular respiration. More specifically, cellular respiration produces energy, allowing muscle cells to contract.
These metabolites are what cause muscle soreness, and fatigue in general. You’ll find many websites and articles that will still say that muscle soreness is the result of lactic acid. But this was disproven years ago. It is the acidic metabolite byproducts and end products of cellular respiration (energy production in the mitochondria) that cause muscle soreness and fatigue. These are inflammatory metabolites, mind you. And muscle soreness and fatigue are quite simply, a type of inflammatory reaction.
This also means that the quicker we can remove these metabolites from the body, the less inflammation we’ll have. This means less muscle soreness and fatigue – and quicker recovery from our workouts.
Athletes in training need to recover
This issue is especially important for athletes who are training to compete, or competing. Competitive athletes who are training will typically have ongoing inflammation because they are working out more frequently and more strenuously, in order to get that edge against the competition.
This has the downside of potentially causing long-term damage should there not be enough recovery between workouts. When the metabolites are not cleansed from the muscles, organs and blood between workouts, there is a greater potential for injury and longer-term tissue damage.
The most classic case of such long-term damage is damage to knee joints and other active joints. If the recovery between workouts wasn’t enough, inflammatory metabolites aren’t being fully removed from the joints. Over time, these inflammatory metabolites can damage the joint capsules and tendons that power the joints.
Rest is the most important way to allow these inflammatory metabolites to be cleansed. But that period of rest can be shortened by the consumption of anti-inflammatory foods and herbs.
Astaxanthin reduces muscle soreness and inflammation
One such nutrient is found in form of astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a special carotenoid found in the marine environment – with its primary food source being microalgae. Commercial Astaxanthin is harvested from the golden algae, Haematococcus pluvialis. More about Astaxanthin below.
Researchers from the University of Belgrade’s School of Medicine worked closely with the Serbian soccer team. They recruited 40 young players who were in training for competitive soccer – or as it is called outside the United States, football.
The researchers randomly split the 40 players into two groups. Half were given a placebo while the other was given four milligrams of Astaxanthin per day.
The study lasted for three months. Before and after the supplementation period, the researchers measured the players’ muscle enzymes, neutrophil count and their C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. They also measured levels of salivary immunoglobulin A (sIgA) levels.
Muscle enzyme levels indicate the speed of removal of the muscle metabolites. Neutrophil count relates to the body’s level of inflammation. CRP levels indicate the general levels of inflammation in the body. And sIgA levels indicate the body’s general antibody immune strength, oxidation levels and antioxidant status – as sIgA helps protect the mucosal membranes from intrusion.
The researchers found that levels of neutrophils and CRP were significantly increased in the placebo group. But the Astaxanthin supplementation group’s levels of these were significantly lower. They also found that muscle enzymes were decreased.
The researchers also found that levels of sIgA secretion were significantly increased in the Astaxanthin group. The concentration levels of sIgA were higher, and the secretion rates were also higher in the supplemented group.
The research also found that those soccer players who took the Astaxanthin also had significantly lower oxidative stress levels.
All of this means their muscle recovery was faster, and their risk of injury was also reduced.
The researchers discussed these findings:
“Astaxanthin supplementation additionally attenuated exercise-induced muscle damage.”
“It can be hypothesized that Astaxanthin protects the cell membranes against free radicals generated during heavy exercise, thus preserving the functionality of muscle cells.”
What is Astaxanthin?
As mentioned briefly above, Astaxanthin is a unique antioxidant carotenoid that is typically found among marine life. Fish such as salmon and bottomfeeders such as shrimp, crayfish and crustaceans contain astaxanthin. But they get this nutrient directly or indirectly from microalgae such as Haematococcus pluvialis. This species of microalgae is also what most supplements are made from.
To produce the astaxanthin, the Haematococcus pluvialis algae are cultured in large outdoor tanks that are fed with nutrients. The algae is harvested and the Astaxanthin is pressed from the algae.
Note that Astaxanthin does not convert to vitamin A like beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. But it still has not only a decent amount of antioxidant capability. It also has the unique property of being extremely stable in fat soluble environments – allowing it to scavenge fat-soluble free-radicals. Furthermore, its fat soluble status allows it to be delivered right into the muscle cells.
This is critical to astaxanthin’s ability to neutralize the metabolites of cellular respiration more quickly and with less supplementation. For example, only four milligrams was needed per day for the kind of muscle recovery found in the above study.
I discussed Astaxanthin in a previous article, showing that it helps cognition. Furthermore, the research discussed in this article indicates that Astaxanthin may even treat Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
On top of this, a 2015 review of research from the Catholic University of Portugal found that Astaxanthin provides benefits for numerous chronic conditions that are related to free radicals. Chronic conditions indicated in the research include diabetes, cancer, heart disease, liver diseases and others.
Baralic I, Andjelkovic M, Djordjevic B, Dikic N, Radivojevic N, Suzin-Zivkovic V, Radojevic-Skodric S, Pejic S. Effect of Astaxanthin Supplementation on Salivary IgA, Oxidative Stress, and Inflammation in Young Soccer Players. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:783761. doi: 10.1155/2015/783761.
Mortensen A, Skibsted LH. Importance of Carotenoid Structure in Radical-Scavenging Reactions. J. Agric. Food Chem., 1997, 45 (8), pp 2970–2977. DOI: 10.1021/jf970010s
Raposo MF, de Morais AM, de Morais RM. Carotenoids from Marine Microalgae: A Valuable Natural Source for the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Mar Drugs. 2015 Aug 14;13(8):5128-55. doi: 10.3390/md13085128.
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