by Anthony Almada, M.S.
Nutritional and exercise biochemist Anthony Almada reviews the research behind the latest products on the market. Do they stand up to their claims? Do they rely on hard science or simply on marketing hype? And are more studies needed before determining if they really work?
The Amazing Astax
The next super carotene may be astaxanthin, pronounced asta-zan-thin, or simply called astax. This red carotene is derived from special strains of yeast or algae and contributes to the pink hue in some fish, such as salmon, shrimp and trout.
While carotenes are known for their antioxidant properties, astax has displayed potent activity in the test tube, possibly beyond the scope of other carotenes. It also has immune-stimulating and anticancer effects on animals, primarily if astax is consumed before tumors begin to develop. Recent studies also provide evidence that astax can serve as an ultraviolet (UV) radiation protectant.
On another note, one preliminary study, which should be repeated before any further conclusions are drawn, suggests astax can even enhance muscular endurance. New areas under exploration include astax for carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle soreness and high blood cholesterol.
We seem to be in the middle of a plant sterol renaissance, as evidenced by margarine-enhanced sterols that can be purchased in nearly every grocery store in the country. Phytosterols, or plant hormones, have long been known for their ability to reduce blood cholesterol. Today, new research is uncovering additional, health-promoting properties of these cholesterol impostors. Studies this year showed that phytosterols (sitosterol and/or campesterol) reduce the size and slow the spread of breast-cancer tumors in mice. Phytosterols also retard the proliferation of the cells that line blood vessels, suggesting they may help keep arteries from hardening.
Other recent studies show that sitosterol has a positive influence on symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), but these effects have not been compared to saw palmetto supplementation, also known to effectively treat BPH.
Finally, a study presented this year showed a proprietary extract of sitosterol linked to a carbohydrate (sitosterol glucoside) prevented immune decline in HIV patients for more than two years, despite not taking any conventional anti-HIV drugs.
Headway on Alzheimer's
Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), a transport molecule important to cellular energy production, has become a central focus in neurodegenerative disease research. Several studies have explored the use of ALC in treating Alzheimer's disease. Preliminary analysis of one study (3 grams/day for 1 year) suggests Alzheimer's patients under 61 may benefit, while older patients should not take it.
Other therapeutic possibilities for ALC run the gamut: It's been promoted as a testosterone booster, yet no human research supports this. ALC as an energy enhancer? There's promising research, but one animal study indicated ALC does not prevent age-related muscle decline. Two other animal studies showed ALC protected against bone marrow and nerve damage caused by the chemotherapy drugs Taxol and Cisplatin. A different animal study suggested ALC may slow age-related hearing loss. A human study showed ALC may protect nerve and heart function in diabetics.
Anthony Almada, M.S., is a nutrition and exercise biochemist who has collaborated on more than 45 university-based clinical trials. He is the co-founder of Experimental and Applied Sciences(EAS) and founder and chief scientific officer of IMAGINutrition (www.imaginutrition.com).