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Astaxanthin: The Antioxidant So Potent - It Even Helps Protect Smokers from 4,400 Cigarette Toxins…

October 05, 2011 | 57,936 views
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By Dr. Mercola

The decision to quit smoking is a powerful preventive action to improve your health and well-being. The downside, if I may be so bold as to point out, is that you may end up replacing smoking with snacking, and excess weight can in many ways be as harmful to your health as smoking...

Combining quitting smoking with a regular exercise program makes a lot of sense, and according to research, this tactic offers potent benefits.

Can Strength Training Help You Quit Smoking?

In the featured study, published in the Oxford journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research in April, 25 male and female smokers, who had smoked for an average of 19 years, received a brief smoking cessation counseling session. They were also given nicotine patches. They were then randomly assigned either to a resistance training group or a "contact control" group.

Remarkably, the exercise group was TWICE as successful in abstaining from smoking compared to the control group. At the 3-month assessment, the rate of 7-day abstinence was:

  • 46 percent for the resistance training group
  • 17 percent in the control group that did not exercise
  • 16 percent of the exercise group also reported prolonged abstinence, compared to 8 percent of the controls

After six months, 38 percent of the exercise group had not smoked in the previous seven days, and 15 percent reported prolonged abstinence. The control group still reported abstinence rates of 17 and eight percent respectively for seven-day and prolonged abstinence. One common fear associated with quitting smoking is weight gain, and a strength training program turned out to be helpful in that respect as well.

  • The exercise group lost a mean of 0.6 kg and decreased their body fat by 0.5 percent
  • The control group gained 0.6 kg (mean), and increased body fat by 0.6 percent

According to the authors:

"The findings suggest that [a resistance training] program is feasible as an adjunctive treatment for smoking cessation. An adequately powered trial is warranted."

An Antioxidant Powerful Enough to Protect Smokers

In related news, a recent study investigated the effects of astaxanthin on oxidative stress in smokers. Astaxanthin is produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis, and is currently thought to be the most powerful antioxidant found in nature. You can also get it from sea creatures that consume the algae, such as salmon, shellfish, and krill.

Free radicals induced by cigarette smoking have been strongly linked to oxidative stress, which contributes to the pathobiology of various diseases, the most well-known of which is lung cancer. In this study, 39 heavy smokers and an equal number of non-smokers were enrolled. The smokers were divided into three dosage groups, receiving either 5, 20, or 40 mg of astaxanthin per day for three weeks. Oxidative stress biomarkers were measured at the outset and each week thereafter for the length of the study.

The total antioxidant capacity increased in all three dosage groups over the three-week period. In particular, isoprostane levels (one of the oxidative stress biomarkers measured) showed a significant dose-dependent decrease.

In conclusion, the authors stated that:

"The results suggest that [astaxanthin] supplementation might prevent oxidative damage in smokers by suppressing lipid peroxidation and stimulating the activity of the antioxidant system in smokers."

Astaxanthin—A Potential Aid Against Pollution?

I've previously written about the many health benefits of astaxanthin. It's truly a powerhouse when it comes to fighting inflammation, which of course is a hallmark of nearly all disease, including cancer, so I was pleased to see that it's powerful enough to even help protect smokers against the ravaging effects of the 4,400 toxins found in cigarette smoke.

This makes me believe that astaxanthin might be a potent ally against environmental pollution as well, which nearly everyone is exposed to.

Poor air quality has been linked to both short-term and long-term health problems, and indoor air quality is notorious for being up to five times as contaminated as outdoor air. For example, pressed wood products such as paneling, particle board, fiberboard and insulation typically contains urea-formaldehyde. The U.S. EPA estimates that this is the largest source of formaldehyde emissions indoors. Cigarette smoke also contains urea and formaldehyde.

Likewise, you're exposed to toxic volatile organic compounds (VOC's) from both cigarette smoke and certain indoor carpeting and paints, just to name a few household culprits… In short, while you're definitely eliminating a vast amount of toxins from your system by quitting smoking, or never taking up the habit, you're still exposed to many of the same types of toxins from other environmental sources, and it can be quite difficult to insulate yourself against all of them.

This is where I believe supplements such as astaxanthin can offer some added protection by quenching cellular damage caused by oxidation.

Like Smoking, General Air Pollution is a Major Health Hazard

Breathing polluted air over the long term not only increases your risk of dying from lung cancer or heart and lung disease, it may also increase your risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, according to research published in 2008. Air pollutants from traffic and power plants can cause inflammation in your lungs or prompt your body to release chemicals that can affect heart function.

Statistics show that as levels of fine particulates and sulfur oxide-related pollution in the environment rises, so does the death rate from lung cancer and cardiopulmonary diseases, which include heart attack, stroke, asthma, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases like emphysema and bronchitis. Your natural defenses will help you cough or sneeze larger particles out of your body. But those defenses can't defend you from smaller particles (smaller than 10 microns in diameter, or about one-seventh the diameter of a strand of human hair).

Those particles get trapped in your lungs, while the smallest are so microscopic they can actually pass through your lungs into your bloodstream. More than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies have been published on air pollution since 1996. These studies show a very strong relationship between pollution, illness, hospitalization and premature death from any cause. So while I am in no way condoning smoking, I'm simply pointing out that even non-smokers are exposed to varying degrees of many of the same toxins from other sources, and the health effects are much the same, one of which is cancer.

According a report in the 2007 American Lung Association State of the Air report, even SHORT-TERM exposure to pollution has been linked to:

Death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes, including strokes Increased numbers of heart attacks, especially among the elderly and in people with heart conditions Increased hospitalization for cardiovascular disease, including strokes and congestive heart failure Increased emergency room visits for patients suffering from acute respiratory ailments
Increased mortality in infants and young children Inflammation of lung tissue in young, healthy adults Increased hospitalization for asthma among children Increased severity of asthma attacks in children

Help Protect Yourself from Pollution with Krill Oil

Previous research has found that omega-3 fats from fish oil may help counter air pollution-related changes in heart function. Omega-3 fats have also been shown to be beneficial in the prevention of cancer. There's little doubt in my mind that omega-3 fats are one of the most important nutritional deficiencies in the United States. I believe most people would experience improved health if they started consuming more of this vitally important animal fat.

As most studies on omega-3 fats, this one used fish oil. However, in more recent years I've become convinced that krill oil is a far superior alternative to fish oil for several reasons. In terms of protecting your health against the ravages of air pollution and smoking, it seems krill oil would be a clear winner as it naturally contains both omega-3 fats and the antioxidant astaxanthin.

How to Get High Quality Astaxanthin into Your Diet

One of the reasons I am such a fan of krill is that it naturally contains astaxanthin, along with other cofactors that increases its bioavailability. If you decide to give astaxanthin a try, I recommend with a dose of 8-10 mg per day. If you are on a krill oil supplement, take that into consideration—different krill products have different concentrations of astaxanthin, so check the label.

As for getting it from seafood, please beware that synthetic (laboratory-made) astaxanthin is now commonly used worldwide to supplement fish feed lots in order to help them obtain the desired pinkish to orange-red color. I don't recommend farm raised fish of any kind.

You really should avoid synthetic astaxanthin because it's made from petrochemicals. Some aquaculture companies are beginning to use natural astaxanthin instead of synthetic, even though it costs more, because it's better for the health of the animals, and it's far superior for pigmentation. Animals fed fish food with natural astaxanthin have higher survival rates, better growth rates, better immunity, fertility and reproduction. Unfortunately, synthetic astaxanthin still dominates the farmed salmon industry worldwide.

If your salmon label does not read "wild" or "naturally colored," you're probably going to be eating a coloring agent somewhat closer to motor oil than antioxidant. Natural astaxanthin is more than 20 times stronger as an antioxidant than synthetic astaxanthin. Wild salmon are 400 percent higher in astaxanthin than farmed salmon, and 100 percent of their pigment is natural astaxanthin, rather than synthetic. Wild salmon also contain far higher levels of omega-3 fat than the farmed version.

How to Finally Quit Smoking

So, what's the trick to quitting smoking? I believe the trick is to get healthy first, which will make quitting all that much easier. Exercising is part and parcel of this plan, and as the featured research shows, it can double your chances of success.

My entire program to get healthy is described in detail in my book Take Control of Your Health, but here are some basic tips to get you started:

  1. Read through my nutrition plan to get started eating right.
  2. Develop a well-rounded exercise regimen. It is your ally to fighting disease, and to quitting smoking. Strength training is an important part, but also remember to incorporate high-intensity interval exercises, core-strengthening exercises, aerobic, and stretching.
  3. Find a healthy emotional outlet. Many people use exercise, meditation, or relaxation techniques for this, and these are all great. I also recommend incorporating some form of energy psychology tool, such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), as these can help clear out emotional blockages from your system (some of which you might not even realize are there), thus restoring your mind and body's balance.

Once you are regularly doing these three things, then you can begin to think about quitting smoking.

The best method to do so appears to be cold turkey. I highly suggest you use EFT or your chosen energy psychology tool frequently during this process, as it's very effective at helping people to overcome addictions. Meanwhile, many people are addicted not only to the nicotine but also to the physical act of smoking. So make sure that anytime you normally would have a cigarette you are busy doing something else (preferably something you enjoy)..

[+] Sources and References