Astaxanthin is a carotenoid, or a pigment commonly found in fish, shrimp, and some microalgae that now may prove to be an effective treatment for everything from skin conditions to heart health (1).
If you’ve ever marveled at a particularly vivid carrot or piece of salmon, then carotenoids can probably be credited for the eye-popping hue. They’re not just important for the health of plants and animals – they also play a role in human health, helping to combat chronic conditions like cancer and ocular diseases (2).
Like many other carotenoids, astaxanthin is also an antioxidant, which means it comes with a whole set of potential benefits.
1Astaxanthin helps treat skin inflammation and related disorders. By fighting the inflammatory effects of such skin conditions, astaxanthin may help to regulate skin homeostasis. This applies not only to normal users who’d like to have healthy, beautiful skin, but also to those who may suffer from skin conditions like atopic dermatitis (3).
2Astaxanthin can help with diabetes management. In diabetic patients, high blood sugar oxidatively stresses out certain cells in the pancreas. Specifically, the cells that produce insulin. Astaxanthin has been shown to protect such cells from the stress associated with high blood sugar, in one study reducing glucose toxicity in diabetic mice (5).
Such oxidative stress isn’t just linked to diabetes – it might also be a factor in kidney disease and other complications that result from diabetes.
In another 2007 study published in Life Sciences, astaxanthin ameliorated insulin resistance in rats (6).
Though it can’t replace insulin injections for diabetics, astaxanthin clearly has benefits in terms of managing blood sugar and the associated functions. The research says astaxanthin has a lot of potential as a full-fledged diabetes treatment if the mechanism can be more extensively researched.
3Astaxanthin can aid in treating cardiovascular disease. In repeated animal trials, astaxanthin was shown to reduce markers of oxidative stress in cardiovascular disease, whether it was administered orally or intravenously (7).
In addition, astaxanthin may have a positive benefit on atherosclerosis in particular. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which the arteries get narrower and less flexible as plaque builds up on the inside of the artery walls. The plaque can be made from cholesterol, fat, calcium and other diet-based materials. This can lead to serious issues like heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke (8).
Though the exact mechanism isn’t known, some studies suggest astaxanthin can help prevent atherosclerosis from happening in the first place (9).
Whether this is due to its antioxidative effects or something else altogether hasn’t yet been sussed out.
4Astaxanthin may help in treating heart attacks. A 2004 study published in Life Sciences showed that astaxanthin may be able to lessen the damage from the event (10).
According to some other studies, pre-treatment of patients at risk for heart attacks with astaxanthin can help, though no research has yet shown that there are benefits to administering it after the fact (11).
In any case, more research is required.
5As a carotenoid, astaxanthin helps fight overall systemic inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to everything from diabetes to cancer. Scientists are starting to investigate anti-inflammatories as a possible solution to many such complex diseases (12).
In various animal and human studies, astaxanthin has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation while supporting immune response at the same time (13).
While none of these studies point to specific astaxanthin-based therapies, they are all testaments to its role as an anti-inflammatory agent.
6Astaxanthin can help with maintaining healthy vision, even with age. As our eyes age, they start to naturally lose some of their efficacy; sharp edges become blurry, colors stop popping out as much, and dark spots can develop. Though unpleasant, marginal vision loss is a natural result of aging. Astaxanthin, however, may be able to combat it.
A 2008 mice study published in The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, astaxanthin was shown to prevent oxidative damage to the retina (14).
In another study, an astaxanthin-based supplement with several other ingredients was shown to increase tear production and help patients who suffered from dry eye syndrome (15).
It may even help reduce something as simple and cumulative as eye strain. In one study, a supplement containing astaxanthin and some other ingredients like lutein facilitated significant improvement, both in symptoms like blurry vision and other kinds of vision-related stress like tight shoulders and neck strain (16).
7Astaxanthin could help improve athletic endurance and performance. In one 2011 trial, astaxanthin improved performance among endurance cyclists, supplementing the cyclists’ power output (17).
In another animal study, it helped improve swimming endurance in mice (18).
Scientists posit that this might be due to astaxanthin’s relationship with the fatty acids in your body, which may be more available as an energy source when astaxanthin supplements are taken. Astaxanthin was even shown to help reduce exercise-caused muscular and skeletal damage in mice, suggesting it may be able to help with power output as well as recovery (19).
8Astaxanthin may help prevent cancer. As an anti-inflammatory agent, astaxanthin may be able to help stop cancer. A 2015 study even showed that it may be able to help stop pre-existing cancers from multiplying and spreading (20).
Astaxanthin supplementation helped reduce tumor growth in rats in one study, suggesting it may have potential as an inhibitive treatment (21).
These findings don’t necessarily mean that astaxanthin is a currently viable treatment. To be clear, nobody has shown that it has the power to cure cancer. But multiple studies point to this carotenoid as a promising avenue of research for cancer therapies, perhaps in addition to more conventional methods like chemotherapy.
9Astaxanthin can help protect the brain. A 2017 study showed that astaxanthin may help prevent normal, age-related neurodegeneration (22).
In another study from 2012, astaxanthin actually significantly improved cognitive function. In a population of healthy, individuals, those who’d consumed astaxanthin regularly for twelve weeks performed better on a basic, maze-based cognition test (23).
This suggests that astaxanthin has potential not just as an antioxidant that helps prevent a loss of brain function with age, but as a supplement that can actually have a markedly positive effect on the brain.
10Astaxanthin may be beneficial as an anti-stroke treatment. In one 2011 study, it helped protect stroke-prone rats from thrombosis or forming life-threatening blood clots, in their brains’ blood vessels (24).
In another study, it reduced brain injury caused by ischemia, or a lack of blood flow, in rats altogether (25). Though these are only animal trials, they’re both quite promising, and at least point to the necessity of further research, especially in human trials.
11Astaxanthin can help with high blood pressure. Dietary astaxanthin helps with high blood pressure in many different ways, including by modulating nitric oxide and relaxes the blood vessel, thus helping with high blood pressure (26, 27).
12Astaxanthin can help with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Astaxanthin improves insulin sensitivity, liver inflammation, and reduces fatty liver in mice on a high-fat diet. In addition, astaxanthin helps with fatty liver in humans comparing to placebo (28).
13Astaxanthin can help improve the body’s immune response. Astaxanthin enhanced antibody production and decreased immune response in older animals after dietary supplementation (29). Supplementation with 2 mg astaxanthin for 8 weeks enhanced immune response and reduced CRP in young healthy females (30).
1Astaxanthin may cause changes in skin pigmentation. This is one side effect associated with high dosages of lutein and zeaxanthin (31).
Fortunately, the same study also assessed that there was no other major, impairing side effects from regular usage, even over a five-year period. Skin pigmentation on its own isn’t really a harmful side effect. However, if you notice that your skin is yellowing or doesn’t quite look the way it usually does, that may be a sign that you’re taking a little too much astaxanthin — lowering your dosage probably wouldn’t hurt.
2Astaxanthin has been shown to cause the development of eye crystals in certain individuals. In one specific case, a high lutein diet in combination with lutein supplementation produced crystals in the eye of a woman in her sixties. Once she stopped taking lutein as a supplement, the crystals stopped forming (32).
It’s worth noting, however, that this was the result of very high doses of lutein on a daily basis, for years at a time. Furthermore, this kind of side effect may not necessarily extend to astaxanthin.
That said, both side effects listed above seem to be edge cases. Taken in moderation, astaxanthin on a daily basis has not yet been associated with any serious or chronic side effects, so it’s probably safe for general users in good health. If one notices skin pigmentation, it’s probably not harmful, but it may be a sign that you should lower your dosage, if only by a little bit.
The recommended dosage is a few milligrams (2-5mg) daily, taken concurrently with meals. If you notice no side effects after keeping your dosage steady for a few weeks, increasing it could be a viable option, as long as you’re careful and continue to monitor your health for any potential side effects.
Astaxanthin isn’t that well researched yet, so information on what the correct dosage is hasn’t been fully formed by scientific consensus yet. However, as with any supplement, it’s best to start with a very small amount, added carefully and gradually into your diet.
In the absence of more concrete guidelines, it’s not recommended to consume any more than 10mg of astaxanthin.
What is a carotenoid? Carotenoids are plant pigments. They’re what causes many of the bright colors you see in fruits and vegetables, such as carrots. Carotenoids aren’t just important for plants – they also play a big role in the human body by acting as antioxidants. This means they can help combat inflammation that manifests in a whole range of different causes, from cancer to rheumatoid arthritis to diabetes.
Are astaxanthin and lutein the same? No, though both supplements are carotenoids. They’re both found in plants, and they both help treat chronic diseases. But while astaxanthin is a deep red pigment found in microalgae, lutein is found in everyday vegetables like corn, kale, and spinach. While they have many of the same or similar benefits, they’re also slightly different in that respect as well. Astaxanthin might have more benefits for your skin than lutein, while lutein is more widely-touted as a good supplement for preventing the degeneration of eyesight.
Where does astaxanthin come from? Astaxanthin is a red pigment found naturally in microalgae. It also colors a lot of seafood and pink colored fish. If you’ve ever marveled at a particularly vivid orange shrimp or fillet of salmon, you can thank astaxanthin (33).
Can I take astaxanthin if I’m pregnant? While carotenoids have been well-researched for their effects on the elderly, there’s not as much literature out there on how they affect pregnant mothers and newborns. Some studies suggest that they may help prevent disorders which affect preterm infants, but we’d still urge caution if you’re considering taking astaxanthin while pregnant until the side effects are more thoroughly researched (34).
Is astaxanthin safe? As stated above, there aren’t any particularly dangerous side effects associated with astaxanthin usage. Like many carotenoids, it probably comes with relatively little danger. That said, astaxanthin is still being researched and there’s currently a gap to fill in regards to possible side effects and drug interactions. For that reason, pregnant women and those who are already going through other kinds of treatment may want to hold off on astaxanthin until they can have a conversation with their physician.
Can astaxanthin replace my heart or diabetes medication? Unfortunately, no. While it’s currently being researched as a therapy for both heart disease and diabetes, at the current moment it’s just a dietary supplement, not a full-fledged treatment. That’s why even though astaxanthin could very well help, you should continue to take your normal medications even if you start supplementing them with astaxanthin. Furthermore, talking to your doctor about supplements is probably a good idea before starting. Your physician should know if there’s anything that could possibly interfere with your ongoing treatment.
Can I take astaxanthin with my other supplements? As of now, there are no reported negative interactions with other supplements. As always, caution should still be exercised. Furthermore, if you’re already taking another carotenoid, such as lutein, it may be unnecessary or excessive to take astaxanthin at the same time.
When is the best time to take my astaxanthin supplements? Like with many other supplements, there’s no specific guideline for astaxanthin. As long as you’re taking it on a daily basis, sufficient levels should build up in a matter of weeks. That said, taking it during or after meals, as with other supplements, is probably a safe and effective choice.
How long can I take astaxanthin for? Astaxanthin has been used safely by itself in doses of 4 to 40 mg daily for up to 12 weeks, or 12 mg daily for 6 months.
What is the best natural source of astaxanthin? The natural sources of astaxanthin are algae, yeast, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp and crayfish.
Is astaxanthin good for joint pain? Astaxanthin is a natural and potent anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. Astaxanthin is an uprising joint super nutrient, great for relieving pain in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Astaxanthin can reduce inflammation and limit the further breakdown of cartilage.
Does astaxanthin lighten skin? Astaxanthin also helps lighten dark spots. It is a potent protection against ultraviolet radiation, assisting the skin in protecting itself against damage by the sun.
Is astaxanthin better than CoQ10? Astaxanthin is in a class of its own when it comes to antioxidant coverage because it filters into every cell of the body. This study found astaxanthin was 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, 800 times stronger than CoQ10, 550 times stronger than green tea catechins and 75 times stronger than alpha lipoic acid.
Is astaxanthin FDA approved? Yes, it is approved. FDA has previously allowed astaxanthin to be used at levels up to 7.8mg per daily serving. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued permission for an increase in the daily serving for astaxanthin from 7.8 mg to 12 mg, following a successful petition by Cyanotech.
There are many carotenoids out there, but astaxanthin, in particular, seems to have a whole host of potential benefits. It may help with chronic inflammatory conditions, like cancer or diabetes, but it may also just help you protect your vision or your cognitive function as you age. Furthermore, it’s a valuable supplement for those who suffer from skin conditions in particular. It can even give you a boost the next time you decide to go for a particularly challenging workout.
What’s even better is that these many benefits come with very few reported side effects. What possible side effects there are, like a change in skin pigmentation, seem possible only at relatively high doses. That said, this red-hued, carotenoid powerhouse is only just beginning to get started. There’s still a lot of room for further research into exactly how astaxanthin combats inflammation, how it can be used as a potential anti-cancer treatment, and whether or not there are any side effects associated with heavy, long-term use.