Astaxanthin is a reddish carotenoid pigment found naturally in certain red algae and other seafood providing the pinkish color seen in salmon, lobster, and shrimp. Although you may not be familiar with natural astaxanthin, you have likely heard of antioxidants before. Antioxidants are foods which can stabilize harmful free radicals in the body caused by a process called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can be the product of activities such as eating or exercise, and although not always dangerous, long-term oxidative stress can wreak havoc on our internal biology. Persistent oxidative stress can contribute to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases. 1
Therefore, antioxidants such as astaxanthin play an important role in neutralizing these harmful free radicals. Natural astaxanthin was initially observed to protect marine life against UV light damage and other environmental stressors.2 These findings were then applied to humans and substantial research now supports astaxanthin’s similar protective capabilities in people. Astaxanthin benefits range widely from improving skin health to enhancing exercise performance.3 Natural supplementation of astaxanthin has been shown to be the most effective source of consumption, providing the body with one of the most potent antioxidants. 2
#1 Skin Health
Did you know that there are many skin benefits of Astaxanthin? Astaxanthin has significant research backing its protective qualities against UV-light damage to the skin, our largest organ. Astaxanthin can be found not only through seafoods and supplementation, but is also used in aquaculture, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.2 As a potent antioxidant, astaxanthin protects the skin’s cell membrane, preventing oxidative stress. Although limited sun exposure provides important health benefits such as aiding in vitamin D synthesis, UVA and UVB rays are absorbed in our outer and inner layers of skin. Overexposure to UV rays can generate reactive oxygen species on our dermis (the deepest layer of skin) causing damaged DNA and possibly skin cancer. 4 Both aging and overexposure to ultraviolet light leads to the degradation of proteins such as collagen and other growth factors which give our skin its elasticity.
Studies have shown in both animal and human models that astaxanthin can suppress cell damage due to reactive oxygen species. Astaxanthin’s unique molecular structure distinguishes it from other carotenoids as it is able to effectively suppress the generation of enzymes which degrade collagen and other important structural proteins. 2 It has also been shown to be more effective than other powerful antioxidants and vitamin E in fighting free radicals. 5 Additionally, one six-week study involving 36 male participants found a 6mg/day dose of astaxanthin decreased appearance of wrinkles, increased elasticity, and moisture content. 2
#2 Brain Function
Astaxanthin’s anti-inflammatory properties may also delay the progression of neurological impairment that comes with age and other environmental factors. As one of strongest known antioxidants, it holds powerful potential in limiting oxidative stress in the brain associated with cognitive decline and may be able to promote healthy aging. Astaxanthin’s role in improving brain health is likely due to the molecule’s ability to cross our blood-brain-barrier. 6 This means astaxanthin may have protective roles against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
With almost all neurodegenerative diseases, an increased number of reactive oxygen species are observed resulting in chronic neuroinflammation. Our central nervous system (CNS), which activates our immune systems and is responsible for controlling neuroinflammation, are highly susceptible to oxidative stress. 6 Astaxanthin health benefits can be seen in protecting the CNS from reactive oxygen species which promote neuronal damage and neural degeneration. One study in mice showed that dietary astaxanthin can accumulate in the cerebral cortex and possibly lead to increased cognitive function. 6 Such benefits have also led to research supporting astaxanthin’s ability to increase neurogenesis and plasticity into adulthood.
Along with improving brain health, astaxanthin plays an important part in improving our immune response. As seen in marine life, astaxanthin enhances the biological mechanisms supporting immune health. 2 The protective effects astaxanthin have on the central nervous system also strengthen our overall immune response. When free radicals begin to multiply through a cascade effect, the immune cells released from the CNS are targeted. Our immune systems impact our body’s ability to respond to environmental stressors along with chronic disease. Therefore, astaxanthin supplement benefits may neutralize unstable and deleterious free radicals impacting our immune response.
Markers of our immune response include the release of lymphocytes such as B and T-cells along with natural killer cells. The first study to measure the effects of astaxanthin on the immune system of humans looked at 42 healthy college-age females after daily astaxanthin supplementation for eight weeks. The study concluded astaxanthin supplementation decreased DNA damage biomarkers as well as increased immune response in participants. 7
#4 Heart Health
Previous research has suggested astaxanthin’s strong potential to decrease oxidative stress could improve cardiovascular disease. The production of free radicals and resulting inflammation present cardiovascular risk factors. However, antioxidants such as astaxanthin have the potential to decrease lipid and protein oxidation which feeds the buildup of fats and cholesterol in arterial walls. 8 In individuals with heart failure oxidative stress can worsen the progression. One small scale prospective study looked at the effects of astaxanthin on oxidative stress in patients who suffered from heart failure. The study concluded after three months patients who consumed an astaxanthin supplement once daily experienced significant decreases in their oxidative stress markers. 9 This was also significantly correlated with improved overall cardiac function.
Another product of cellular oxidative damage and free radical generation is vision loss. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is associated with the loss of retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPE) which is exacerbated by oxidative stress. 10 Similarly to astaxanthin’s benefits on brain health, it is a favorable and potent antioxidant for vision as it is able to cross the blood brain barrier to reach the retina. The Astaxanthin benefits for eyes are many, making it an excellent supplement for daily use.This allows astaxanthin to directly target the free radical build-up causing vision loss. According to one 4-week study, middle-aged adults who suffered from regular eye strain, those who took a daily supplement including 4mg of astaxanthin, experienced alleviated symptoms of eye strain, blurred vision, and heaviness of the head. 11 Asxtaxathin may increase retinal capillary blood flow as well as suppress certain pro-inflammatory pathways, helping to improve eye health.
#6 Exercise Performance
Although the overproduction of reactive oxygen species can be harmful, they are also naturally produced during exercise. These ROS molecules can actually help the body adapt and build endurance. However, if the body is overexerted these previously beneficial stressors become dangerous. This is where antioxidants come in. The addition of antioxidant rich supplements such as astaxanthin can actually prevent this overexertion from occurring and increase athletic performance. 12 Astaxanthin appears to be one of the most effective antioxidants for exercise performance as it is more potent and easily absorbed when consumed naturally. One study found just 4mg of astaxanthin a day significantly improved the athletic performance of competitive cyclists supporting the idea that astaxanthin may enhance cardiac function and exercise output. 12
#7 Male Fertility
Astaxanthin has also been shown to promote male fertility. Reactive oxygen species can be generated throughout the entire body including in the sperm. As the sperm prepare to be fertilized, they must go through a series of steps allowing the sperm to successfully cross through the egg’s protective coat. During this process, ROS’s are generated however, an accumulation of oxidative stress can cause decreased sperm mobility and DNA damage. 13 Research in both animal and human trials has shown promising effects of Astaxanthin on fertility rates. One study looking at couples with trouble conceiving in the last year, found that after three months of male astaxanthin supplementation, 10.5% of the control group conceived while 54.5% of the astaxanthin-treated couples conceived. 13 Such research supports the idea that astaxanthin may improve sperm mobility and overall quality.
How to Take Astaxanthin
The best way to increase your astaxanthin intake is to incorporate more astaxanthin rich-foods into your diet such as salmon, lobster, and shrimp, or even better, supplement with naturally sourced astaxanthin. Research suggests naturally sourced astaxanthin is around 20 times more effective compared to the synthetic form sometimes added to fish and other seafood. 14 Although specific dosages of astaxanthin are still not clear, a weekly intake of 40mg has been shown to be safe and effective with no negative side effects. 14 GEM vitamins provide you with 4mg of naturally sourced astaxanthin in each daily bite to combat oxidative stress and free radicals in the body.
Astaxanthin is also a fat-soluble molecule, meaning it is best absorbed when taken right after meals. If taking an astaxanthin vitamin, one should consume a meal rich in good fats prior to supplementation as the carotenoid is a lipophilic molecule. In GEM vitamins, astaxanthin is absorbed alongside healthy fats like omega-3’s enhancing the bioavailability of the antioxidant.
1 Di Wu et al., “Effects of Astaxanthin Supplementation on Oxidative Stress A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials”, International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, (Hogrefe, 2020), https://econtent.hogrefe.com/doi/full/10.1024/0300-9831/a000497
2 Sergio Davinelli, Michael E. Nielsen, and Giovanni Scapagnini, “Astaxanthin in Skin Health, Repair, and Disease: A Comprehensive Review”, Nutrients (MPDI, 22 April, 2018), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5946307/
3 Naoki Ito, Shinobu Seki, and Fumitaka Ueda, “The Protective Role of Astaxanthin for UV-Induced Skin Deterioration in Healthy People - A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial”, Nutrients (MPDI, 25 June, 2018), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6073124/
4 John D’Orazio et al., “UV Radiation and the Skin”, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, (MDPI, 7 June, 2013), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3709783/#:~:text=UV%20penetrates%20the%20skin%20in,comparatively%20little%20reaching%20the%20dermis.
5 Hsin-Yu Chou et al., “Enriched Astaxanthin Extract from Hamatococcus pluvialis Augments Growth Factor Secretions to Increase Cell Proliferation and Induces MMP1 Degradation to Enhance Collagen Production in Human Dermal Fibroblasts”, International Journal of Molecular Sciences (MDPI, 17 June, 2016), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4926488/
6 Christian Galasso et al., “On the Neuroprotective Role of Astaxanthin: New Perspectives?”, Marine Drugs (MPDI, 24 July, 2018), https://www.mdpi.com/1660-3397/16/8/247/htm
7 Jean Soon Park et al., “Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans”, Nutrition & Metabolism (BMC, 5 March, 2010), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2845588/
8 Robert G. Fassett & Jeff S. Coombes, “Astaxanthin in Cardiovascular Health and Disease”, Molecules (MDPI, 20 February, 2012), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6268807/
9 Takao Kato et al., “Effects of 3-Month Astaxanthin Supplementation on Cardiac Function Patients with Left Ventricular Systolic Dysfunction-A Pilot Study”, Nutrients (MDPI, 26 June, 2020), https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/6/1896/htm#B5-nutrients-12-01896
10 Alinda Boyd, “Improving Vision with Astaxanthin”, fxMedicine, accessed February 23, 2021, https://www.fxmedicine.com.au/blog-post/improving-vision-astaxanthin
11 Keiko Kono et al., “Effects of Multiple Dietary Supplement Containing Lutein, Astaxanthin, Cyanidin-3-Glucoside, and DHA on Accommodative Ability”, Current Medicinal Chemistry, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997915/
12 Daniel R. Brown et al., “Astaxanthin in Exercise Metabolism, Performance and Recovery: A Review”, Frontiers in Nutrition, (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 January, 2018), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5778137/#:~:text=Based%20upon%20in%20vitro%20and,of%20its%20potent%20antioxidant%20capacity.
13 Bob Capelli & Lixin Ding, “Astaxanthin for Immune Health, Brain Health, and Male Fertility?”, Nutritional Outlook, accessed 25 February, 2021, https://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/view/astaxanthin-immune-health-brain-health-and-male-fertility14 Michael Ash, “Astaxanthin: The Key to a New You”, Clinical Education, accessed February 25, 2021, https://www.clinicaleducation.org/resources/reviews/astaxanthin-the-key-to-a-new-you/