By Rachael Link, MS, RD
You may have heard of beta-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin and lutein, but have you heard of astaxanthin? As one of the most potent carotenoids and antioxidants found in nature, astaxanthin benefits many aspects of health, from diminishing wrinkles to upgrading your workout routine.
This powerful pigment provides certain types of seafood a red-orange hue and has been shown to support healthy vision, promote brain and heart health, and even increase male fertility. Best of all, it’s easy to incorporate in your diet and can be easily found in a wide range of nutritious whole food sources. So let’s examine more about astaxanthin and learn how to get the most astaxanthin benefits you can from your diet.
What Is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin is a type of carotenoid, which is a natural pigment found in a variety of foods. In particular, this beneficial pigment lends its vibrant red-orange color to foods like krill, algae, salmon and lobster. It can also be found in supplement form and is also approved for use as a food coloring in animal and fish feed. (1)
Often dubbed the “king of carotenoids,” research shows that astaxanthin is one of the most powerful antioxidants in nature. In fact, its ability to fight free radicals has been shown to be 6,000 times higher than vitamin C, 550 times higher than vitamin E and 40 times higher than beta-carotene. (2)
In the body, its antioxidant properties are believed to help protect against certain types of chronic disease, reverse skin aging and alleviate inflammation. Although studies in humans are limited, current research suggests that astaxanthin benefits brain and heart health, endurance and energy levels, and even fertility.
Astaxanthin Benefits and Uses
- Improves Brain Health
- Protects Your Heart
- Keeps Skin Glowing
- Eases Inflammation
- Enhances Your Workout
- Boosts Male Fertility
- Supports Healthy Vision
1. Improves Brain Health
As you get older, the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease continues to increase. These conditions, which are characterized by the progressive loss of neurons in the brain, can lead to symptoms like memory loss, confusion, tremors, agitation and anxiety.
A good amount of emerging research has found that astaxanthin benefits brain health by preserving cognitive function. In one 2016 animal study, for example, supplementation with astaxanthin increased the formation of new brain cells and enhanced spatial memory in mice. (3) A recent review published in GeroScience also noted that the neuroprotective properties of astaxanthin may be due to its ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. (4)
Coconut oil, avocados, walnuts and beets are just a few examples of other brain foods that boost focus and memory.
2. Protects Your Heart
As the leading cause of death, heart disease is a major problem around the world. (5) While there are many potential causes of heart disease, oxidative stress and inflammation are believed to be front and center more often than not.
According to a 2009 review out of Australia, there have been at least eight clinical studies measuring the effects of astaxanthin that have shown that astaxanthin supplementation may lower markers of both inflammation and oxidative stress. (6) Another review published in the journal Marine Drugs suggested that astaxanthin could protect against atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fat and cholesterol in the arteries. (7)
Of course, a healthy diet containing astaxanthin is just one piece of the puzzle. Minimizing your stress levels, getting in plenty of physical activity and cutting out ultra-processed foods are also key factors to keep your heart in tip-top shape.
3. Keeps Skin Glowing
In addition to boosting brain and heart health, astaxanthin benefits skin health as well. Studies show that it can both improve the overall appearance of skin and may also be able to treat certain skin conditions.
One 2009 study showed that combining oral supplementation and topical application of astaxanthin improved wrinkles, age spots, skin texture and moisture content of the skin. (8) Similarly, an animal study published in PLoS One also found that astaxanthin was able to significantly improve symptoms of atopic dermatitis in mice. (9)
For best results, use astaxanthin in combination with a natural skin care routine, including other ingredients like tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar and shea butter.
4. Eases Inflammation
Many studies have found that astaxanthin can reduce markers of inflammation in the body. (11) This could have far-reaching benefits and may even reduce the risk of certain types of chronic disease. In fact, a review out of China even reported that astaxanthin could have anticancer effects and may help prevent the proliferation and spread of cancer cells. (12) However, further research in humans is needed to understand how astaxanthin may affect inflammation and disease in humans.
Other high-antioxidant foods that can help relieve inflammation and ward off disease include turmeric, ginger, dark chocolate and blueberries.
5. Enhances Your Workout
Whether you’re looking to kick up your workout routine or give your energy levels a boost at the gym, an extra dose of astaxanthin may be able to help. Studies show that it may have multiple beneficial effects when it comes to upping exercise performance and preventing injury.
One animal study published in the journal Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, for instance, found that astaxanthin supplementation improved swimming endurance in mice. (13) A study in 2011 published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine also found that astaxanthin improved cycling time trial performance among 21 competitive cyclists. (14) Meanwhile, another animal study in Japan showed that astaxanthin was even able to help prevent exercise-induced muscle damage in mice. (15)
Want to boost your work out even more? Check out these post-workout meals that can help supply your body with the nutrients it needs after hitting the gym.
6. Boosts Male Fertility
It’s estimated that infertility affects about 15 percent of couples worldwide, with male infertility contributing to up to 50 percent of cases. (16) Hormonal imbalances, problems with ejaculation and varicocele, or the swelling of the veins in the scrotum, are all common causes of male infertility.
Promising research has found that astaxanthin benefits male fertility and may help improve sperm quality. A small study conducted at Ghent University Hospital actually found that astaxanthin improved the movement of sperm cells and enhanced the ability of sperm to fertilize eggs. Additionally, men treated with astaxanthin achieved higher rates of pregnancy compared with a placebo group. (17)
A few additional natural remedies for male infertility include minimizing pesticide exposure, scaling back on stress and quitting smoking.
7. Supports Healthy Vision
Eye problems like macular degeneration and cataracts are common concerns associated with aging. These conditions can cause a wide array of symptoms, ranging from blurry vision to complete vision loss.
Fortunately, several studies have found that astaxanthin can improve the health of the eyes and help maintain 20/20 vision. A 2008 animal study showed that astaxanthin helped protect retinal cells against oxidative damage. (18) Another study comprising 48 adults complaining of eye strain found that a supplement containing several nutrients, including astaxanthin, helped reduce symptoms of eye fatigue. (19)
Astaxanthin Foods and Sources
To maximize the absorption and health benefits of astaxanthin, it’s best to get your daily dose by incorporating whole food sources into your diet. Primarily found in seafood, there are a variety of ways for you to get in plenty of this beneficial antioxidant.
A few of the best sources of astaxanthin include:
- Wild-Caught Sockeye Salmon
- Red Trout
- Salmon Roe
- Red Seabream
Don’t eat fish? No problem! Astaxanthin is also available in a natural supplement form. It is carefully extracted from astaxanthin-rich algae and converted into convenient capsule form to help you get in a concentrated dose quickly and easily. Be sure to look for natural astaxanthin rather than the synthetic variety to maximize the health benefits.
If you do eat fish, of course, I recommend wild-caught salmon the most and don’t recommend shrimp and other fish you should never eat since most of it is farm-raised and/or contaminated.
Astaxanthin Side Effects
Although generally safe when consumed in whole food sources, there are some potential side effects associated with supplementation. Note that these symptoms are most likely to occur when taking a high dose of astaxanthin rather than including a serving or two of astaxanthin-rich foods in your diet.
Some of the most commonly reported astaxanthin side effects include:
- Increased skin pigmentation
- Altered hormone levels
- Hair growth
- Reduced calcium blood levels
- Decreased blood pressure
- Changes in sex drive
Astaxanthin Dosage for Optimal Astaxanthin Benefits
At this point, you may be wondering: “How much astaxanthin should I take?”
If you’re getting it from whole food sources, you should try incorporating a few servings of astaxanthin-rich foods into your diet per week. These foods are especially beneficial because most provide an array of important nutrients in addition to astaxanthin, such as vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the American Heart Association actually recommends aiming for at least two servings of fatty fish, like astaxanthin-rich salmon, per week to support better heart health. (20)
In supplement form, it has been studied and proven safe in doses of up to 40 milligrams daily for 12 weeks. (21) However, the recommended dosage is four to eight milligrams, one to three times per day with your meals. Initially, it’s best to start with a low dose and work your way up to assess your tolerance.
Where to Find and How to Use Astaxanthin to Achieve Astaxanthin Benefits
Thanks to its increasing popularity, you can easily find astaxanthin supplements at most pharmacies and health food stores. It is also available through many online retailers if you have trouble finding it in your area.
Be sure to look for a brand that uses natural astaxanthin derived from microalgae rather than synthetic astaxanthin. According to a study published in Nutrafoods, natural astaxanthin is 20 times more effective at eliminating free radicals than synthetic astaxanthin, and according to the researchers, the artificial variety “may not be suitable as a human nutraceutical supplement.” (22)
Popular brands of naturally derived astaxanthin include BioAstin and Puritan’s Pride. It can also be found in some other supplements, such as krill oil and Arctic Ruby Oil.
People begin adding astaxanthin to their diets or taking supplementation for many different reasons. Some start it to boost fertility while others hope to support better brain function. Other potential astaxanthin uses include improving skin health and reducing inflammation.
Ready to get more of this powerful antioxidant in your diet? Here are a few recipes using ingredients that are high in astaxanthin to get you started and help you get all the astaxanthin benefits this carotenoid provides:
- Teriyaki Salmon
- Chilli Lime Steelhead Trout
- Avocado Toast with Poached Egg, Salmon Roe and Seaweed Gomashio
- Salmon Kale Salad
- Maple Balsamic Rainbow Trout
Despite being associated with a long list of health benefits, astaxanthin found itself at the center of controversy just over a decade ago.
Astaxanthin is the pigment that gives seafood like lobster, shrimp and crab that characteristic red hue. It’s also responsible for providing that perfect pink color you might notice when picking out a fresh slab of salmon. Wild salmon obtain this carotenoid naturally from their diet of shrimp and small fish. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, are lacking in this important carotenoid as they follow a diet composed primarily of fish meal and oils, giving them a grayish hue.
To mimic the attractive pink color found in wild salmon, food manufacturers began adding synthetic astaxanthin to the feed of farmed salmon. The only problem? They weren’t disclosing it. Thanks to a 2003 lawsuit, however, grocers are now required to inform consumers when color has been added artificially to salmon.
However, the synthetic astaxanthin may not be quite as stellar for your health. To really take advantage of the health benefits of astaxanthin, opt for wild-caught salmon and avoid salmon that is farmed or artificially colored. Not only is wild salmon naturally higher in this important carotenoid, but it’s also been shown to be safer for consumption and contain fewer contaminants. (23, 24)
The amount of astaxanthin found in whole food sources is generally safe and can be consumed with minimal risk of side effects.
In supplement form, however, it has been associated with some mild adverse symptoms as mentioned above. If you do experience any negative side effects, consider decreasing your dosage or discontinuing use.
Additionally, because research is limited on the safety of astaxanthin supplements in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s best to stay on the safe side and stick to food sources to get your daily dose.
Final Thoughts on Astaxanthin Benefits
- Astaxanthin is a type of carotenoid found naturally in wild-caught salmon, red trout, krill, algae, lobster, crab and shrimp.
- Although studies in humans are limited, there are numerous astaxanthin benefits and side effects to consider. Research shows that astaxanthin may be able to help improve brain, skin and heart health, support better vision, boost male fertility, increase endurance and reduce inflammation.
- Potential side effects that may occur with supplementation include hormone changes, increased skin pigmentation, hair growth and altered levels of calcium.
- Adding astaxanthin into your diet or incorporating a natural supplement can be a powerful way to improve several aspects of health thanks to the axtaxanthin benefits this antioxidant provides.
Read Next: 13 Fish Oil Benefits Proven Beyond Medicine
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