Ingredient Type: Metabolite
Also Known As: Astaxanthine, Dihydroxy-3,3' dioxo-4,4' beta-carotene
Astaxanthin is commonly known as the red, lipid-soluble pigment that is found to give the reddish or pink color to certain fish (salmon, trout, bream) as well as other varieties of seafood (shrimp, crab, lobster, crayfish) and vegetables (tomatoes). It is considered part of the group of chemicals compounds known as keto-carotenoids, which have the function of general protection as well as to absorb light for photosynthetic use. Astaxanthin is naturally occurring in rainwater microalgae, the yeast fungus Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous, artic shrimp, and Krill (13).
According to sources, Richard Kuhn identified and isolated astaxanthin from lobster while researching the banks of the Neckar River in Germany in 1938. Astaxanthin was considered one of the world’s first researched carotenoids (1).
Historically, astaxanthin has been used to help patients suffering from inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis, to support cholesterol imbalances, blood pressure issues, as well as a variety of other inflammatory-mediated diseases.
WHAT DOES SCIENCE TELL US?
Astaxanthin Might Reduce Inflammation & Oxidative Stress:
“Current studies involving astaxanthin have been noted to not only modulate the immune response, but it was also recognized to inhibit cancer cell growth, reduce bacterial loads and GI inflammation as well as protect against UVA-induced oxidative stress in vitro and rodent models.” This study aimed to test the action of supplemented astaxanthin in relation to the immune response in healthy, young female human participants. The duration of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was for eight weeks. Participants received either 0, 2, or 8 mg of astaxanthin orally. Biomarkers reflecting immune function were measured on weeks 0, 4, and 8, along with a performed tuberculin test on week 8. According to the results, supplementation with astaxanthin was noted to stimulate mitogen-induced lymphoproliferation, increased natural killer cell cytotoxic activity, and increased total T & B-cell subpopulations. Subjects fed 2 mg of astaxanthin also were noted to have higher tuberculin responses vs. the non-supplement subjects. From this information, it was concluded that supplemental astaxanthin can decrease DNA damage biomarkers while enhancing the immune response in human subjects. However, more studies are required for more extended periods testing a larger population size (4).
In this study, the ability of B-Carotene, lutein, or astaxanthin to protect against UVA-induced oxidative stress was assessed. The tissue studied were rat renal fibroblasts. The following biomarkers were utilized to determine the efficacy of the tested compounds against oxidative stress: antioxidant enzyme catalase, superoxide dismutase, thiobarbituric acid reactive substances. Tissues were exposed to UVA light at a specific dose intensity to the illicit needed testing environment. Although it was noted that the other compounds showed a protective quality against oxidative stress induced by UVA light, astaxanthin was noted to exhibit the most significant protective properties amongst the tested compounds (5).
Another study analyzed the effect of carotenoids on in vitro immunoglobulin production by analysis of peripheral blood mononuclear cells by employing blood samples from adult volunteers and full-term babies. The carotenoid compounds studied were B-Carotene and astaxanthin with and without vitamin A activity. Results were assessed, and it was noted that astaxanthin supplemented subjects had enhanced IgM and IgA production. IgM production was also noted to have increased in cord blood mononuclear cells. The conclusion assessed in this study was that astaxanthin, without the support of vitamin A was able to support the immune system by enhancing the human Ig production in response to T-dependent stimuli (10).
One last study analyzed the antioxidant effects of astaxanthin supplementation on phospholipid hydroperoxide (PLOOH) accumulation in 30 middle-aged and senior subjects. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human trial was conducted for 12-weeks where subjects were supplemented with astaxanthin (6 or 12 mg/day). Upon conclusion of the study, it was noted that PLOOH erythrocyte concentrations were lower in astaxanthin groups vs. in the placebo group. In the plasma, levels were noted to be slightly lower upon treatment with astaxanthin. The results suggest that astaxanthin supplementation improves erythrocyte antioxidant status, and therefore may be helpful in cognitive-related decline, i.e., dementia (11).
Astaxanthin Possibly Supports Cardiovascular Health:
Astaxanthin is known to have anti-inflammatory qualities and, therefore, has been studied to determine the potential of it as a therapeutic agent in atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. At this time, the effects of astaxanthin on oxidative stress and inflammation have only been assessed in a small number of studies. This analysis did, however, gather that amongst the studies, there have been no adverse events, and the assessed biomarkers associated with oxidative stress and inflammation have supportive reductions post astaxanthin administration. Currently, from this review, there have been studies on multiple non-human species using an ischemia-reperfusion myocardial model, which demonstrated that astaxanthin was able to protect the myocardium when administered orally or intravenously prior to and induced ischaemic event. Further human studies are warranted to determine the efficacy of astaxanthin administration before and following a cardiovascular event (2,7).
Cardiovascular disease is often associated with oxidative stress, inflammation, along with other environmental or genetic factors. Such elevated biomarkers can lead to endothelial dysfunction, the initiation, and progression of atherosclerosis, irreversible damage from ischemic reperfusion or the presence of arrhythmias. According to current research, although there is a gradual recognition of the association between oxidative stress and cardiovascular disease, there is little knowledge of any therapeutic interventions to mediate the CVD. As is already known, the results from multiple species support the antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties of astaxanthin. It is recognized that this compound is an appropriate candidate to act as a therapeutic agent for cardiovascular oxidative stress and inflammation (3).
Astaxanthin Possibly Supports Healthy Skin:
In this recent analysis, two clinical studies were performed, one open-label, non-controlled study involved 30 healthy female subjects for eight weeks, which assessed the effects of oral supplementation and topical application of astaxanthin on skin wrinkle, age spots, skin elasticity, skin texture, skin moisture, and corneocyte condition. The other randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study involved 36 healthy male subjects for six weeks, which assessed crow’s feet wrinkle and elasticity and trans-epidermal water loss. Upon assessment of the results from both clinical trials, it was noted that supplementation with astaxanthin derived Haematococcus pulvialis has potential to improve skin conditions in all layers (corneocyte layer, epidermis, basal layer, and dermis) with a combination of oral and topical administration; while also showing promising effects on the sebum oil level and skin moisture content. It was concluded that supplementation with astaxanthin derived Haematococcus pulvialis has the potential to improve skin conditions of both males and females (12).
Astaxanthin Possibly Supports Healthy Cell Growth:
The objective of this study was to see its effect on cancer cell communication via analysis of gap junctions. Gap junctions are considered specialized intercellular connections/tunnels between various animal and human cells. These tunnels directly connect the cytoplasm of two cells, thus allowing for various molecules, nutrients, ions, and electrical impulses to propagate between cells. The tissues studied were primary human skin fibroblasts that were exposed to carotenoids, both canthaxanthin, and astaxanthin. The gap junctions were then measured with a dye assay to determine communication changes between cells. Following incubation for 24 to 72 hours, canthaxanthin promoted an increase in communication while astaxanthin significantly diminished communication levels. Additionally, the astaxanthin was noted to have decreased the levels of phosphorylation, suggesting astaxanthin’s ability to hinder cancer cell growth and propagation potentially (9).
Astaxanthin Possibly Supports Healthy Cholesterol Levels:
One randomized, placebo-controlled study aimed to assess the effects of astaxanthin on human subjects with hyperlipidemia. Although the majority of studies are on other species have recognized the benefit astaxanthin has on improving dyslipidemia, little has been studied otherwise on human subjects. In this study, participants were either administered a dose of 0, 6, 12, or 18 mg/day for 12 weeks of astaxanthin. The subject groups were randomly from 61 non-obese participants with fasting serum triglyceride of 120-200 mg/dl and without diabetes and hypertension. Upon follow up, although there were no noted changes in BMI and LDL-cholesterol at all dose levels, triglycerides decreased while HDL-cholesterol increased significantly. Additionally, it was noted that serum adiponectin was increased in response to the administered astaxanthin for doses 12 and 18 mg/day. Being the first-ever study assessing astaxanthin consumption on dyslipidemia, promising results pointed to the amelioration of triglycerides and HDL-cholesterol following administration (6).
Being that astaxanthin has limited human studies, there is no current conclusive evidence speaking to astaxanthin being a harmful compound. Subsequently, there are additionally no known harmful drug interactions with astaxanthin. Due to the nature of this compound and the limited available human research, it is still advised to seek your healthcare provider if you are currently with any concerns or conditions that may require a professional to follow your care before and during supplementation with astaxanthin.
One recent case study linked unsafe interactions of astaxanthin with the use of the blood-thinner, warfarin. In this case, a 69-year old Thai woman had a history of ischemic stroke. She was already on warfarin, atenolol, digoxin, aspirin, omeprazole, and simvastatin concomitantly for the past 17 days with no interactions or side-effects. Upon incorporating astaxanthin supplementation, the patient started to experience ecchymosis in her lower extremities, which increased in size as she continued supplementing the astaxanthin. Additionally, her International normalized ratio (INR) climbed to 10.38 from 1.4. In response to the elevated INR, the warfarin and astaxanthin were stopped, and the patient was administered vitamin K. Her INR subsequently returned to 1.43 while the ecchymosis started to subside (8).
It can be gathered that from this study, one must be very careful when supplementing astaxanthin when already on any medications or other supplements for cardiovascular-related conditions, especially anticoagulants. Astaxanthin is a known and powerful antioxidant, and studies are starting to point to the correlation between inflammation, oxidative stress, and resulting propensity for cardiovascular disease. As promising as this may be for potential, alternative treatments, caution must be taken when supplementing astaxanthin concomitantly with anticoagulants such as warfarin, Eliquis, Pradaxa, Savaysa, Xarelto, etc.
Currently, the only known side-effects related to supplementation and consumption of astaxanthin are related to high doses, which potentially may lead to increased bowel movements, GI discomfort, or pain. Additionally, changes in stool color may also be a side-effect of consuming astaxanthin.
- Shampo MA, Kyle RA. Richard Kuhn – Nobel Price for Work on Carotenoids and Vitamins. Mayo Clin Proc. 2000;75(10):990.
- Fassett RG, Coombes JS. Astaxanthin: A Potential Therapeutic Agent in Cardiovascular Disease. Mar. Drugs. 2011;9(3): 447-465.
- Pashkow FJ, Watumull DG, Campbell CL. Astaxanthin: A Novel Potential Treatment for Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Cardiovascular Disease. The American Journal of Card. 2008;101(10): S58-S68.
- Park JS, Chyun JH, Kim YK, Line LL, Chew BP. Astaxanthin Decreased Oxidative Stress and Inflammation and Enhanced Immune Response in Humans. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2010;7(8).
- O’Connor I, O’Brian N. Modulation of UVA Light-Induced Oxidative Stress by B-Carotene, Lutein and Astaxanthin in Cultured Fibroblasts. Journal of Dermatological Science. 1998;16(3): 226-230.
- Yoshida H, Yanai H, Ito K, et. al. Administration of Natural Astaxanthin Increases Serum HDL-cholesterol and Adiponectin in Subjects with Mild Hyperlipidemia. Atherosclerosis. 2010;209(2): 520-523.
- Kishimoto Y, Yoshida H, Kondo K. Potential Anti-Atherosclerotic Properties of Astaxanthin. Marine Drugs. 2016;14(2): 35.
- Santiyanon N, Yeephu S. Interaction Between Warfarin and Astaxanthin: A Case Report. Journal of Cardiology Cases. 2019;19(5): 173-175.
- Daubrawa F, Sies H, Stahl W. Astaxanthin Diminishes Gap Junctional Intercellular Communication in Primary Human Fibroblasts. Journal of Nutrition. 2005;135(11): 2507-2511.
- Jyonouchi H, Sun S, Gross M. Effect of Carotenoids on in vitro Immunoglobulin Production by Human Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells: Astaxanthin, a Carotenoid Without Vitamin A Activity, Enhances in vitro Immunoglobulin Production in Response to a T-Dependent Stimulant and Antigen. Journal of Nutrition and Cancer. 1995;23(3): 171-183.
- Nakagawa K, Kiko T, Miyazawa T, Burdeos GC. Antioxidant Effect of Astaxanthin on Phospholipid Peroxidation in Human Erythrocytes. British Journal of Nutrition. 2011;105(11):1563-1571. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114510005398
- Tominaga K, Nobuko H, Mariko K, Eiji Y. Cosmetic Benefits of Astaxanthin on Human Subjects. Journal of the Polish Biochemical Society & Academy of Sciences. 2012;59(1).
- Astaxanthin. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Astaxanthin. Accessed 25 March 2019.