Salmon a hit health food in Japan

In Japan, the health benefits of salmon are being stressed in the media during the autumn salmon season. NHK network’s morning show, Asaichi, featured the health benefits of the antioxidant astaxanthin, explained the differences between salmon and trout species, and gave several recipes. The 10 October show was titled “Salmon Renaissance.”

Guest expert, Professor Katsuhiko Ueda, of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology explained that astaxanthin, a lipid-soluble carotenoid that provides the red color of salmon meat, has high anti-oxidant effect. He also noted a recent study on wrinkling, in which crow's feet were reduced in subjects taking 6 mg daily of astaxanthin for 6 weeks. Prof. Ueda, who is billed as an “evangelist of fish-eating,” also introduced recipes for boiled filet of salmon, salmon pot-stickers, Western-style salmon and cheese pate and others.

Japanese often prefer “nutriceuticals,” or foods with specific health benefits, over supplement pills, and a credible study indicating a health benefit can boost sales dramatically.

The show touted a wide range of health benefits of astaxanthin: prevention and relief of eye strain, stroke, memory improvement, wrinkles, improving poor circulation and muscle fatigue recovery and improvement in the prevention of arteriosclerosis, obesity prevention and improvement of stiff spots and sagging skin.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration draws a distinction between substances like astaxanthin that can be sold as supplements, which can only use phrases like “supports connective tissue health”, and approved medicines, which can claim to prevent or cure specific conditions or diseases. The FDA has warned some astaxanthin marketers not to make medical claims.

Ironically, opponents of aquaculture have criticized the inclusion use of astaxanthin and the similar canthaxanthin in salmon and trout feeds. The FDA approval of the two substances calls them “color additives,” leading opponents to claim that farmed salmon are dyed, though the substance is also contained in natural salmon. Besides imparting color, they have nutritional benefits for the salmon.

Wild salmon contain higher levels of astaxanthin than farmed, particularly wild sockeye. One-hundred grams of wild sockeye salmon provides as much as 4.5 grams of astaxanthin, while farmed salmon has about a fourth as much. However, the source of the substance for wild salmon is micro-algae, which is eaten by krill and shrimp, which in turn are eaten by the salmon, while that in fish feed is typically synthesized from oil. Synthetic carotenoid pigments represent about 20 percent of the cost of production of commercial salmon feed.

Natural alternatives to synthetic astaxanthin exist, but are more expensive and more frequently used for human supplements.

Most astaxanthin for human consumption and cosmetic use is extracted from Haematococcus pluvialis algae. Fuji Health Science, a New Jersey-based subsidiary of Fuji Chemical Industry Co., Ltd. of Toyama, Japan is the leading producer, with a production facility in Sweden.

“The spark that ignited the astaxanthin explosion was Dr. Oz introducing astaxanthin on his TV show last year. A year later we continue to see market expansion,” said Joe Kuncewitch, Fuji national sales manager.

In addition to supplements, Fuji markets a line of cosmetics including the substance.

For aquaculture alternatives to oil-based astaxanthin, two commercial technologies are available. Phaffia yeast grown on corn by-products is the source of astaxanthin produced by Naturxan, LLC, a joint venture between Archer Daniels Midland Company and Igene Biotechnology, Inc. Nippon Oil Corporation’s Panaferd brand of astaxanthin contains the dried cells of Paracoccus carotinifaciens, a soil-dwelling bacterium that naturally contains carotenoids. The bacteria are grown by fermentation and have been selected to yield high carotenoid concentrations, but have not been genetically modified.


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