Astaxanthin, also known as shrimp red pigment or shrimp green pigment, is a fat-soluble pigment. Its antioxidant effects are 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, 770 times stronger than coenzyme Q10, 100 times stronger than vitamin E, and 5 times stronger than beta-carotene. In recent years, it has become a popular antioxidant in the realm of dietary supplements.
What is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin, also known as astaxanthin, is a type of carotenoid and belongs to the same class as beta-carotene. Like other carotenoids, it is a fat-soluble pigment. Astaxanthin possesses various physiological benefits, including antioxidant, anti-tumor, immune-enhancing, and vision-improving effects . Currently, natural sources of astaxanthin come from algae, and many organisms that consume algae exhibit vibrant red or orange colors in their tissues.
Humans are unable to naturally synthesize astaxanthin, so it needs to be obtained through consuming foods that contain astaxanthin, such as salmon, shrimp, and crab. In addition to dietary sources, another option for obtaining astaxanthin is through dietary supplements. The antioxidant effects of astaxanthin are 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, 770 times stronger than coenzyme Q10, 100 times stronger than vitamin E, and 5 times stronger than beta-carotene. In recent years, it has become a popular antioxidant in the field of dietary supplements.
What are the recommended proven benefits and advantages of Astaxanthin?
1. Reducing Oxidative Effects in Diabetes
Astaxanthin is a marine microalgal carotenoid with potent antioxidant properties. It can inhibit lipid peroxidation and scavenge reactive oxygen species, thereby protecting pancreatic β-cells (insulin-producing cells) from oxidative stress caused by high blood glucose levels. This helps prevent dysfunction of β-cells and tissue damage in diabetes patients .
💡Testing in rats has shown that this antioxidant significantly improves insulin sensitivity by mechanisms such as increased glucose uptake and regulation of lipid metabolites and adipokine levels .
2. Lowering Cardiovascular Disease Risk
Astaxanthin helps lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and regulate adipokines.
💡Research has demonstrated that astaxanthin consumption can inhibit LDL oxidation, potentially preventing atherosclerosis .
💡Studies indicate that free astaxanthin significantly increases nitric oxide (NO) levels and significantly decreases peroxynitrite (ONOO-) levels in endothelial cells and platelets, preventing lipid oxidation in blood vessels and potentially delaying or reducing vascular coagulation. This suggests potential for treating or preventing thrombotic cardiovascular complications .
3. Minimizing Heart Damage from Heart Attacks
Past observations and epidemiological studies have suggested that carotenoids have cardioprotective effects in humans.
💡In models of heart attack in rodents, rabbits, and dogs, animals pre-treated with astaxanthin show reduced damage from heart attacks. The size of the infarcted area and myocardial salvage are significantly and linearly correlated with plasma levels of non-esterified free astaxanthin at the end of reperfusion, demonstrating the cardioprotective effect of astaxanthin .
💡Studies also found that astaxanthin can improve heart function in rats with heart failure by inhibiting oxidative stress, preventing apoptosis of myocardial cells, and reducing myocardial infarction. It plays a critical role in heart protection .
4. Regulating the Body’s Immune Response
Due to its potent antioxidant properties, astaxanthin benefits the human immune system and plays a major role in immune regulation. Astaxanthin appears to enhance antibody production.
💡Research shows that when combined with fish oil supplementation, astaxanthin can regulate lymphocyte function in rats .
💡Clinical studies demonstrate that astaxanthin reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in the body while enhancing immune responses . It has also been found that astaxanthin can modulate lymphocyte immune responses in vitro, primarily by increasing INF-γ and IL-2 production. This partially exhibits its immune-regulatory effects without inducing cytotoxicity .
5. Protecting the Gastric Lining from Helicobacter pylori and Ulcers
Research indicates that using algae cell extracts containing antioxidant astaxanthin for treating mice infected with Helicobacter pylori reduces bacterial load and gastric inflammation. These changes are associated with a shift in T-cell response from IFN-γ-dominated Th1 to a joint IFN-γ and IL-4-dominated Th1/Th2 response .
💡Studies demonstrate that mice treated with astaxanthin-rich algae powder show significant reduction in lipid peroxidation and inhibition of Helicobacter pylori growth in vitro . Astaxanthin’s antioxidant properties, along with its protective effects in a murine ulcer model, suggest that it acts to eliminate free radicals and improve local blood circulation in ulcers  .
6. Preventing UV Damage
Astaxanthin can prevent UV-induced skin photoaging, as evidenced in both animals and humans.
💡A study evaluating dietary astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis in hairless mice exposed to UVA radiation found that dietary astaxanthin accumulates in the skin and appears to prevent UVA-induced effects on filaggrin metabolism and desquamation in the epidermis and dermal extracellular matrix .
💡A clinical trial conducted in Japan also found that long-term preventive astaxanthin supplementation seems to inhibit age-related skin aging and protect against environmentally induced skin damage through its anti-inflammatory properties . Additionally, astaxanthin in a rat-induced skin cancer model may have anti-cancer effects .
7. Protecting Eye Health
Antioxidants like carotenoids have a long history of use in eye health products.
💡Research indicates that the natural antioxidant effects of astaxanthin are 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, 770 times stronger than coenzyme Q10, 100 times stronger than vitamin E, and 5 times stronger than beta-carotene. Moreover, compared to other antioxidants, astaxanthin neutralizes harmful reactive oxygen species/free radicals in a gentler manner within body cells  .
💡Supplementing with astaxanthin can improve eye health through various mechanisms, including enhancing blood flow to capillaries, improving lens accommodation, and promoting clearer visual perception   . Additionally, astaxanthin’s anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to protect against bacterial-induced inflammation in the eyes .
8. Assisting in Hypertension Management
💡In experimental animals, astaxanthin has been found to have antihypertensive and neuroprotective effects, showing beneficial roles in preventing hypertension, stroke, and improving vascular dementia memory . In a study using spontaneously hypertensive rat aortic rings, astaxanthin significantly reduced the contractile response to α-adrenergic receptor agonists and angiotensin II.
💡Histopathological studies also demonstrated that compared to controls, astaxanthin reduces coronary artery wall thickness, suggesting a potential for improving hypertension-induced vascular remodeling . Therefore, incorporating astaxanthin into a healthy diet along with weight loss, exercise, and alcohol moderation can help improve hypertension.
9. Treating Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease refers to a range of conditions caused by the accumulation of fat in the liver, typically seen in overweight or obese individuals. Treatment involves lifestyle changes such as increased physical activity, a balanced diet, and weight loss.
💡Research confirms that astaxanthin can prevent and reverse diet-induced insulin resistance and fatty liver in mice . Due to its antioxidant activity in liver tissue, astaxanthin may act as a potential protector against liver damage .
10. Inhibiting Cancer Cell Growth
Antioxidants achieve this by stimulating the anticancer immune system.
💡Studies demonstrate that astaxanthin can inhibit tumor formation and growth in chemically induced cancer in rats and mice. Astaxanthin may exert its antiproliferative, anti-apoptotic, and anti-invasive effects through various molecular pathways, including transcriptional messaging and activation of proteins such as NF-κB, Nrf2, and PPARγ, making it a promising chemotherapy agent for cancer treatment .
11. Alleviating Exercise Fatigue
Astaxanthin’s antioxidant action significantly delays fatigue during exercise, making it beneficial for enhancing exercise performance . This effect may result from protecting mitochondrial redox status and maintaining functional integrity against oxidative stress, allowing for more energy availability and reducing fatigue .
💡Clinical studies found that functional training in elderly individuals supplemented with astaxanthin formula uniquely improved muscle strength, endurance, and activity capacity .
💡Animal experiments also suggest that astaxanthin improves swimming endurance in 4-week-old male mice by enhancing fatty acid utilization as an energy source .
12. Reducing Brain Damage from Stroke
High-dose astaxanthin has been proven to reduce brain damage caused by stroke.
💡A study in rats showed that astaxanthin supplementation significantly reduces brain damage after stroke. Other studies indicate that astaxanthin can improve acute brain ischemia in rats, inhibit oxidative stress, and regulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor and nerve growth factor mRNA expression .
💡A 2017 systematic review also indicates that a high dietary intake of six major carotenoids, including astaxanthin, can lower the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
13. Facilitating Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury
Astaxanthin appears to accelerate recovery from traumatic brain injury and can reduce post-injury brain swelling and promote crucial brain functions. Its mechanism may involve improving AQP4/NKCC1-mediated brain edema to reduce related tissue damage .
💡In severely compressed male rat models of spinal cord injury (SCI), astaxanthin has shown favorable effects in improving sensory and motor functions, reducing glutamate-induced inflammatory signaling and responses . Thus, including astaxanthin in the diet or as a supplement seems beneficial for promoting neuroprotection, a crucial step in accelerating recovery for patients.
14. Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most severe chronic neurodegenerative diseases, characterized by memory impairment and cognitive dysfunction, mainly due to neuron loss. Oxidative stress, occurring at an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, incurs mitochondrial cost. Therefore, natural compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are recommended for preventing or reducing the progression of this specific neurodegeneration. Specifically, astaxanthin can combat oxidative damage through various mechanisms, including quenching singlet oxygen, scavenging radicals, inhibiting lipid peroxidation, and regulating oxidative stress-related gene expression, making it a potential adjunct treatment for Alzheimer’s disease  .
15. Protecting and Treating Parkinson’s Disease
Similar to Alzheimer’s disease, there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Astaxanthin has been found to have protective effects against this disease, potentially preventing or at least slowing its progression . Mitochondria play a crucial role in mitochondria-mediated pathways, and several gene products associated with mitochondrial function could be key factors in Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, astaxanthin, as an antioxidant, may have significant neuroprotective effects in various neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease. Based on its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and mitochondrial protective properties, experts suggest that astaxanthin holds potential for treating Parkinson’s disease .
Does astaxanthin have side effects?
- Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and individuals with impaired liver or kidney function: Currently, there is insufficient understanding regarding the use of astaxanthin in these populations. For safety reasons, these groups should avoid using it.
- Individuals allergic to astaxanthin: When consumed in the amounts found in food, astaxanthin is generally safe. However, high doses of astaxanthin may lead to stomach discomfort. If allergic or sensitive to astaxanthin, including (1) carotenoids such as canthaxanthin, and (2) astaxanthin-producing algae, precautions should be taken.
- Inhibition of 5-α reductase: Some laboratory studies suggest that astaxanthin may inhibit 5-α reductase, potentially preventing the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone. This could potentially lead to effects such as reduced libido, male breast enlargement, and erectile dysfunction .
- Astaxanthin may also lower blood pressure and serum calcium levels, so caution is advised in cases of low blood pressure and low blood calcium.