WHAT ARE XANTHOPHYLLS?
The xanthophylls are a group of phytonutrients (plant based chemical compounds that have various health benefits in the human body) that can be found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables. They can also be sourced from certain types of seafood and certain spices.
Whilst you can technically survive without these natural nutrients, they are all powerful antioxidants that keep your body’s cells safe from free radicals (harmful by-products that are released during oxygen based reactions) so should definitely be included as part of your diet.
In this article I will be providing a full overview of 5 of the main xanthophylls:
History:- The British chemist Basil Weedon discovered astaxanthin in 1970.
Health Benefits:- Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant that may also have a long list of health boosting properties in humans. Provisional research indicates that it may be an effective anti-inflammatory (a substance that prevents unnecessary inflammation) that boosts the immune system, boosts the reproductive system and increases endurance during exercise. In addition to this, it might prevent Alzheimer’s disease (a mental disorder that inhibits memory, speech and thought), cancer, gum disease, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease (a mental disorder that leads to problems with mobility and speech) and the the common cold and the flu. Finally, astaxanthin may be able to protect the eyes from damage and age related decline, protect the kidneys from damage, protect the skin cells from ultraviolet (UV) damage, reduce high blood pressure and treat diabetes. However, further studies are required before these potential health benefits can be confirmed.
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA):- There is currently no official recommended allowance (RDA) for astaxanthin but some sources suggest consuming 4 milligrams (mg) of this phytonutrient each day for optimal health.
Food Sources:- Astaxanthin is mainly found in red fish, fruits and vegetables. Farmed salmon (1.8mg per 100 grams (g), red phaffia yeast (500mg per 100g) and wild salmon (4mg per 100g) are 3 of the richest sources.
Overdose Symptoms:- There are no reported overdose symptoms associated with astaxanthin consumption.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Astaxanthin is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
History:- The British chemist Basil Weedon discovered cantaxanthin in 1970.
Health Benefits:- Canthaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant which may also keep the body’s cells safe from ultraviolet (UV) damage. However, additional research is required before these UV protecting properties can be confirmed. In addition to this, it is commonly used as an ingredient in sunless tanning products but this is not 1 of its health benefits and using such products can be very dangerous.
RDA:- There is currently no official RDA for canthaxanthin.
Food Sources:- Algae, crustaceans, fish and chanterelle mushrooms are some of the best food sources of canthaxanthin but the exact amounts they contain are not known.
Overdose Symptoms:- Canthaxanthin sourced from natural foods has no negative overdose symptoms. However, the unnatural canthaxanthin found in certain tanning products is very dangerous and can cause aplastic anemia (a blood disorder where your bone marrow fails to produce enough new blood cells), canthaxanthin retinopathy (an eye disorder where yellow deposits form on your retina) and urticarial (a skin rash that causes red itchy patches to develop).
Deficiency Symptoms:- Canthaxanthin is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
History:- It is not currently known who discovered cryptoxanthin.
Health Benefits:- Cryptoxanthin is a potent antioxidant that gets converted into vitamin A inside your body and as a result it shares many of the same benefits. Its main role is to promote healthy vision and night vision but it also supports healthy growth (particularly of the bones and teeth), supports healthy reproduction and strengthens the immune system. Early evidence indicates that it may also prevent arthritis (inflammation of the joints) and prevent lung cancer but further studies are needed before this can be confirmed.
RDA:- There is currently no official RDA for cryptoxanthin.
Food Sources:- Cryptoxanthin is mainly found in orange and red coloured vegetables. Some of the best food sources include butternut squash (3.5mg per 100g), cayenne pepper (6.3mg per 100g), chilli powder (3.5mg per 100g), paprika (7.9mg per 100g) and pumpkin (2.1mg per 100g).
Overdose Symptoms:- There are no reported overdose symptoms associated with cryptoxanthin consumption.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Cryptoxanthin is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption. However, if you are not eating enough retinol or beta carotene, a lack of cryptoxanthin can lead to a vitamin A deficiency which causes dry skin, makes you more susceptible to infections and leads to vision problems.
History:- Lutein was discovered in the 1930s and later identified in the macula lutea (an oval shaped yellow spot close to the centre of the retina) in 1945.
Health Benefits:- Lutein is a powerful antioxidant. Provisional research indicates that it may also boost the eyes, support good health in pregnant and lactating women, prevent atherosclerosis (a condition where hard plaques block your artery walls and restrict blood flow), prevent various types of cancer, prevent heart disease and protect the skin cells from ultraviolet (UV) damage. However, additional evidence is needed before this can be confirmed.
RDA:- There is currently no official RDA for lutein but some people recommend consuming between 6mg and 10mg each day for optimal health.
Food Sources:- Green leafy vegetables are the best source of lutein with collards (7.7mg per 100g), green peas (2.4mg per 100g), kale (18.2mg per 100g), parsley (5.6mg per 100g) and spinach (12.2mg per 100g) all containing high levels.
Overdose Symptoms:- Eating natural lutein has no negative side effects. However, ingesting large amounts of lutein supplements can lead to a condition called carotenemia where your skin becomes temporarily orange. Fortunately, carotenemia can be reversed by consuming less lutein.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Lutein is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption. Some experts have suggested that long term lutein deficiency contributes to the development of chronic diseases but no solid research is available to back these claims.
History:- Zeaxanthin was initially identified as part of the macula lutea in 1985 by Bone & Laundrum.
Health Benefits:- Zeaxanthin is a potent antioxidant which may also boost the eyes by preventing age related macular degeneration and preventing cataracts (clouding on the lenses of the eyes). However, further studies are needed before these eye boosting properties can be confirmed.
RDA:- There is currently no official RDA for zeaxanthin but some sources suggest consuming between 6mg and 10mg each day for optimal health.
Food Sources:- Zeaxanthin is mainly found in green leafy vegetables with broccoli (1.4mg per 100g), kale (between 4.4mg and 8mg per 100g), spinach (between 2.4mg and 5.1mg per 100g) and turnip greens (between 2mg and 4.9mg per 100g) all being excellent sources.
Overdose Symptoms:- There are no reported overdose symptoms associated with zeaxanthin consumption. However, you should stick to natural food sources of zeaxanthin as no studies into the long term effects of zeaxanthin consumption have been completed.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Zeaxanthin is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption. It has been suggested that a long term deficiency can cause macular degeneration but additional evidence is needed before this can be confirmed.
The research on the xanthophylls is still in the very early stages. However, you should definitely make room for them in your diet. Not only are they powerful antioxidants but they may also prevent disease, boost your immune system and more. In addition to this, xanthophyll rich foods supply your body with high levels of other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. So if you are not doing so already, fill up on fish, green leafy vegetables and spicy foods and start enjoying all the nutritional goodness these xanthophyll filled foods (that’s quite a tonque twister – try saying it out loud) have to offer.