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Health Benefits of Astaxanthin

Astaxanthin is a very potent antioxidant that we’ll be hearing more and more about over the coming years.  Specifically, it functions as a carotenoid antioxidant though it does not get converted to vitamin A.  Though it’s a ubiquitous pigment found in the marine environment which  provides the pinkish-red color to lobsters, shrimp, salmon, and crayfish, it’s actually produced by microalgae and phytoplankton.

Health Benefits of Astaxanthin

What is Astaxanthin?

The green microalgae, Haematococcus pulvaris, is believed to have the largest capacity to accumulate astaxanthin though it’s also found in other microalgae such as Chlorella zo?ngiensis and Chlorococcum sp.  Supplements containing Astaxanthin are also available from natural sources such as Krill.

Health Benefits of Astaxanthin:

Researchers from China recently summarized a number of the potential health benefits of Astaxanthin supplementation[1].  As a potent antioxidant, the myriad of potential health benefits are staggering.  However, there’s still fairly limited research regarding the optimal dosage, safety, and general effectiveness of this supplement in human studies[3].

Free radicals and other reactive oxygen species are produced during normal life-sustaining aerobic metabolism.  In excess, these molecules can cause protein and lipid oxidation and DNA damage.  Numerous diseases are associated with this type of cellular damage.  Exogenous antioxidants such as carotenoids can help to attenuate or limit this damage.

Potential Health Conditions:

As mentioned, the list of potential health conditions for which astaxanthin may be of benefit is exceptionally long.  Specifically, the review article by Yuan et al [1] included inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and brain inflammatory diseases.

As well, its role as a free-radical scavenger may be of benefit in conditions such as protecting against ethanol-induced gastric damage, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, as well as neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.  They also noted the potential ocular, hepatic, and skin protective effects as well as beneficial effects on the immune system.

In conclusion, the authors of this study noted that the growing evidence from tissue culture, animal, and clinical studies is encouraging, but more extensive well-controlled trials are needed.

For those who’re interested in supplementation with astaxanthin caution would be advised since there’s still fairly limited data regarding the dosage and safety in humans.  The currently recommended dosage of astaxanthin as a supplement have been suggested to be in the range of 2-6 mg/day [4].

Another review study of the putative health benefits of astaxanthin supplementation [3] concluded the following:

“Based on recently published literature, we conclude that consumption of astaxanthin (ASTA) obtained from natural sources (salmon, shrimp, krill oil etc) or via dietary supplements (from biotechnologically manufactured H. pluvialis biomass) might be a practical and beneficial strategy in exercise practice and health management.”

The article included some debate as to whether or not astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier or whether it maybe beneficial for improving athletic performance.  At this point, there’s insufficient evidence to suggest that it attenuates muscle injury following resistance training exercise [5].  In contrast, a study by researchers in Japan found that it did reduce muscle lactic acid build up following 1,200 m of running.

Dr. Mercola wrote an article about the potential health benefits of astaxanthin.  It’s a pretty well-referenced summary though some may find it’s a little “salesy” since his site does offer krill oil and related products.

References:

  1. Yuan JP, Peng J, Yin K, Wang JH. Potential health-promoting effects of astaxanthin: a high-value carotenoid mostly from microalgae. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011 Jan;55(1):150-65. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201000414. Epub 2010 Nov 18.
  2. Barros M, Poppe S, Souza-Junior T.  Putative benefits of microalgal astaxanthin 21(2): 283-289, Mar./Apr. 2011 on exercise and human health.  Brazilian Journal of Pharmacognosy 21(2): 283-289, Mar./Apr. 2011
  3. Kupcinskas, L., Lafolie, P., Lignell, A., Kiudelis, G. et al., Ef?cacy of the natural antioxidant astaxanthin in the treatment of functional dyspepsia in patients with or
    without Helicobacter pylori infection: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study. Phytomedicine 2008, 15, 391–399
  4. Stewart JS, Lignell A, Pettersson A, Elfving E, Soni MG 2008. Safety assessment of astaxanthin-rich microalgae biomass: Acute and subchronic toxicity studies in rats. Food Chem Toxicol 46: 3030-3036.
  5. Bloomer RJ, Fry A, Schilling B, Chiu L, Hori N, Weiss L. Astaxanthin supplementation does not attenuate muscle injury following eccentric exercise in resistance-trained men. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005 Aug;15(4):401-12.

7 Comments

  1. Victoria says:

    Sounds really promising. I have seen supplements that combine fish oil with astaxanthin which seems like a pretty good one-two punch. When you suggest taking these supplements with caution, what could a negative side affect be?

    • Hi Victoria, as I mentioned, more research is still needed to better understand both the potential health benefits as well as the potential side effects from Astaxanthin.

      From Natural Standard (http://naturalstandard.com/index.asp), they cite the Code of Federal regulations, which finds Astaxanthin to be generally regarded as safe (GRAS) when used as a color additive in salmon foods. As well, it’s listed as “likely safe” when used as an antioxidant for various conditions.

      However, they also list potential side effects including: decreased blood pressure, lower calcium levels in blood, and decreased libido. As well, they include potential side effects such as increased skin pigmentation, breast growth in men, and hair growth [doesn't specify if this is desirable--i.e. on scalp :) or on your back :( ]

      They recommend that Astaxanthin is avoided by patients with known allergies, hormone-sensitive conditions, women who are pregnant or breast feeding, or those who have immune disorders. They suggest that it’s used cautiously by those who have asthma, osteoporosis, and hypertension.

      Hope this helps. I provided the link for Natural Standard, but you won’t be able to access it without a paid membership unfortunately.

  2. Jim says:

    Interesting study. I sometimes wonder if nature provides use with so many good antioxidants, which ones are the best to take. I don’t think I have seen any guidelines about which specific combination of antioxidant is better.

  3. Carizz says:

    From what I have read in an article it says there that taking astaxanthin can help prevent sunburn from over exposure to UV light. You would need to take astaxanthin for a few weeks before it would help prevent sunburns.

  4. Dan says:

    If the study is accurate, astaxanthin would also be beneficial to the millions of Americans suffering from inflamed gums. I’ll be waiting patiently for some additional research!

  5. Dori says:

    Dr, Morrow, I thought I was up on my new supplements, but have not heard of this until reading your article. I was wondering if you could comment back to me about well known vitamin and supplement manufactures who carry this. After reading your article all the way through, and then your reply to Victoria it seems that the risk are stacked against the benefits. I have been to Dr Mercola’s website many times, but lately he seems to be more interested in selling supplements that providing the level of information to his readers of the past. Very interesting reading, I guess you learn something new everyday

  6. Kelly says:

    Dr. Morrow, I have good news for people with Bells palsy or any face spasm and twitch, 3 days ago I started taking one gel capsule of MINAMI (Omega 3) and 10 mg of Astaxanthin along with 6,000 units of D3 and Chelated magnesium and MSM , the spasm and eye twitch reduced amazingly, last night I slept all night, today during all day I had 60% less spasms..I do not know which one of this supplements made the trick , but I have suffered with this problem for 4 years and I am scheduled for brain surgery which I will postpone and see if the supplements continue to heal me completely. :)

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