Stress has been around since our ancestors roamed the African savanna. It gave them the alertness and strength they needed to survive in a hostile environment. In modern times, we no longer need to outrun predators or fight for survival, but we experience stress in other forms in our lives – at work, at home, and even during leisure time.
Stress and fatigue wear us down
Stress and burnout are becoming a widespread problem in our society. Prolonged stress causes mental and physical fatigue and can lead to mental health issues. In a study conducted in 2009, 59% of the participants said they had high levels of stress, with alarming numbers of individuals reporting possible depression (33%) and anxiety (64%) (1). The list of stress-related symptoms is long and includes skin problems such as increase acne severity (2) and frequent sickness due to a suppressed immune system. Studies have shown that individuals under chronic stress battle frequent colds (3), upper respiratory tract infections (4), chronic fatigue and insomnia (5). A robust work-life balance, sufficient sleep and a healthy diet are the best ways to maintain natural energy levels and fend off the consequences of stress. However, our modern lifestyles often make it difficult to provide our body with the nutrients it needs. Fortunately, there are plenty of natural supplements we can turn to.
Natural astaxanthin fights mental and physical fatigue
One of these nutrients is natural astaxanthin. Nature’s most powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory has a wide spectrum of health benefits. In 2016, researchers investigated the effect of astaxanthin on physical and mental fatigue in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study where individuals were treated with 12 mg AstaReal® natural astaxanthin for eight weeks (6). The study was designed to induce stress and fatigue similar to that encountered in daily life. Participants were subjected to a series of physical tests with a bicycle ergometer and mentally challenged by a number of timed calculations. The results clearly showed that astaxanthin suppresses and fights both mental and physical fatigue, heightens concentration and motivation and improves general mood status.
Analysis of salivary cortisol concentrations before and after mental tasks revealed that astaxanthin significantly lowered the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol. Similar results were seen for secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) concentrations. During physical and mental load, the placebo group experienced a drastic reduction in salivary IgA levels, whereas supplementation with AstaReal® astaxanthin prevented a decline in antibody counts (6).
Chronic mental stress has been recognized as a major cause of sleep disorders and depression. When menopausal women, suffering from characteristic symptoms of chronic fatigue such as tired eyes, stiff shoulders and insomnia, were treated with natural astaxanthin, all symptoms including insomnia improved significantly (7).
Specific nutrient combinations with astaxanthin have also proved to be successful: For instance, zinc is an essential mineral that plays an important role in numerous cellular functions, including sleep modulation (8). In a Japanese study from 2016, the combination of zinc and astaxanthin improved sleeping patterns, most likely by enhancing the absorption of zinc through astaxanthin (9). Other studies have shown that patients suffering from insomnia had a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety than those without sleep disorders (10).
Fighting digital stress
A Japanese study with 24 healthy volunteers demonstrated that a combination of astaxanthin (3 mg) and sesamine (5 mg) promotes recovery from computer-based mental fatigue (11). Since the effect was found to be dependent on the astaxanthin concentration, the researchers concluded that it must be due to the presence of the antioxidant.
An earlier study addressing the same health problem demonstrated that supplementation with astaxanthin significantly lowers levels of fatigue. According to the Visual Analog Scale (VAS), the participants receiving astaxanthin stated a “reduced sense of mental and physical fatigue, clarity of thinking, better concentration and improved motivation”. When questioned about their state of mood, or Profile of Mood Status (POMS), the astaxanthin group scored significantly higher than the placebo group (12). The latter results have been confirmed in another study showing that natural astaxanthin reduces negative mood state parameters such as depression and fatigue and improves overall mood status (13).
Staying fit in body and mind
Mental wellbeing can be negatively affected by chronic stress, and also by age. Several studies have revealed astaxanthin’s positive effect on elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment (14), improving memory and overall cognitive function (15, 16). The old concept of “healthy mind, healthy body” is receiving renewed attention due to the importance of maintaining physical and cognitive health throughout our health span – the period of our lives when we are generally in good health and able to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. With human lifespans now longer than ever, we face the risk of a significant period of frailty and dependence if we do not take reasonable precautions to maintain our health.
Regular physical exercise not only strengthens muscles, joints and the cardiovascular system, it is also beneficial for our state of mind. Several studies have shown that natural astaxanthin supports an active lifestyle by enhancing mitochondrial energy production, which is essential for keeping the body moving and the mind whirring (17). Natural astaxanthin was found to improve muscle performance not only in intensively trained athletes (18), but also in elderly people with age-related muscle loss (19).
Astaxanthin quality and source
As natural astaxanthin’s appeal to the supplement industry is increasing and demand is growing steadily, manufacturers should pay attention to supply and quality standards, however. The most common source of natural astaxanthin is the freshwater alga Haematococcus pluvialis and the quality depends on the environment in which the algae are cultivated. Unlike many other astaxanthin producers, AstaReal cultivates H. pluvialis in state-of-the-art indoor photobioreactors under controlled conditions, eliminating the influence of fluctuating environmental impacts and possible contamination with pollutants. As a result, AstaReal is able to offer astaxanthin products of the highest purity and safety.
By, Dr Joerg Schnackenberg
Marketing Manager AstaReal Asia-Pacific Oceania