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Astaxanthin - powerful antioxidant


Astaxanthin is a carotenoid. It belongs to a larger class of phytochemicals known as terpenes. It is classified as a xanthophyll, which means "yellow leaves". Like many carotenoids, it is a colorful, lipid-soluble pigment. Astaxanthin is found in microalgae, yeast, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crayfish, crustaceans, and the feathers of some birds.

Professor Basil Weedon was the first to map the structure of astaxanthin (see image at right). Astaxanthin, unlike some carotenoids, is not converted to vitamin A (retinol) in the human body. Too much vitamin A is toxic for a human, but astaxanthin has lower toxicity. It is an antioxidant with a slightly lower antioxidant activity than other carotenoids. While astaxanthin is a natural nutritional component, it can also be used as a food supplement. The supplement is intended for human, animal, and aquaculture consumption. The commercial production of astaxanthin comes from both natural and synthetic sources. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved astaxanthin as a food coloring (or color additive) for specific uses in animal and fish foods. The European Commission considers it food dye and it is given the E number E161j.

Currently, the primary natural source for astaxanthin is the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis. It seems to accumulate the highest levels of astaxanthin in nature. Commercially more than 40 g of astaxanthin can be obtained from one kg of dry biomass. It has the advantage of the population doubling every week, which means scaling up is not an issue. However, it does require some expertise to grow the algae with a high astaxanthin content.

Phaffia yeast xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous exhibits 100% free, non-esterified astaxanthin, which is considered advantageous because it is readily absorbable and need not be hydrolysed in the digestive tract of the fish. In contrast to synthetic and bacteria sources of astaxanthin, yeast sources of astaxanthin consist virtually all in 3R, 3íR form, an important astaxanthin source in nature. Finally, the geometrical isomer, all-E, is higher in yeast sources of astaxanthin, as compared to synthetic sources. This contributes to greater efficacy because the all-E (trans) isomer has greater bio-availability than the cis isomer.

For obtaining astaxanthin from Euphausia superba (Antarctic krill), there are a number of issues. The Krill fishing operation is complex. It is done in Antarctic waters, under extreme weather conditions and far away from ports with substantial operational complexities. Krill's fishing location and the difficult weather conditions in the main fishing area, together with the costs involved in the operation, have contributed to a slow development of the industry. Krill fishing is by far different to any other fishing operation today known. The knowledge to work with it belongs to very few people in the world.

Astaxanthin has two chiral centers, at the 3 and 3' positions. Therefore, there are three stereoisomers; (3-R,3'-R), (3-R,3'-S) (meso), and (3-S,3'-S). Synthetic astaxanthin contains a mixture of the three, in approximately 1:2:1 proportions. Naturally occurring astaxanthin varies considerably from one organism to another. The astaxanthin in fish is of whatever stereoisomer the fish ingested. The astaxanthin produced by haematococcus pluvialis, which is commonly used in the feed of animals which are in turn consumed by humans, is the (3-S,3'-S) stereoisomer.

Uses - In 1948, Nobel prizewinner George Wald surmised, "This could lead to an important new use of astaxanthin as a drug delivery for medicines that are insoluble in water, and give designers of new food colourants or dyestuffs an interesting new capability."

Astaxanthin is used as a feed supplement for salmon, crabs, shrimp, chickens and egg production. Regardless of the source, astaxanthin provides some important benefits beyond coloration. It also has been found to be essential for proper growth and survival.

For seafood and animals - The primary use of synthetic astaxanthin today is as an animal feed additive to impart coloration, including farm-raised salmon and egg yolks. Synthetic carotenoid pigments colored yellow, red or orange represent about 15-25% of the cost of production of commercial salmon feed. Today, essentially all commercial astaxanthin for aquaculture is produced synthetically from petrochemical sources, with an annual turnover of over $200 million, and a selling price of ~$2000 per kilo of pure astaxanthin. While it constitutes a tiny portion of salmon feed (50 to 100 parts per million), astaxanthin represents a major share of the cost, up to 20 percent.

For humans - Currently, the primary use for humans is as a food supplement. Research shows that due to astaxanthin's potent antioxidant activity, it may be beneficial in cardiovascular, immune, inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. Some research has suggested potential as an anti-cancer agent. Research supports the assumption that it protects body tissues from oxidative damage



Image of the Krill Oil container and krill oil vegetable soft gel capsules

Sizes are 30, 60 and 90 caps per bottle


The above information is provided for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace competent health care advice received from a knowledgeable healthcare professional. You are urged to seek healthcare advice for the treatment of any illness or disease.
Health Canada and the FDA (USA) have not evaluated these statements. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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