Every once in a while, I’ll catch the name of a new supplement or herb with some serious staying power behind it: Science that backs it, experts that tout it, and studies that support its efficacy. Astaxanthin (pronounced "asta-ZAN-thin") or ATX for short, is just such a supplement.

A fat-soluble antioxidant extracted from marine microalgae, astaxanthin gives salmon and flamingos their pink tone and is an important component in the marine world.

“Astaxanthin (ATX) is a type of carotenoid naturally produced by algae, bacteria and fungi. Similar to the most famous of carotenoids, carotene, which creates the orange color of carrots, the naturally bright red color of ATX brightens the skin of the sea-dwelling animals that consume it, such as crabs, crayfish, lobsters, salmon and shrimp,” says Kate Donelan, MS, a dietitian at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Science is only just discovering what astaxanthin can do for humans.

“Astaxanthin, which is found in the red algae called Haematococcus pluvialis, when taken with other carotenoids has been shown to protect against free radical-induced DNA damage, repair UVA-irradiated cells, and inhibit inflammatory cell infiltration,” says Michael Smith, MD, senior health scientist from the Life Extension Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

In a nutshell that means that astaxanthin fights the battle of DNA-related aging damage in the body including within cells, the eyes and the entire inflammatory process. It has been shown to prevent damage to the fatty outside layer of cells called the cell membrane, which is particularly vulnerable to damage from free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules that damage your cells and organs.

Seems ATX has also been shown to improve skin including diminishing age spots, freckles and wrinkles, as well as fight sun damage, and improve the nervous system (memory and brain function) as well as the skeletal system (joint damage).

“Astaxanthin also helps support vascular health within the eye and improves visual acuity,” says Smith. It may play a preventative role in eye fatigue. Human clinical trials by Japanese scientists demonstrated that astaxanthin is effective in reducing a bleary-eyed feeling, a tendency toward irritation, and preventing eye strain.

ATX also protects against LDL cholesterol, the unhealthy kind, and prevents LDL particles from being released and building up in arteries, a process called atherosclerosis.

Some experts think it’s a more potent antioxidant than vitamin C or E and may have dozens more benefits.

Who may want to try ATX? Anyone looking to reduce inflammation, improve memory, joint health, skin condition and eye health. Other benefits include improved immune response, muscle performance and endurance, circulation and male fertility and reproduction.

“ATX is unique in that it has been shown to provide antioxidant protection to individuals with high amounts of stress from free radicals, including smokers, the obese and the overweight,” says Donelan.

Oxidative stress is thought to be related to the development of cancers, heart failure and many other diseases. Overweight and obese study participants who received ATX supplementation daily were shown to have oxidative stress on par with normal weight people.

Plus, heavy smokers who received ATX supplementation showed increased antioxidant activity. ATX has also may reduce C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation in the body. When people with rheumatoid arthritis (a condition associated with widespread inflammation) took ATX, they reported less pain.

Look for a supplement with a toxin-free extraction process from a quality company. Recommended dosing depends on the person's age and health, and WebMD says there isn't enough consistent information out there to suggest a range; however other sources suggest a very low dosage, 6-8 milligrams a day, which should taken with or immediately prior to meals containing a little fat to ensure optimal absorption. There have been no reported toxicity or side effects from ATX supplementation, but always check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

Related stories on MNN:

Do astaxanthin's benefits live up to the hype?
What are the benefits of astaxanthin? This microalgae turned heart-smart antioxidant may be worth a closer look.