Brain health supplements are natural compounds or herbal extracts, which improve the memory, attention, and alertness in healthy individuals. One such ingredient making a splash in this category is the carotenoid astaxanthin, a chemical found in nature from certain plants, animals and algae.
The powerful antioxidant is sourced from the microalga Haematococcus pluvialis. It has been studied for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, eye health benefits, cardioprotective properties, immune system modulatory activity and neuroprotective activities.
Algae Health Sciences, a division of BGG, is slated to announce their the peer-reviewed publication of two double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical trials using their Astaxanthin product, AstaZine, on brain health on Thursday.
Ahead of their announcement, the company spoke exclusively with NutraIngredients-USA to offer a preview of what they’ve been working on in the lab.
The two recent clinical trials, both funded by Algae Health Sciences, took place in different countries and covered different parts of the brain.
“Our goal is to maintain a leadership role in the botanical sector through innovation and continuing scientific discoveries,” said Yanmei Li, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of BGG.
Bob Capelli, EVP global marketing at Algae Health Sciences, said cognitive health supplementation is gaining popularity due in part to the competitive landscape in schools.
“There’s so much competition in education nowadays to get into elite schools. You have all these rich famous people paying to get their kids into these elite schools. A lot of people don’t have the capacity to do that. You want your brain performing at its full capacity in order to get into good schools in order to succeed in business once you get out into the business world.”
Astaxanthin, depression and fatigue
The first clinical took place in the United States, and focused on psychological mood state. Twenty-eight healthy, active, non-depressed adult subjects aged 26 to 63 years (median age = 42) were supplemented with NAX (AstaZine Natural Astaxanthin, BGG/AlgaeHealth Sciences) for 8 weeks. The control group received a matching placebo.
The NAX supplement contained an extract of Haematococcus pluvialis containing 12 mg of astaxanthin, which was combined with medium chain triglyceride oil and a small amount of d-alpha tocopherol (10 IU) to maintain stability of the capsule formulation.
Scientists observed significant improvements in three critical markers including feelings of depression, mental fatigue and overall mood state [psychological well-being] were found at the end of the study. Researchers reported that depression decreased by 57%, mental fatigue dropped by 36%, and 11% reported an increase in mood state.
To clarify how the scientists came to this conclusion using healthy subjects who displayed no depression, Capelli told NutraIngredients-USA that the results from the study were for psychological mood state and, as such, were gathered by subjective questions. "The subjects were asked about their feelings of depression (that people who are not clinically depressive may have) which were reduced by 57%."
Capelli, also a co-author on the US study, said they also saw trends toward improvement in other important mental health parameters such as tension, anger and mental confusion.
He said due to climbing life expectancies, cognitive health supplements sales are increasing too.
“The average age is going up in almost all developed countries. So when you get older, you start to worry about your brain, eyes and vital organs that deteriorate over time. People are looking for preventative ways to make sure they can last through their golden years with good mental capacity."
Astaxanthin, memory, and cognitive function
The second study, conducted in Japan, examined cognitive health in participants (median = 54). The subjects in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study were healthy adults experiencing mild forgetfulness. Twenty-two subjects took H. pluvialis-derived astaxanthin (9 mg) soft capsules and the 22 subjects in the placebo group took safflower oil pills.
After twelve weeks of taking NAX (AstaZine), the treatment group showed a statistically significant improvement compared to placebo on two tests for cognitive function and memory. Both verbal and composite memory significantly improved as tested by Cognitrax (a computerized testing system used to monitor and measure brain performance).
Composite memory increased by 22.3%, change in reasoning increased by 48.2% and subjective symptoms (answer to the question ‘During the last week, have you had trouble remembering people’s names or the names of things?’) improved by 25% after 12 weeks of astaxanthin supplementation.
Expect more research
“After reading thousands of studies over the years for different products, actually commissioning and developing studies myself, there’s always room for more proof,” Capelli told NutraIngredients-USA. “BGG is dedicated every year to doing multiple human clinical trials on the different products we produce. Anzanthin is one of our most important core products so we’re going to do at least one trial on astaxanthin per year, probably two.”
Algae Health Science is a member of the Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association (NAXA). Capelli said he would like to see his company and NAXA pool their funds to conduct larger studies down the road.
14.3 (2019): 239-246.
“Astaxanthin Supplementation Reduces Depression and Fatigue in Healthy Subjects”
Authors: S. Talbott, et al.
97 (1/2) 1-13 (2019)
“Cognitive Function Improvement with Astaxanthin Intake: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study”
Authors: T. Sekikawa, et al