Actually, flamingos are naturally not pink. They are born with grey feathers, which gradually turn pink in the wild because of a natural red dye called astaxanthin that they obtain from their diet – organism that are rich in carotenoid’s pigments.
What is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid antioxidant that possesses potent antioxidant activity to guard against the effects of free radical damage on cells. It is naturally found most abundantly in Haematococcus pluvialis, a freshwater microalga to protect from cell death during times of stress (lack of nutrients, water and etc.). These microalgae cells are found worldwide in standing ponds and lakes.
Astaxanthin is known to be the ‘King of Carotenoids’
Each human cell has a wall surrounding it known as cell membrane. Its main function is to protect the cell from its surroundings and also acts as a gate to control the movements of substances in and out of the cells. The cell membrane is made up of a double layer of lipids known as the lipid bilayer. Each of the lipid molecule contains a polar head (hydrophilic) and non-polar tail (hydrophobic).
Astaxanthin’s unique molecular structure containing 2 polar heads and a non-polar body which matches the structure of the cell membrane, allows it to stretch across the bilayer membrane, quenching free radicals both on the inner and outer layer of the membrane, providing protection over the whole cell against free radical attack; unlike majority of antioxidants which work either only on the inner (e.g Vitamin E, Beta Carotene) or the outer layer of the membrane (e.g Vitamin C). This feature makes it hundreds of times stronger than any other antioxidant molecule, hence it is often called “The King of Carotenoids”.
Astaxanthin is by far the most powerful carotenoid antioxidant when it comes to free radical scavenging.
Moreover, astaxanthin has superior singlet oxygen quenching activity, which is a particular type of oxidation process. Singlet oxygen is a notorious free radical known to be highly reactive and unstable. The damaging effects of sunlight and various organic materials are caused by this less-stable form of oxygen.
Some antioxidant molecules can turn into free radicals themselves especially when under intense free radical attack due to smoking or intense UV radiation which can seriously damage cells and tissues. This phenomenon is known as pro-oxidant activity. Astaxanthin is also called a pure antioxidant where it does not have pro-oxidant activity.
Free radicals cause DNA damage and mutation, which can lead to premature cell death and cancer. Immune cells in particular are highly exposed and vulnerable to free radicals. Astaxanthin can reduce DNA damage caused by oxidation and free radicals.