Oxidative stress is the excessive production of free radicals that causes chronic inflammation, affecting the body’s DNA, cells and proteins. Free radicals can lead to a number of diseases if not neutralized by antioxidants. One such health issue is the damage to cardiovascular health when free radicals are not counterbalanced.

Recent research has identified oxidative stress as a factor in the development and advancement of heart failure. Till date, studies targeting the oxidative stress have not completely demonstrated improvement of heart conditions.

According to a review published in 2018 by the European Journal of Heart Failure, either supplementing antioxidants or inhibiting the production of oxidants are not the correct strategies needed to improve heart health. The review suggested “...bolstering the endogenous antioxidant capacity might be a far more potent avenue for therapeutic intervention.”

A similar but not identical strategy is the intake of a carotenoid called astaxanthin, referred to as the “King of Carotenoids.” This is because the antioxidant effect of astaxanthin is 100 times higher than other antioxidants. Carotenoids are acquired through the food we eat and are not produced by the body on its own hence its supplementation is necessary for medical reasons. Astaxanthin is generally found in red colored sea food such as salmon, shrimp and crab.

All antioxidants have both antioxidative and pro-oxidative properties under some conditions but astaxanthin purely produces an antioxidative impact. A recent study conducted by Juntendo University Graduate School of Medicine in Tokyo explored how patients with heart failure could benefit from taking astaxanthin supplements to treat the oxidative stress.

“We hypothesized that 3 months of astaxanthin supplementation would improve left ventricular (LV) function and exercise tolerance due to the suppression of oxidative stress,” the researchers explained in the paper published by the journal Nutrients on June 26.

For the purpose of the small uncontrolled pilot study, 16 patients with heart failure were recruited. Participants were given 12 mg of astaxanthin, 40 mg tocotrienol and 30 mg of L-ascorbic acid 2-glucoside. They visited the clinic every month with no changes in their medication.

“Measurements of BMI, blood pressure, and heart rate were performed at every clinic visit. Blood and urine sampling, echocardiography, and 6-min walk test were repeated at a follow-up visit 3 months after starting astaxanthin supplementation,” the researchers noted.

“In conclusion, this pilot study found that after 3 months of astaxanthin supplementation, the levels of the oxidative stress markers decreased and improvements were observed in both cardiac contractility and exercise tolerance in the HF patients with LV systolic dysfunction,” the researchers concluded.

However, the study has several limitations since it was an observational study that did not make comparisons to control groups. Over time, oxidative stress levels change naturally. This could have been one of the reasons for improved cardiac function. Both tocotrienol and L-ascorbic acid 2-glucoside were also given to the patients, which could have enhanced the effect of astaxanthin.

cardiovascular system
Heart disease affects millions of people, and is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Image courtesy of Shutterstock