Image by Nadine Doerlé from Pixabay

Astaxanthin is the carotenoid that gives marine animals such as crustaceans and salmon their reddish hue. They acquire it by eating the algae Haematococcus pluvialis, and the yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous. 

Like many naturally occurring herbal compounds, astaxanthin has some impressive health characteristics. 

Astaxanthin: A Powerful Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory

Most herbal compounds I’ve researched, particularly the brightly colored ones, tend to be both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. This is because these properties tend to go hand in hand. 

Astaxanthin is no exception — it’s a very strong antioxidant—some sources said orders of magnitude above even Vitamin C. It’s also been demonstrated to be a powerful anti-inflammatory as well.

Many of its other more specific health benefits seem to stem from these two properties. 

Astaxanthin for Brain Health

Even though the brain only comprises 2% of the body’s weight, it consumes 20% of its oxygen. Oxygen gets turned into ATP via the mitochondria. This means that even if those mitochondria are perfectly healthy, since some 4-5% of it still leaks out, lots of free radicals are produced too. And that means a very high demand for antioxidants. 

This is likely why astaxanthin has been shown to be neuroprotective, and why after 12 weeks, this study showed significant cognitive improvement from supplementation with it. 

Astaxanthin has also been shown to support formation of new brain cells and enhance spatial memory in this animal study. 

Astaxanthin for Heart Health

Oxidative stress plays a very big role in cardiovascular damage as well. This study shows that the antioxidant activity of astaxanthin protects the endothelium from damage from lipid peroxidation (fats that have turned into free radicals). 

This is probably why this review suggested that astaxanthin can protect against the plaque formation of atherosclerosis. 

Astaxanthin for Diabetes

Excess glucose causes endothelial damage just like lipid peroxidation can—so there is also a role in protecting vasculature from this type of oxidative stressor as well. 

Oxidative stress from excess glucose can also cause kidney damage, and so astaxanthin has been shown to help with renal protection in diabetics. 

Meanwhile, antioxidant support from astaxanthin actually improves insulin sensitivity too, and helps to preserve the function of the beta cells, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. 

Astaxanthin for Glowing Skin

Astaxanthin, as one of the carotenoids, has been suggested as a “natural sunscreen,” protecting against UV damage. It does this by concentrating in our skin (much the way it does in the scales and shells of marine animals) and acting as a barrier. 

Because it accumulates in the skin, it’s also been studied for anti-aging properties, and has been shown to improve wrinkles, texture, and skin moisture. 

It’s even been shown to be helpful for atopic dermatitis in animal models.

Astaxanthin for Exercise Endurance 

Oxidative stress occurs as an unavoidable part of normal life, just from the act of converting food and oxygen into energy (via your mitochondria). Healthy mitochondria have very little “leakage” into the surrounding cell, but at least 4-5% of the oxygen that goes in does leak out, turning into free radicals like hydroxyl (OH-), superoxide anion (O2-), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), hypochlorite (OCI-), and peroxynitrite (ONOO-) free radicals. An increased demand for energy unavoidably increases the leakage of these free radicals. In this way, exercise is “good” oxidative stress. It’s contained, and because it ultimately helps to maintain the balance in the mitochondria between energy coming in and energy output, the net effect is definitely a win.

That said, because exercise creates more free radicals, it makes sense that antioxidant support should help to optimize function. This study among competitive cyclists found just that: astaxanthin improved cycling time. (The same should be true of other antioxidants as well.) 

Astaxanthin for Male Fertility

The act of fertilization of an egg requires an enormous amount of energy (it’s kind of a competitive sport on a micro scale!)—so not surprisingly, there is a bit role for antioxidants in fertility, too.  

This study shows that astaxanthin does improve sperm motility and enhanced fertilization and pregnancy rates. 

The Upshot

The good news is, whole, unprocessed food is chock-full of great antioxidant sources —another excellent reason to eat real food!

If you like (and are not allergic to) crustaceans and red colored fish such as salmon and red trout, they’re a good source of astaxanthin—just be sure you get your fish and shellfish wild caught, not farmed, and not from the Atlantic Ocean (as the heavy metals tend to be higher there and in farmed seafood). 

You can also take astaxanthin in supplement form. Here is a good, absorbable option.