The Health Benefits of Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin is not one of the more common health supplements you often hear about but is gaining in importance. Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant that can help with many health problems.
What Oxidants Are
Oxidants are a normal by-product of our own metabolism and can cause damage to our body. We can see oxidation every day when an apple turns brown or food goes rancid when it is left out. Oxidation is when oxygen reacts with cells. In our body, we have cells dying all of the time and sometimes these dead cells become what are called free radicals. Free radicals can cause damage to other healthy cells which in turn can cause disease. Free radical damage from oxidization can cause numerous health problems including:
- Premature aging
- Autoimmune diseases
- Heart disease and cardiovascular disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Damage DNA.
- Diseases caused by inflammation.
Other than oxygen reacting normally with our cells, free radicals are also caused by smoking, pollution or smog, stress, radiation and chemicals in our foods.
What Antioxidants Are
Antioxidants protect us from free radicals caused by oxidization. Antioxidants mainly come from the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, whole grains and some types of fish. This is why the US government tells us to eat at least five servings or 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables per day. Yet most people do not eat even one serving per day.
We hear the word antioxidant, but we might not know exactly what these antioxidants are. Here is a list of well-known antioxidants.
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Flavonoids, of which there are at least 5,000 types that we get from plant foods.
- Carotenoids that include beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and also known as pro-vitamin A.
- Lycopene which comes from tomatoes and watermelons. The lycopene gives these and other foods their red color.
- Coenzyme Q10
The Health Benefits of Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin (asta-ZAN-thin) is a phytochemical from the carotenoid family of xanthophylls and is mainly found naturally in krill, wild salmon, trout, shrimp and crayfish. Carotenoids are what gives color to certain foods and animals like orange to carrots, yellow to sweet potatoes and also gives salmon their reddish color and flamingos their pink feathers.
Scientists know that antioxidants can possibly prevent many of the health problems facing us today. Consumers can get confused because recent studies with vitamin E and vitamin C have been contradicting. Studies are showing that astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Astaxanthin and Heart Disease
A scientific study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that astaxanthin supplements have anti-inflammatory properties and can suppress the damage caused by oxidation that can lead to heart disease and heart attack. Astaxanthin was found to have a healthy effect on endothelial function which helps the heart vessels to relax and contract properly .
Astaxanthin and Dementia
A study publish in 2011 found that astaxanthin could help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. One sign of dementia is abnormal accumulations of phospholipid hydroperoxides (PLOOH) in red blood cells of those suffering from dementia. Astaxanthin supplements were found to decrease these levels of PLOOH in the blood and possibly prevent dementia .
Astaxanthin and Insulin
Astaxanthin can also reduce some of the health problems related to metabolic syndrome and problems related to insulin resistance. Astaxanthin given for 22 weeks was found to significantly reduced blood pressure, reduced the fasting blood glucose level and improved insulin sensitivity. The results also found that Astaxanthin helped cholesterol levels with a significant increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, a significant decrease in triglyceride levels and decrease the size of the fat cells .
Astaxanthin Helps Your Skin
Research also found that oral and topical astaxanthin can significantly reduce wrinkles, crow’s feet and the size of age spots. Astaxanthin also improved elasticity of the skin, skin texture and the moisture content of the skin for both females and males .
Astaxanthin also helps protect the skin from the damages of UVA rays of the sun and protects against sunburn .
Astaxanthin and Cancer
Astaxanthin can also prevent tumors from starting. Studies found that astaxanthin can prevent the start of breast, colon and possibly other cancers from starting.
Important: Studies with mice and breast cancer have shown evidence that astaxanthin does prevent the start of tumors, but after a tumor has started, astaxanthin can cause the tumor to grow faster and astaxanthin should not be taken .
Anyone with tumors should talk to their doctor about taking any type of astaxanthin supplements.
Astaxanthin and Asthma
In vitro studies found that a combination of astaxanthin and ginkgo biloba reduced the T-cell activation in asthma as well as and in some cases better than the commonly used antihistamines Zyrtec (cetirizine dihydrochloride) and Astalin (phytohemaglutinin). The combination of astaxanthin and ginkgo biloba could have use as an anti-asthmatic formula .
Astaxanthin Helps with Gastritis and Peptic Ulcers
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) are bacteria that many of us have in our stomachs, though many of us do not get sick from it. H. pylori infections can cause peptic ulcers, type B gastritis and gastric cancer.
Studies found that astaxanthin caused a significant reduction in reflux symptoms (GERD). This reduction was more pronounced in H. pylori infected patients . Other studies with mice found that astaxanthin inhibited the growth of H. pylori bacteria in the stomach .
Eye Health and Astaxanthin
Studies also found that astaxanthin is healthy for the eyes and can possibly prevent cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Xanthophylls, which astaxanthin is a part of, were found to protect the eyes from UV damage from the sun better than vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) .
Human Safety Study of Astaxanthin
In 2003, a placebo controlled study was conducted to determine the efficiency and safe dosage of astaxanthin. The study had 35 patients take either astaxanthin or a placebo for eight weeks. Blood pressure and blood chemistry tests for cell count and a comprehensive metabolic panel were conducted after four and eight weeks. The study found no differences between the two groups except for total protein, serum calcium and eosinophils (white blood cells). Even though the differences in those three were statistically significant, they were very small and of no clinical importance. This study concluded that a dose of 6 mg of astaxanthin supplements per day are fine .
More Health Benefits of Astaxanthin
The book “Natural Astaxanthin: King of Carotenoids” written by Bob Capelli with Dr. Gerald Cysewski covers many health benefits of astaxanthin including helping with carpal tunnel syndrome, endurance, rheumatoid arthritis and tendonitis. According to this book, astaxanthin is 14 times stronger than vitamin E, 54 times stronger than beta-carotene and 65 times stronger than vitamin C .
Buying Astaxanthin Supplements
There are many name brand companies now selling astaxanthin supplements. The astaxanthin supplements I looked at were made of algae or Haematococcus pluvialis, which is also an algae that contains the highest concentration of astaxanthin. Average prices ranged from $20.00 for 4 mg and 60 capsules (NOW brand) to $23.00 for 10 mg for 50 capsules (Solgar brand). Astaxanthin made from phaffia yeast are usually used only for feed in farm raised salmon to give the salmon their color.
Warnings with Astaxanthin
If the astaxanthin is made from krill oil, those taking blood thinners like Warfarin or Coumadin should talk to their doctors about taking any supplement that contains fish oil. Please read this website and or print it out for your doctor if you have concerns about taking astaxanthin.
The 2003 safety study would make you think astaxanthin supplements are not worth the money, but there are plenty of more recent studies that do show evidence that astaxanthin is a very potent antioxidant that protects us from oxidative stress and damage from oxidants.
The best way to get natural astaxanthin is from wild salmon, which is reported to have 400 times more natural astaxanthin than farmed salmon does. My only concern was the study that found astaxanthin inhibits the start of tumors but does cause tumors to grow faster once they have started.
Eating a healthy diet that contains many different vegetables, whole grains, fruit and including salmon occasionally is still one of the best ways to get plenty of phytochemicals and antioxidants. Make your diet is colorful, which will ensure you are eating many varieties of vegetables.
Copyright © Sam Montana 2012
References and Resources
 AJC - Astaxanthin: A Novel Potential Treatment for Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Cardiovascular Disease. American Journal of Cardiology Volume 101, Issue 10, Supplement, Pages S58-S68, 22 May 2008
 PubMed - Antioxidant effect of astaxanthin on phospholipid peroxidation in human erythrocytes. British Journal of Nutrition 2011 Jun;105(11):1563-71. Epub 2011 Jan 31.
 PubMed - Astaxanthin ameliorates features of metabolic syndrome in SHR/NDmcr-cp. Life Sci. 2007 Jan 16;80(6):522-9. Epub 2006 Oct 12.
 PubMed - Cosmetic benefits of astaxanthin on humans subjects. Acta Biochim Pol 2012 Mar 17.
 PubMed - Modulatory effects of an algal extract containing astaxanthin on UVA-irradiated cells in culture. J Dermatol Sci. 2002 Oct;30(1):73-84.
 PubMed - Effect of dietary astaxanthin at different stages of mammary tumor initiation in BALB/c mice. Anticancer Res. 2010 Jun;30(6):2171-5.
 Page 158 J.-P. Yuan et al. (Page 9 of 16 pdf file)
 PubMed - In vitro effects of astaxanthin combined with ginkgolide B on T lymphocyte activation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from asthmatic subjects. J Pharmacol Sci. 2004 Feb;94(2):129-36.
 PubMed - Efficacy of the natural antioxidant astaxanthin in the treatment of functional dyspepsia in patients with or without Helicobacter pylori infection. Phytomedicine. 2008 Jun;15(6-7):391-9. Epub 2008 May 7.
 PubMed - Astaxanthin-Rich Algal Meal and Vitamin C Inhibit Helicobacter pylori Infection in BALB/cA Mice. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2000 September; 44(9): 2452–2457.
 PubMed - Xanthophylls and alpha-tocopherol decrease UVB-induced lipid peroxidation and stress signaling in human lens epithelial cells. J Nutr. 2004 Dec;134(12):3225-32.
 PubMed - Safety of an astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis algal extract: a randomized clinical trial. J Med Food. 2003 Spring;6(1):51-6.
 Natural Astaxanthin: King of Carotenoids by Bob Capelli