Do you ever wish there was a “miracle pill” that you could take regardless of what health issue you were having? Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of which nutrient helps which body part in what way. Targeting different issues specifically can be wise. But at the end of the day, cells are cells.
So I have good news. There’s a way you can support your cells to help them function optimally – whether they’re in your brain, your heart, your muscles, or even your eyes.
This pill isn’t a miracle. But it may feel like one when you realize how easy it is to support so many aspects of your health with one nutrient. That’s because, at the end of the day, your cells all get power the same way. And if you can support the engine that powers your cells, you can help all of them function more effectively no matter where they are.
How to Get More Energy for Your Cells
But first, you have to know how cells get their energy. All cells contain organelles called mitochondria. And mitochondria turn nutrients into ATP, which our body uses for energy. Every function in our body relies on ATP.
Now, our cells don’t just contain one or two mitochondria. Every tiny cell actually houses thousands of mitochondria. They take up around a quarter of the space in the cell. (For instance, a human liver cell has between 1,000 and 2,000 mitochondria per cell, making up one-fifth of the cell volume.) That’s important – because every tiny cell is also using an average of 10 billion units of ATP every day.
As you can imagine, your mitochondria are always hard at work. But their hard work produces byproducts in the form of free radicals. As you probably know, free radicals can damage DNA and cause cells to break down. And a normal cell can end up producing 20 trillion free radicals every day just by going about its business.
The good news is that our cells do have safeguards in place to deal with these free radicals. We often talk about antioxidants mopping up free radicals. And this is a big part of that process. Our cells produce special antioxidant enzymes to help with this. But sometimes they aren’t enough.
When our antioxidants can’t keep up with the free radical load, a vicious cycle begins. The free radicals start to attack our mitochondria. And as the mitochondria break down, they produce less ATP and more free radicals. With access to less ATP, the cells are less able to produce antioxidants and regenerate mitochondria. Eventually, the mitochondria – and the cells – die.
When this process happens in too many cells, you start to notice. You may have less energy. Or you may find that a particular bodily function isn’t working as well as it should. Perhaps your heart is pumping less effectively or your brain feels cloudy. Your eyes or your legs get tired more quickly. Reduced ATP production due to damaged mitochondria may be the cause.
The best way to ensure your cells have the ATP they need to function properly is to support the mitochondria. And to do that, you need to supply them with plenty of antioxidant protection.
The Perfect Antioxidant
One antioxidant in particular rises to the top when it comes to defending mitochondria: astaxanthin. You can find this carotenoid in a type of algae called H. pluvialis. Here’s why it’s particularly good for mitochondria.
First, the cells naturally send it directly to the mitochondria. They seem to know that’s where the body needs it most. In fact, research in dogs found that up to 50% of total astaxanthin in the body accumulates in the mitochondria.
Second, astaxanthin is uniquely able to protect mitochondrial membranes. This is where the mitochondria actually produce ATP – and the part most vulnerable to free radicals.
A mitochondria membrane consists of two layers. And astaxanthin is the right length to span the two layers. By doing so, it acts like a net to catch free radicals as they try to swim between the layers and cause damage.
And length isn’t the only unique property that allows astaxanthin to do this effectively. Different parts of cells are either hydrophilic (water-loving) or hydrophobic (water-hating). And hydrophilic and hydrophobic structures don’t mesh very well. (Think of the way magnets repel each other.) Mitochondrial membranes are hydrophilic. But the space between them is hydrophobic.
Remember how I said astaxanthin connects the membranes and spans the space between like a net? It’s able to do this because its ends are also hydrophilic like the membranes. And its center is hydrophobic.
No Other Antioxidant Can Do This
In fact, a study on various carotenoids (a class of antioxidants) actually found that other types made membrane damage worse because they didn’t have the right properties. But this same study found that astaxanthin could reduce free radical damage by 41%. And it helped the membranes retain their structural integrity.
Astaxanthin’s structure boasts 13 double bonds, making it one of the most stable antioxidants out there. Many antioxidants are “single-use only,” breaking down after they’ve trapped a free radical. But astaxanthin keeps working.
Moreover, unlike some other antioxidants, astaxanthin can get to every cell in the body. Many antioxidants can’t cross the blood-brain barrier or the blood-retinal barrier. But astaxanthin can. That’s good news, because your brain absolutely guzzles ATP. In fact, it uses about 70% of the ATP the entire body produces! And the eye muscles, which we often take for granted, are incredibly hard-working too.
Because astaxanthin helps protect the mitochondria, it reverses the vicious cycle I described above. Instead of producing less energy and more free radicals, they do the opposite. And with more energy, the body can make more mitochondria to keep the positive cycle going.
Switches on Your Longevity Gene
With its work in the mitochondria, you’d think that would be enough for astaxanthin to do. But it does so much more. It also switches on your longevity gene. That’s right, you have a longevity gene. The scientific name for it is FOXO3. Research has proven that this gene protects against aging. But for most of us, there’s one small problem with this gene.
The problem is that it acts only as protection against aging – it doesn't actually help us live longer. But new research suggests you can fix this problem. Here’s how.
About one in three people carry a version of the FOXO3 gene that actually helps them live longer. It’s a true longevity gene. However, the other two-out-of-three people need to activate this gene in order for it to turn into a longevity gene. Once you activate it, the gene will act like the longevity version and help you live longer.
The question, then, is how do you activate it? The good news is it’s not as hard as you might think.
Researchers from the Department of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, found that astaxanthin holds the key to activation. In their study, the researchers fed mice either normal food or food containing a low or high dose of astaxanthin.
The animals fed the higher amount of astaxanthin experienced a significant increase in the activation of the FOXO3 gene in their heart tissue. “We found a nearly 90% increase in the activation of the FOXO3 ‘Longevity Gene’ in the mice fed the higher dose....” said one of the researchers. A 90% increase in activation is substantial. Obviously, the researchers want to do further testing on humans. But there's no need to wait.
Whether you’re struggling with signs of aging, eyestrain, cognitive declines, or reduced blood flow, decreased ATP production is likely contributing. But if you support your mitochondria, your entire body will thank you. Clearly, astaxanthin is a great way to do that.
You can get astaxanthin from foods like shrimp and salmon since they eat algae. In fact, it’s what make these foods pink! But you have to eat a lot of seafood to give your mitochondria a big boost if they’re struggling. So if you suspect your cells are starting to get run down, consider looking for an astaxanthin supplement.
If your eyes are the primary issue you’re facing, then I suggest taking astaxanthin in combination with other eye nutrients, like those found in Advanced Vision Formula. This formula is specifically designed to support your eyes and give them the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
But if you want to support your entire body, you may need more astaxanthin. It’s important to find a brand that sources the antioxidant naturally from algae. Research has shown this to be the most powerful form. The brand I like is Protocol for Life Balance because it is algae sourced and it has 10 mg per serving size, more than double most other brands. You can find it online.
Astaxanthin isn’t a miracle pill. But it is a life-saver for your mitochondria. And I bet you’ll marvel at how much better you feel with improved energy production in every cell of your body.
Park JS et al. (2010) Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans. Nutrition & Metabolism 7:18
Kidd P. (2011) Astaxanthin, cell membrane nutrient with diverse clinical benefits and anti-aging potential. Altern Med Rev, 16(4):355-64.