Astaxanthin, a substance in the carotenoid family, provides the pink color of salmon and many other sea creatures. Like other carotenoids, astaxanthin is a strong antioxidant. It has been advocated for treating or preventing a number of health conditions, but as yet none of these proposed uses is supported by meaningful scientific evidence.
Astaxanthin is not an essential nutrient. However, it is possible that increased intake of astaxanthin could provide health benefits.
Salmon is an excellent source of astaxanthin. A typical serving of Atlantic salmon provides approximately 1 mg of astaxanthin, while a similar serving of Pacific salmon might provide 4-5 mg. Krill oil is another good food source of astaxanthin.
When consistently exposed to high levels of ultraviolet light, the algae Haematococcus pluvialis produces very large quantities of astaxanthin, presumably to protect itself from injury. Haematococcus raised in this way is used as a commercial source of astaxanthin.
In studies, astaxanthin has been given in doses ranging from 4-16 mg daily.
Some evidence suggests that astaxanthin is better absorbed when consumed in an oily base.1
Many health claims for astaxanthin are based on the fact that it is a strong antioxidant. However, in recent years, scientific confidence in the medical benefits of antioxidants has waned; study after gigantic study of antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene have failed to find the hoped-for benefits.
Other proposed uses of astaxanthin have at least marginal supporting evidence from double-blind studies. In one such study, 30 men with infertility were given either placebo or 16 mg of astaxanthin daily, for a period three months.2 The results showed possible small benefits on laboratory measures of fertility.
Another study tested astaxanthin combined with the carotenoid lutein as a possible supplement for enhancing recovery from exercise. In this small trial, 20 body-builders were given either placebo or the carotenoid combination for three weeks.3 Participants then engaged in intense exercise. The results failed to show that use of the astaxanthin/lutein combination reduced muscle soreness or signs of muscle injury.
Weak evidence additionally hints that astaxanthin might reduce blood pressure, help prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol, protect the lens of the eye against cataracts, protect the stomach against ulcers, and reduce risk of macular degeneration.4-6,8 However, for none of these uses (or any other) can astaxanthin yet be remotely called a proven treatment.
As a widely consumed nutritional substance, astaxanthin is expected to have a low order of toxicity. In human studies, no serious adverse effects have been seen.2,3,7 Maximum safe doses in pregnant or nursing women, young children, or individuals with severe liver or kidney disease have not been determined.
1. Mercke Odeberg J, Lignell A, et al. Oral bioavailability of the antioxidant astaxanthin in humans is enhanced by incorporation of lipid based formulations. Eur J Pharm Sci. 2003;19:299-304.
2. Comhaire FH, El Garem Y, Mahmoud A, et al. Combined conventional/antioxidant "Astaxanthin" treatment for male infertility: a double blind, randomized trial. Asian J Androl. 2005;7:257-62.
3. Bloomer RJ, Fry A, Schilling B, et al. Astaxanthin supplementation does not attenuate muscle injury following eccentric exercise in resistance-trained men. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005;15:401-412.
4. Wu TH, Liao JH, Hou WC, et al. Astaxanthin protects against oxidative stress and calcium-induced porcine lens protein degradation. J Agric Food Chem. 2006;54:2418-2423.
5. Hussein G, Goto H, Oda S, et al. Antihypertensive potential and mechanism of action of astaxanthin: III. Antioxidant and histopathological effects in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Biol Pharm Bull. 2006;29:684-688.
6. Higuera-Ciapara I, Felix-Valenzuela L, Goycoolea FM. Astaxanthin: a review of its chemistry and applications. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46:185-196.
7. Spiller GA, Dewell A. Safety of an astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis algal extract: a randomized clinical trial. J Med Food. 2003;6:51-56.
8. Iwamoto T, Hosoda K, Hirano R et al. Inhibition of low-density lipoprotein oxidation by astaxanthin. J Atheroscler Thromb. 2001;7:216-222.
9. Andersen LP, Holck S, Kupcinskas L, et al. Gastric inflammatory markers and interleukins in patients with functional dyspepsia treated with astaxanthin. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2007 May 23. [Epub ahead of print]
10. 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 May 6
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015