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Ask Tufts Experts December 2013 Issue

Q. My mother has severe age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and it was recommended she take astaxanthin. What is astaxanthin and is there evidence that this might help?

A. Touted as “the strongest natural antioxidant found to date” and also promoted for anti-inflammatory benefits, astaxanthin is a naturally occurring plant pigment. Like many such compounds, it’s a type of carotenoid. When microalgae containing astaxanthin are eaten by salmon or shellfish, the compound turns their flesh pink; the same effect is seen in the feathers of flamingos who consume astaxanthin via algae. Supplement producers seeking to cash in on recent publicity for astaxanthin, including the “Dr. Oz” TV show, harvest it from microalgae grown in vast test-tube farms or ponds, as well as from biomass waste.

But it’s too soon to jump on the astaxanthin bandwagon for eye health, according to Allen Taylor, PhD, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Laboratory for Nutrition and Vision Research “Research regarding effects of astaxanthin on AMD is fragmentary,” he says. “So, we cannot make a recommendation as yet.”

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