Astaxanthin is one of the most potent carotenoid antioxidants found in nature. Known as the King of Carotenoids, it protects you from oxidative damage and is a potent anti-inflammatory compound. This red-pink pigment occurs naturally in some algae and is responsible for the pink color of salmon, trout, lobster, shrimp, and other seafood. Astaxanthin helps in treating Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, high cholesterol, and prevents vision loss and cancer. In this article, you will learn more about astaxanthin and its various health benefits.
What is astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment that supports good health. It is found in algae, crab, lobster, shrimp, and salmon and is responsible for turning their flesh pink. Studies have shown that astaxanthin is ten times stronger in its ability to fight free radicals than other carotenoids like zeaxanthin, lutein, tunaxanthin, canthaxanthin, and beta carotene and 100 times greater than tocopherol (1). No wonder it is known as the King of Carotenoids. Astaxanthin is also important because it never converts to become a pro-oxidant, which means it can never cause destructive oxidation in the body.
Health benefits of astaxanthin
1. Boosts physical performance
Astaxanthin is highly effective in increasing physical performance. Workouts and activities like cycling and running lead to the accumulation of cortisol and release of metabolic free radicals. These activities can lead to fatigue and sore muscles.
Several studies have shown that astaxanthin can increase endurance, boost physical stamina, and reduce fatigue levels. According to a 2006 study from Japan, when researchers gave mice astaxanthin, they showed an improvement in swimming stamina (2). During another study, 21 competitive cyclists were given 4 mg of astaxanthin per day for 28 days. The results showed that while astaxanthin significantly improved cycling time trial performance, the mechanism of action explaining this effect remains obscure (3).
2. Treats neurodegenerative diseases
Astaxanthin has been receiving a lot of attention for its effect on the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The neuroprotective properties of astaxanthin come from its capability to cross the blood-brain barrier and its oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and anti-apoptotic properties (4). An animal-based study from Japan found that astaxanthin supplements enhance adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN) and spatial memory (5).
3. Preserves vision
Astaxanthin supports eye health due to its unique ability to cross the blood-brain/eye barrier. This unique barrier is not penetrable by all nutrients; astaxanthin passes through and helps support the eye and prevents further damage.
According to a 2008 study from Japan, astaxanthin protects retinal cells against oxidative damage (6). During another study, 48 participants in the age group of 48 to 64, who complained of eye strain, took a supplement that contained several nutrients, including 4 mg of astaxanthin, for four weeks. The results showed a significant improvement in eye fatigue, blurred vision, and stiff shoulders (7).
4. Improves heart health
Oxidative stress and inflammation are considered to be the two leading causes of heart disease. Eight clinical studies in over 180 human beings measured the safety, bioavailability, or astaxanthin and its effect on oxidative stress, inflammation, and cardiovascular system. The studies demonstrated reduced markers of oxidative stress, inflammation, and improved blood rheology (8).
A 2011 study from South Korea also noted that supplemental astaxanthin could improve LDL cholesterol and oxidative stress in overweight people (9). It can also help regulate blood pressure and strengthen arterial walls to prevent heart failure due to hypertension (10).
5. Reduces growth of cancer cells
Astaxanthin has also been studied for its role in cancer treatment thanks to its antioxidant properties. A 2005 study from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that astaxanthin has short term growth inhibition and long term cell death activity on breast cancer cells (11).
An earlier animal-based study from Japan also showed that a 32-week use of astaxanthin could inhibit tumor formation in mice with chemically-induced cancers (12). Astaxanthin is also known to help reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.
Research has shown that taking astaxanthin can improve the pain linked to rheumatoid arthritis. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of astaxanthin may help in treating these symptoms. Studies have also shown that astaxanthin can prevent exercise-induced muscle damage and improve pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome (13, 14).
Astaxanthin can improve sperm quality and boost male fertility thanks to its antioxidant properties. During a 2005 study, 30 men with infertility issues were treated with astaxanthin for three months. The results showed reduced death of sperm, an increase in the count, and an overall improvement in vitality and fertility (15).
To be able to fertilize oocytes, the sperm has to undergo a series of morphological and structural alterations known as capacitation. According to a 2013 study, astaxanthin can improve sperm capacitation (16).
8. Alleviates menopausal symptoms
Menopause can be stressful for women due to its symptoms like hot flushes, anxiety, tress, and depression. Some recent studies have shown that taking a product containing astaxanthin can reduce the symptoms of menopause (17).
Astaxanthin helps to keep skin healthy by maintaining skin moisture and reducing wrinkles and age spots. According to a 2012 study from Japan, a combination of oral supplements and topical treatment of astaxanthin can help in reducing wrinkles, age spots, skin texture, and moisture content (18). A 2016 study also showed that astaxanthin might even be able to treat atopic dermatitis (19). This carotenoid can also reduce skin damage caused by the sun. Not only does astaxanthin improve skin appearance, but it also helps reduce the risk of developing skin cancer (20).
10. Boosts immunity
Astaxanthin helps reduce markers of inflammation in the body, which helps reduce the risk of certain diseases in the body. Studies have shown that it also helps in boosting immunity in the body. According to a 2010 study, dietary astaxanthin decreases DNA damage biomarkers and acute-phase protein and enhances the immune response in healthy females (21).
Side effects of Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin is safe when taken in amounts found in food. Supplements of astaxanthin have been safely used in doses of up to 40 mg daily for 12 weeks. However, high doses of astaxanthin can cause some side effects. These include:
- Increased bowel movements
- Red stool color
- Stomach pain
- Increased skin pigmentation
- Hair growth
- Reduced calcium levels in the blood
- Change in sex drive
- Altered hormone levels
Ways to add astaxanthin to your diet
The human body cannot produce astaxanthin. So, to enjoy its benefits, we must incorporate foods rich in this carotenoid into our diet. Astaxanthin is exclusively found in marine algae and seafood. Algae is the original source of astaxanthin, as it can produce it naturally. Since fish and other marine animals eat algae, they also contain this carotenoid. The most common sources of astaxanthin are salmon, shrimp, crab, lobster, red trout, and krill.
Salmon contains between .4 to 3.8 mg of astaxanthin per 3.5-ounce serving. The sockeye salmon is the best source as it contains 2.57 to 3.76 mg per 3.5 ounces serving. Shrimp can provide 1 to 4 mg of astaxanthin per 4 ounces serving. However, eating this much seafood every day is very unrealistic. The FDA also recommends that pregnant or nursing mothers should consume no more than 2 to 3 servings of seafood per week to minimize mercury exposure.
How to choose astaxanthin supplements
Getting a substantial amount of astaxanthin from food sources is not possible. So, astaxanthin supplements are a good alternative. There are two main types of astaxanthin – esterified astaxanthin and non-esterified astaxanthin. While esterified astaxanthin has a fatty molecule attached, non-esterified astaxanthin is free. While esterified astaxanthin is natural, non-esterified astaxanthin is synthetic.
According to research, natural astaxanthin is 20 times more effective than synthetic astaxanthin is eliminating free radicals. So, the artificial variety may not be suitable as a human supplement. You can also take a natural fish oil supplement containing astaxanthin. Astaxanthin absorption improves when you take it with oil because it is an oil-soluble antioxidant.
Some of the popular brands of astaxanthin supplements include BioAstin and Puritan’s Pride. Krill oil, some omega-3 supplements, and Arctic Ruby oil also contain astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment that supports good health. It is found in algae, crab, lobster, shrimp, red trout, krill, and salmon and is responsible for turning their flesh pink. Astaxanthin is a popular supplement thanks to its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It provides a wide array of health benefits like improved heart health, better vision, lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer, and healthier skin. It also boosts fertility and athletic performance.
While astaxanthin is considered safe when taken in amounts found in food, high doses can cause some side effects like increased bowel movements, red color in stool, increased skin pigmentation, and hair growth. You can improve your astaxanthin intake by eating food rich in this carotenoid. Sockeye salmon is one of the richest sources of astaxanthin. You can also take natural astaxanthin supplements.