In May of 2012, I wrote an article for Vitamin Retailer (Natural Practitioner’s sister publication) called “Astaxanthin: An Extraordinary Antioxidant.” Since that time, there have been quite a few new studies published on astaxanthin, so it is time for a research update. Let’s start with a brief background overview about astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin is a pinkish-reddish carotenoid commercially derived from the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis and found in foods such as salmon, trout, shrimp and lobster.1,2 This antioxidant has generated a great deal of excitement due to the ongoing plethora of published research validating a significant number of health benefits. In fact, about two years ago I was invited to participate in a podcast at SupplySide West in Las Vegas, NV, during which I was asked the question, “Which is your favorite nutraceutical to formulate with?” Although I don’t have a “favorite,” per se, I did indicate that astaxanthin may be the most versatile nutraceutical given the amazing number of benefits demonstrated in human clinical research.
Structurally similar to beta-carotene,3 astaxanthin has tremendous antioxidant activity. In fact, research4 has demonstrated that the antioxidant activity of astaxanthin is approximately 10 times stronger than other carotenoids tested (e.g., zeaxanthin, lutein, tunaxanthin, canthaxanthin, beta-carotene) and 100 times greater than those of vitamin E (alphatocopherol). This resulted in one researcher stating that “astaxanthin has the properties of a “super vitamin E.”5 Other research has also demonstrated superior antioxidant activity of astaxanthin over carotenoids and vitamin E.6
Now let’s shift to a partial synopsis of human clinical research previously conducted on astaxanthin. Perhaps the simplest way to do this is by presenting the results in Table 1.
New Human Clinical Research
It is beyond the scope of this article to review all the new research on astaxanthin since 2012. However, I can certainly review a few key human clinical studies on astaxanthin published in the past few years.
A 12-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study26 was conducted to assess the effect of 9 mg/day astaxanthin (AstaZine Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae source astaxanthin from BGG) or placebo on cognitive function in 44 adult subjects experiencing mild forgetfulness. Cognitive function was measured using Cognitrax (i.e. a computerized testing system designed to measure and monitor brain performance) and subjective symptoms. Results were that composite memory score improved significantly in the astaxanthin group compared to the placebo group (P<0.05). There was also a significant decline in the subjective symptom of having trouble remembering people’s name or the names of things during the last week (P=0.048).
In an eight-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel design study,27 28 healthy male and female subjects were supplemented with 12 mg/day astaxanthin (AstaZine from BGG) or placebo to assess effects on psychological mood state. Before Day 0 and again at the end of the eight-week supplementation period, subjects completed a validated Profile of Mood States (POMS) survey to assess global mood state (GM) and related subscales. The results were significant improvements found in the astaxanthin treatment group:
While previous studies have shown astaxanthin supplementation to improve parameters associated with brain health (neuroinflammation and cognition), these data are the first to suggest that natural astaxanthin supplementation reduces negative mood state parameters (depression and fatigue) and improves global mood state and thus supports mental wellness.
Using a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel design, a study28 was conducted with 28 recreational runners supplemented with 12 mg/day astaxanthin (AstaZine from BGG) or a placebo for eight weeks. The purpose of this study was to assess effects on cardiorespiratory function during both higher and lower-intensity exercise. Results were that subjects in the astaxanthin group showed a significant ~10 percent lower average heart rate at submaximal running intensities compared to placebo (P < 0.05). The study researchers suggest that AstaZine may be a beneficial ergogenic aid for long/ultradistance endurance athletes, and are also suggestive of a general “cardiotonic” effect, which should be investigated in non-athletic populations including elderly subjects and those with cardiac complications including post-myocardial infarction, heart failure, statin usage, mitochondrial dysfunction, chronic fatigue and related conditions.
There is additional and very interesting research on astaxanthin I’d like to review, but it is not human research. Rather, the research29 was conducted on Caenorhabditis elegans is a free-living transparent nematode about 1 mm in length. This “worm” is about as primitive an organism that exists. Nonetheless, it shares many of the essential biological characteristics that are central problems of human biology. It is estimated that 60-80 percent of C. elegans genes are homologous to those in humans, allowing scientists to infer a great deal about human biology from C. elegans screens. Furthermore, C.elegans has a short life cycle (three days from egg to reproducing adult), which considerably reduces the amount of time it takes to produce initial results from research, making it a popular, cost-effective choice for pharmaceutical use.
The research was conducted using Chronoscreen, a genetic screening based on C. elegans as a model organism. It is designed to measure effect of treatment with specified nutraceutical formulations on evolutionary conserved regulation of cellular health and aging, by monitoring significant and reproducible changes in chronological lifespan (CLS) effective from cellular to the whole organism level.
In the current research, treatment with astaxanthin (AstaZine from BGG) showed significant anti-aging effects with significant extension of lifespan for the whole C. elegans organism. Maximum improvement of average lifespan was +9.7 percent at a concentration of 100 mg/ml, with a maximum increase in survival of +17 percent at Day 19 and a maximum increase in lifespan of +19 percent. This is a highly significant level of activity observed.
Astaxanthin is an antioxidant carotenoid with versatile applications to health and wellness due to the amazing number of benefits demonstrated in human clinical research. These include benefits for cardiovascular health, muscle endurance, eye fatigue, dyspepsia, skin, fat metabolism, stress and immune function. Furthermore, recent research conducted using astaxanthin (AstaZine from BGG) have demonstrated benefits for cognitive function, mood, cardiorespiratory function and lifespan.
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2 Kobayashi M, Kakizono T, Nishio N, et al. Antioxidant role of astaxanthin in the green alga Haematococcus pluvialis. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 1997;48:351-6.
3 Yuan J-P, Peng J, Yin K, Wang J-H. Potential health-promoting effects of astaxanthin: A high-value carotenoid mostly from microalgae. Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2011;55:150–165.
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7 Miyawaki H, Takahashi J, Tsukahara H, Takehara I. Effects of astaxanthin on human blood rheology. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2008 Sep;43(2):69-74.
8 Yoshida H, Yanai H, Ito K, Tomono Y, Koikeda T, Tsukahara H, Tada N. Administration of natural astaxanthin increases serum HDL-cholesterol and adiponectin in subjects with mild hyperlipidemia. Atherosclerosis. 2010 Apr;209(2):520-3.
9 Yoshida H, Yanai H, Ito K, Tomono Y, Koikeda T, Tsukahara H, Tada N. Administration of natural astaxanthin increases serum HDL-cholesterol and adiponectin in subjects with mild hyperlipidemia. Atherosclerosis. 2010 Apr;209(2):520-3.
10 Karppi J, Rissanen TH, Nyyssönen K, Kaikkonen J, Olsson AG, Voutilainen S, Salonen JT. Effects of astaxanthin supplementation on lipid peroxidation. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2007 Jan;77(1):3-11.
11 Malmsten C and Lignell A. Dietary Supplementation with astaxanthin-rich algal meal improves strength endurance –A Double Blind Placebo Controlled Study on Male Students. Carotenoid Science. 2008; 13:20-22.
12 Keisuke S, Hiroshi Y, Kazuhiro A, Natsue K, Akito A, Kesatiki K, Masahiro Y. Sports Performance Benefits from Taking Natural Astaxanthin Characterized by Visual Acuity and Muscle Fatigue Improvement in Humans. Journal of Clinical Therapeutics & Medicines. 2002;18(9):1085-1100.
13 Fukamauchi M. The Supplementation Effects of Astaxanthin with Aerobic Exercise in Healthy Adult Women. Leon Fitness Club, Suzuka Kaisei Hospital, 112-1 Koucho, Suzuka, Mie 513-0836, Japan.
14 Tsuneto I, Akihiko T. Effects of Astaxanthin on Eyestrain Induced by Accommodative Dysfunction. Journal of the Eye. 2006;23(6): 829-834.
15 Nagaki Y, Hayasaka S, Yamada T, et al. Effects of astaxanthin on accommodation, critical flicker fusion, and pattern visual evoked potential in visual display terminal workers. Journal of Traditional Medicines. 2002;19(5):170-173.
16 Yasunori N, Miharu M, Hiroki T, Shigeaki O. The supplementation effect of Astaxanthin on Accommodation and Asthenopia. Journal of Clinical Therapeutics & Medicines. 2006; 22(1):41-54.
17 Kenji S, Kazuhiro O, Takuya N, et al. Effect of Astaxanthin on Accommodation and Asthenopia-Efficacy-Identification Study in Healthy Volunteers. Journal of Clinical Therapeutics & Medicines. 2005;21(6):637-650.
18 Akira N, Ryoko I, Yashhiro O, et al. Changes in visual function following peroral astaxanthin. Japanese Journal of Clinical Ophthalmology. 2004;58(6):1051-1054.
19 Keisuke S, Hiroshi Y, Kazuhiro A, et al. Sports Performance Benefits from Taking Natural Astaxanthin Characterized by Visual Acuity and Muscle Fatigue Improvement in Humans. Journal of Clinical Therapeutics & Medicines. 2002;18(9):1085-1100.
20 Kupcinskas L, Lafolie P, Lignell A, et al. Efficacy of the natural antioxidant astaxanthin in the treatment of functional dyspepsia in patients with or without Helicobacter pylori infection: A prospective, randomized, double blind, and placebo-controlled study. Phytomedicine. 2008 Jun;15(6-7):391-9.
21 Yamashita E. The Effects of a Dietary Supplement Containing Astaxanthin on Skin Condition. Carotenoid Science. 2006;10:91-95.
22 Tominaga K, Hongo N, Fujishita M. Protective effects of astaxanthin on skin deterioration. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2017 Jul;61(1):33-39.
23 Yamashita E. Chapter 39: A New Approach to Body Fat Reduction by Astaxanthin During Exercise. Anti-Aging Therapeutics. 2010;12:345-359.
24 Iwabayashi M, Fujioka N, Nomoto K, et al. Efficacy and safety of eight-week treatment with astaxanthin in individuals screened for increased oxidative stress burden. Anti-Aging Medicine. 2009;6(4):15-21.
25 Park JS, Chyun JH, Kim YK, Line LL, Chew BP. Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010 Mar 5;7:18.
26 Sekikawa T, Kizawa Y, Li Y, Takara T. Cognitive function improvement with astaxanthin: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Study. Pharmacosmetrics. 2019; 97(1/2):1-13.
27 Talbott S, Hantla D, Capelli B, et al. Astaxanthin Supplementation Reduces Depression and Fatigue in Healthy Subjects. EC Nutrition. 2019; 14.3: 239-246.
28 Talbott S, Capelli B, Hantla D, et al. Effect of Astaxanthin Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Function in Runners. EC Nutrition. 2016. 11.6: 253-259.
29 Internal Report: AlgalHealth product assessment. January 2018. Unpublished.
Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, the dean of academics for Huntington College of Health Sciences, is a nutritionist, herbalist, writer and educator. For more than 30 years he has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines and peer-reviewed publications. He can be reached at email@example.com.