Astaxanthin is a red pigment found in fish, shrimp, and some microalgae. It is a potent antioxidant that has been proven to help with cardiovascular risks, protect the brain, and modulation the immune system. Read this post to learn more about the proven benefits of astaxanthin and how it can help optimize your health.

What is Astaxanthin?

Astaxanthin (ASTA) is a naturally-occurring orange-red pigment carotenoid found in algae, shrimp, lobster, crab, and salmon.

Astaxanthin is made by the green microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis, Chlorella zofingiensis, Chlorococcum, and yeast Phaffia rhodozyma [1].

The green algae H. pluvialis makes high amounts of astaxanthin when its condition is unfavorable, including high UV exposure, which is why astaxanthin has strong antioxidative properties [2].

Animals that eat these microalgae or yeast then absorb astaxanthin into their bodies, which is why wild shrimp, lobster, crab, and salmon have bright red-orange colors [3].

Wild salmon can have up to 26 – 38 mg of astaxanthin per kg of body weight, whereas farmed Atlantic salmons typically have 6 – 8 mg of astaxanthin per kg of body weight [1].

Astaxanthin is not converted to vitamin A in the human body.

Like other carotenoids, astaxanthin has self-limited absorption orally and no toxicity was detected when tested at very high doses (up to 465 mg/kg/day for male and 557 mg/kg/day for female) in rats [4, 5].

However, overconsumption of astaxanthin can turn animal skin and tissues red, which is why astaxanthin is used in feed for farmed seafood and fish [3].

Pharmacokinetics

Astaxanthin is a highly fat-soluble substance, which means that it is better absorbed when consumed with fat [6].

When astaxanthin is ingested, it is digested and absorbed in a similar manner as fat, which means it is assembled into chylomicrons. The chylomicrons are absorbed into lymph circulation before remnants of astaxanthin are digested by lipoprotein lipases. Astaxanthin is then assimilated into lipoprotein particles to get transported into tissues [7].

This means astaxanthin can more readily affect the metabolism of fat and cholesterol, especially when it relates to cardiovascular health.

Ingested astaxanthin is metabolized by first-pass liver metabolism primarily by liver CYP450 in rats [8].

Astaxanthin is found in all tissues studied, except for the heart [8].

Benefits

As an antioxidant, astaxanthin is 10 times stronger than zeaxanthin, lutein and beta-carotene, and 100 times stronger than vitamin E [9, 10].

The structure of astaxanthin allows it to enter cell membranes or stay outside of cell membranes, allowing it to protect cell membranes from both inside and outside the cell [11].

1) Mitigates Oxidative Effects of Diabetes

Generally, high blood sugar causes high levels of oxidative stress in diabetic patients. Astaxanthin can protect pancreatic β-cells (which produce insulin) from oxidative stress caused by high blood sugar [12].

It is also a good agent in the recovery of lymph cell dysfunctions associated with diabetic rats [13].

It also prevents diabetic nerve disorder by reduction of oxidative stress and renal cell damage [14].

The carotenoid showed a protective effect on high glucose-induced oxidative stress, inflammation, and apoptosis in proximal tubular epithelial cells [15].

Astaxanthin improves insulin sensitivity in rats and mice on high fat and high fructose diets [16, 17].

2) Reduces Risks of Cardiovascular Disease

Astaxanthin can reduce LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol and adiponectin, and prevent lipid oxidation in the blood vessels [18, 19, 20, 21].

In a mouse model, astaxanthin delays and reduces blood clotting in the blood vessels, and increases blood flow [22].

3) Reduces Heart Damage from Heart Attacks

In rat, rabbit, and dog heart attack models, pre-treatment of the animals with synthetic astaxanthin reduces the damage on the heart that was caused by the heart attacks in a dose-dependent manner [23, 24, 25].

4) Helps with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

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 [26].

5) Inhibits Cancer

In rats and mice with chemical-induced oral, bladder, colon, and breast cancers, astaxanthin inhibits tumor formation and growth [27, 28, 29, 30].

Astaxanthin inhibits chemical-induced fibrosarcoma by activating the anti-cancer immune system [31].

In cell cultures, astaxanthin inhibits the growth of colon, fibrosarcoma, breast, and prostate cancer cells and embryonic fibroblasts, with activation of tumor-suppressor genes such as p53 [14].

6) Modulates the Immune Responses

Combined astaxanthin and fish oil supplementation modulate lymphocyte function in rats [32].

Astaxanthin enhanced antibody production and decreased immune response in older animals after dietary supplementation [14].

Supplementation with 2 mg astaxanthin for 8 weeks enhanced immune response and reduced CRP in young healthy females [33].

7) Protects the Stomach Lining from H. pylori and Ulcers

Mice pretreated with astaxanthin for 1 hour before ulcer induction had significantly decreased gastric ulcers. These results suggest that astaxanthin has antioxidant properties and exerts a protective effect against ulcer formation in murine models [34].

Cell extracts of Haematococcus and Chlorococcum significantly reduced the number of H. pylori (a bacteria that causes stomach ulcer) and stomach inflammation in H. pylori-infected mice [35, 36].

8) Protects Against UV Damage

It can prevent skin thickening and reduce collagen reduction against UV-induced skin damage [37, 38].

Astaxanthin protects against UVA-induced skin photoaging such as sagging and wrinkles [39].

9) Reduces Exercise Fatigue

Antioxidant effects of astaxanthin can significantly delay exhaustion in a forced swimming test in rats [40].

10) Protects the Mitochondria from Oxidative Stress

Astaxanthin is effective at improving mitochondrial function by protecting the mitochondria from oxidative stress [41].

Dietary astaxanthin improves mitochondrial function in white blood cells of dogs, most likely by alleviating oxidative damage to DNA and proteins [42].

11) Reduces Brain Damages from Stroke

Pre-treatment with high dose (80 mg/kg) astaxanthin significantly reduced brain damage from a stroke in rats [43].

Mice pre-treated with astaxanthin performs better than mice that were not treated with astaxanthin in a learning performance test after a stroke [44].

12) Helps Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury

Astaxanthin reduces brain swelling after a traumatic brain injury in mice [45].

Astaxanthin appears to help speed physical recovery from a traumatic brain injury in mice, albeit with no effects on cognitive function [46].

13) May Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease

In a cell model, astaxanthin protects neuronal cells from beta-amyloid-induced toxicity, suggesting that astaxanthin may protect against Alzheimer’s Disease [47].

Astaxanthin protects hippocampal neurons against the effects of beta-amyloid toxicity [48].

Astaxanthin combats brain aging in rats by increasing BDNF levels [49].

The effects of astaxanthin on the aging brain differences between genders in rats [50].

14) May Protect Against and Treat Parkinson’s Disease

Due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and mitochondrial protective effects, astaxanthin has been proposed as a potential therapeutic agent for Parkinson’s Disease [51].

15) Protects the Eyes from Bacterial Inflammation

Astaxanthin protects the rat eyes inflamed by bacterial toxins by reducing inflammation [52, 53].

16) Helps 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 [54].

Side Effects & Dosage

Side Effects

Currently, there is no direct evidence demonstrating the harm of using astaxanthin in humans or animals.

Dosage

Beneficial results have been observed at 2 mg in humans with dose-dependent effects at 8 mg [33].

Currently, no toxicity is found at very high doses (over 500 mg/kg of body weight) in mice [4, 5].

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