September 01, 2022

Zeaxanthin vs. Astaxanthin: What's the Difference?

Looking for new ways to find nutritional balance in natural ingredients? Add these two ingredients to the list: zeaxanthin and astaxanthin. Both are plant-based cartoneids, contain high levels of antioxidants, and provide a wide variety of health benefits. GEM’s Daily Essentials multi-bite contains algae-based astaxanthin, a powerful terpine, but when it comes to comparing zeaxanthin vs. astaxanthin, what’s the difference?

Zeaxanthin vs. Astaxanthin: Color Variations and Origin Differences

Zeaxanthin is known for its distinctive yellow color, commonly found in plants and vegetables, such as corn, cantaloupe, and carrots. Despite this unique coloring, zeaxanthin is the most common xanthophyll (yellow pigment) found in dark green leafy vegetables, including kale, spinach, and broccoli.

Zeaxanthin is also one of the most commonly found carotenoids in nature and is synthesized in plants and some microorganisms. Many get their consumption by following a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables. So, what is astaxanthin and how does it differ? Natural astaxanthin has been referred to as the “king of the carotenoids” due to its powerful source of antioxidants. It has a red-orange pigment responsible for giving salmon its beautiful color. GEM sustainably sources astaxanthin from the Himalayas, where the natural environment and climate is ideal for growing Haematococcus pluvialis, the microalga containing astaxanthin. Although algae is where it’s the most highly concentrated, it’s also found in fish like salmon, trout, and various shellfish.

Benefits of Zeaxanthin

One of the biggest differences between zeaxanthin vs. astaxanthin is zeaxanthin, along with lutein, are the only carotenoids that accumulate in the retina. As a result, it’s largely beneficial to eye health by protecting the eyes from inflammation and free radicals.

A zeaxanthin supplement also serves as a natural block against absorbing too much light energy, both from the sun’s UV rays and from blue light that emits off of electronic devices. A zeaxanthin supplement may help with a variety of eye-related conditions and diseases, including eye strain and aging, uveitis, macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.

Zeaxanthin for Eye Health

Due to our heavy reliance on screens, eye fatigue and its associated pain is prevalent among all age groups. As a result, progressive eye strain leads to side effects like headaches, dry eyes, eye fatigue, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder strain.

According to Fordham University researchers, zeaxanthin helps filter out blue light that emits from these electronic screens and protect eye tissues against singlet oxygen damage. Their research also presented evidence that this carotenoid helps lower the risk for irreversible blindness.

Zeaxanthin for Uveitis

Uveitis is the general term for eye inflammation that affects different parts of the eye. Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston explore the effects of several antioxidants as a way to reduce inflammation in the eye. Their data shows carotenoids, in particular, protect against free radicals and help regulate oxidative stress-induced inflammation.

Zeaxanthin for Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration often occurs in older adults and can eventually lead to loss of vision. Researchers from Peking University in Beijing, China found evidence that conclude an increased dietary intake of zeaxanthin and lutein may protect against late macular degeneration.

A separate study conducted by Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences also presents data that shows diets rich in these carotenoids may protect against intermediate macular degeneration in healthy women younger than 75.

Zeaxanthin for Cataracts

Cataracts are another common eye condition that typically occurs later in life. A study conducted by the University of Melbourne, Australia found an inverse association between a high dietary intake of lutein-zeaxanthin and the prevalence of cataracts. Additional research shows people who consume diets rich in vegetables with zeaxanthin may help prevent cataract formation and/or slow their growth.

Zeaxanthin for Diabetic Retinopathy

Retinopathy is a disease of the eye that results in vision loss and impairment. A study from the Kresge Eye Institute in Detroit, MI discusses excessive oxidative damage as a cause of diabetic retinopathy. With supplementation of zeaxanthin, results showed it significantly inhibited damage and elevated vascular endothelial cell growth factor to potentially inhibit the development of retinopathy in diabetic patients.

Benefits of Astaxanthin

While zeaxanthin has proven to be mainly beneficial for eye health, astaxanthin takes on a larger scope of health benefits. It, too, has been shown to protect the eyes, while also contributing to heart health, skin care, joint protection, cancer treatment, and immune responses.

Astaxanthin for Heart Health

Astaxanthin is known for its inflammation-supporting properties while also supporting heart health. Australian researchers share evidence that this dietary supplement helped to decrease blood clots and plaque buildup, in addition to reducing fatty acid and blood pressure. Additional research from the National institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo shows evidence that astaxanthin could contribute to the prevention of atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque that often leads to serious heart conditions such as angina and myocardial infarction. This research points out that astaxanthin can also be a great natural supplement that helps prevent cardiovascular disease.

Astaxanthin for Skin

Algae is well-known for its skincare benefits when used as a topical solution. However, the benefits of dietary astaxanthin aids skin health from the inside out. Astaxanthin, when taken as a chewable, has been known to reduce age spots, wrinkles, and fine lines by suppressing the aging effects from the sun and preventing water loss that results in dry and rough skin tone and texture.

Astaxanthin for Joint Protection

As with the increase in eye strain, joint soreness and inflammation is all too common now as well. The constant motion of texting, scrolling, and typing throughout the day can cause tension and stiffness in the hands and forearms.

An astaxanthin dietary supplement has also been shown to reduce pain and joint degradation associated with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis. Due to its activity of suppressing oxidative stress and alleviating inflammation, research shows it could be effective in diminishing the effects of joint pain.

Astaxanthin for Regulates Immune Responses

Another healthy proponent of astaxanthin is its ability to help regulate immune responses. A collaborative research study between Inha University in Korea, La Haye Labs, Inc. in Redmond, and Washington State University has shown that taking astaxanthin daily (at two or eight mg) for eight weeks helped alleviate inflammation and oxidative damage in its subjects, while decreasing a DNA damage marker within the first four weeks.

Zeaxanthin vs. Astaxanthin: Which Is Better?

Though it’s safe to say both zeaxanthin and astaxanthin offer a number of different health benefits, those of astaxanthin are more plentiful. Generally speaking, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and algae help to increase the amount of carotenoids absorbed by the body to help sustain overall good health.

Gaining Value from Natural-Based Nutrition

As much as they are different, there’s also value in how zeaxanthin and astaxanthin are the same. In addition to being carotenoids that are produced by plants, both zeaxanthin and astaxanthin contain helpful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants support a balanced, nutritional diet that protect against free radicals and oxidative stress.

This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and contains trusted sources.

Our goal at GEM is to give readers up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics. GEM content is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and articles undergo an extensive review process.

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