What are the Differences Between Natural and Synthetic Astaxanthin?
Perfectly Evolved to Produce Natural Astaxanthin
Haematococcus pluvialis is the organism that naturally produces the highest concentrations of astaxanthin. This green microalgae is found in freshwater pools around the world. The conditions in these pools can change very rapidly. As the pool begins to dry up, levels of nutrients drop and UV radiation from the sun increases. In response to these changes, H. pluvialis begins to produce astaxanthin. In fact, it produces so much astaxanthin that the entire cell of the algae turns bright red. The astaxanthin’s powerful antioxidant capacity protects the algae’s delicate cellular machinery, allowing the algae to survive in very harsh conditions. Even if the water in the pool dries completely, the astaxanthin allows the algae to survive for months or even years. In other words, natural evolution has made H. pluvialis an ideal source of astaxanthin.
Nature is Not Easily Imitated
However, cultivating H. pluvialis to produce natural astaxanthin in the quantities needed for use in nutraceutical supplements and functional foods is a challenging and extremely technical process. As an increasing number of clinical studies have shown the health benefits of natural algae astaxanthin and its popularity has increased, some have tried to take a short cut by introducing synthetic versions of astaxanthin for use in human supplements. These synthetic versions of astaxanthin are sometimes labeled as “nature identical” or “nature equivalent.” However, there are many important molecular differences between natural algae astaxanthin and artificial versions produced by chemical synthesis from petrochemicals.
Important Molecular Difference: Esterification
Despite being described as “nature identical,” synthetic astaxanthin is clearly different from natural algae astaxanthin in important ways. Natural algae astaxanthin is more than 95% esterified. This means natural fatty acids are attached to one or both ends of the molecule. By contrast, synthetic astaxanthin is all free form, or unesterified.