Astaxanthin, a naturally occurring carotenoid pigment, is a powerful antioxidant with a multitude of health and beauty benefits. Known for its distinctive red pigment, astaxanthin reduces free radicals in the body and protects cells against oxidation (1).

Astaxanthin is used for eye support, brain health and immune support. Astaxanthin can also be used as a topical treatment to protect skin against sun damage and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It has also been studied for its potential to treat for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, high cholesterol, and an eye condition called age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (2).

Astaxanthin is closely related to lutein and zeaxanthin, other carotenoids naturally found in the retina (3). Unlike most antioxidants, astaxanthin is unique because it cannot become pro-oxidant and therefore cannot cause harmful, toxic oxidation in the body. In nature, astaxanthin is found in its highest concentration in wild sockeye salmon. Astaxanthin can also be found in algae, crustaceans and other marine wildlife (1).

Benefits of AstaxanthinEye support.The human eye is one of the organs at greatest risk for oxidation, due to constant exposure to air and UV light. Capillaries also have the potential to carry harmful oxidative residues through the blood. Astaxanthin is used to reduce the risk of macular degeneration because it prevents unstable molecules from causing damage to cells. A carotenoid that is similar in structure to beta-carotene, but up to 10 times stronger, astaxanthin can help protect the retina of the eye from oxidative damage caused by sun exposure. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can lead to degradation of retinal membranes and can cause severe damage to photoreceptor cells. Studies of the link between astaxanthin and eye health are just beginning, but findings thus far have been extremely promising (3).

Brain and cognitive support.Astaxanthin has been used to support memory and cognitive function in individuals whose cognitive abilities have become impaired with age. Astaxanthin is unique in that it is one of the only antioxidants with the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier due to its fat-soluble properties. Studies have shown that astaxanthin may counteract oxidative stress in the brain and prevent cell degeneration. Researchers believe astaxanthin may protect the brain against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but continued research is required to validate these claims (4).

Skin protection.Astaxanthin can be found in a multitude of skincare products due to its ability to protect skin against oxidation, block harmful UV rays, combat free radicals, and regenerate skin cells. Topical users of astaxanthin report increased skin moisture, elasticity, smoothness, and a noticeable decrease in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Astaxanthin may also increase skin circulation and is known to have anti-inflammatory properties (5). Astaxanthin can be found in anti-aging facial moisturizers and serums alongside other skin firming ingredients such as collagen.

Other evidence suggests when taken orally, astaxanthin can have anti-aging properties (2). Research suggests astaxanthin supplements may actually be able to reverse oxidative damage to the skin. Oxidative damage results from exposure to the elements (sun, wind, pollution) and exposure to internal free radicals.

Oxidative damage thins naturally occurring collagen in the skin, therefore reducing elasticity and causing wrinkles. In 2006, a study was conducted in which 49 healthy women with an average age of 47 were given 4 mg of astaxanthin per day or placebo. At the end of six weeks, over 50% of the subjects taking astaxanthin self-reported improvements in their skin, as did the dermatologists who assessed them (9).

Astaxanthin supplements can be helpful for men’s skin, too. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted over a six-week period, 36 male subjects demonstrated how 6 mg of astaxanthin a day could reduce the appearance of crow’s feet, increase elasticity, boost the water content of the skin, and increase sebum oil levels at the cheek zone (9). Muscle recovery. Although debated by researchers, astaxanthin is said to be beneficial for active individuals who partake in regular, rigorous exercise. Its anti-inflammatory properties are said to expedite recovery from muscle soreness and fatigue (6).

Immune function.A study conducted by state researchers at Washington State University, Inha University in Korea, and La Haye Labs, Inc. in 2010, found a link between astaxanthin and increased immune function in women. The findings of the study revealed that women who took astaxanthin supplements saw an increase in the activity of their natural killer cells. The researchers stated definitively, “Dietary astaxanthin decreases a DNA damage biomarker and acute phase protein, and enhances immune response in healthy females” (7).

Other uses.Astaxanthin has also been studied with regards to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, high cholesterol, stroke, and cancer. Research is promising, but no definitive claims about the link between astaxanthin and disease prevention and/or treatment have been made as of yet.

How to Take AstaxanthinOne would have to consume over a pound of salmon each day to get the equivalent amount of astaxanthin found in a 4 mg capsule, which is why supplementation is necessary to receive all the positive benefits. One producer of a popular astaxanthin supplement recommends a dose of 4 to 6 mg per day for most individuals. They recommend athletes or individuals who engage in a lot of rigorous physical activity take 12 mg per day. Since astaxanthin is a fat-soluble carotenoid, it is best absorbed when taken with food or a supplement such as fish oil (8). Be wary of synthetic astaxanthin. Look for natural astaxanthin derived from Haematococcus pluvial (9).WF

References 1. Adams, Case. “Astaxanthin Speeds Muscle Recovery for Athletes.”, 4 Jan. 2017. 2. “Astaxanthin Explained.” Nutrex Hawaii. 3. “Astaxanthin For Macular Degeneration And Immune Function.” Natural Eye Care. 4. “Astaxanthin Supplements: How Are They Made?” Nutrex Hawaii. 5. “ASTAXANTHIN: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings.” WebMD 6. Daniells, Stephen. “Study Supports Astaxanthin’s Immune Boosting Power.”, 26 Apr. 2010. 7. Mayachia. “5 Reasons To Add Astaxanthin to Your Skincare Routine.” Maya Chia, 26 July 2016. 8. Mercola, Joseph. “How Does Astaxanthin Improve Brain Function?”, 29 Oct. 2012. 9. Murray, Michael T. The Whole Body Benefits Of Natural Astaxanthin. 2016.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine February 2018