Astaxanthin is a fat-soluble carotenoid that is produced naturally by microalgae. It is also what gives many marine life, such as salmon, their red, vibrant color. Astaxanthin is also often called the “king of carotenoids” because of its strong antioxidant (reportedly 6000 times stronger than Vitamin C) and anti-inflammatory properties. While most Astaxanthin are obtained through harvesting from microalgae, some are obtained through chemical synthesis.
Mechanism of Action
Astaxanthin is a lipophilic molecule (fat soluble) and possesses decent absorption (reported bioavailability approximately 50%), resulting in a relatively high volume of distribution. This means that it can reach many areas in your body and has a wide range of physiological targets, making it one of the most multi-functional supplements available.
Astaxanthin is a very long molecule that is lipophilic at the center but hydrophilic at the ends. Due to this unique structure, it fits nicely in between the phospholipid bilayer of cell membranes, protecting them from free radical damage.
In the cell, Astaxanthin inhibits inflammatory mediators such as TNF-α, iNOS and certain kinases involved in cell proliferation. In addition, Astaxanthin seems to play a role in the Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor (PPAR) pathway, which affects glucose and lipid homeostasis.
Bone Health: Astaxanthin has been found to promote osteoblastic bone formation while inhibiting osteoclastic bone resorption, thus improving osteoporosis. As a side effect, serum calcium levels may be reduced.
Brain Health: Being lipophilic means Astaxanthin has the potential to reach the brain to exert its effects. There have been studies that demonstrate Astaxanthin may be able to improve brain function including that in Alzheimer’s, and in conditions where there are increased free radicals present.
Cardiovascular Health: Studies have shown that Astaxanthin can increase Hight Density Lipoprotein (HDL) while reducing Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), Total Cholesterol (TC) and Triglycerides (TG). While research is needed to assess effectiveness, it can be a good adjunct to any cholesterol lowering therapy with suitable monitoring. Anti-hypertensive effects have also been reported.
Eye Health: Perhaps one of the more well-known uses of Astaxanthin is its ability to protect the eyes. Studies have reported improved ocular blood flow, visual sharpness and deep vision as well as protection from cataracts and age-related macular degeneration through its antioxidant effects.
Hair Health: Astaxanthin may benefit patients with hair loss secondary to excess Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by inhibiting 5-Alpha Reductase. Furthermore, its anti-inflammatory effects may contribute to hair growth in general.
Immune Health: Astaxanthin has been shown to enhance the body’s immune response through activating certain white blood cells. Thus it might be beneficial during an infection.
Joint Health: Astaxanthin’s ability to reduce inflammation means it can benefit patients with arthritis. It has been reported that Astaxanthin has some COX-2 inhibitory effects, similar to how Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDS) work.
Prostate Health: Astaxanthin has been found to reduce conversion of testosterone to DHT through 5-Alpha Reductase inhibition, which may help with Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH).
Skin Health: Astaxanthin’s antioxidant properties in the cell membrane means it can protect cells from environmental factors at surface level. Studies have shown that it can protect against UV-light induced oxidative stress, while improving skin elasticity and moisturization.
Do not use if: Allergic to Astaxanthin or its source, Haematococcus pluvialis.
Use with caution (consult your physician first): Pregnant or breastfeeding. Children under 18 years old. Any current or history of immune disease (including autoimmune diseases and cancer). Hormonal diseases (including prostate disease). Blood clotting/bleeding diseases. Patients taking blood thinning, blood pressure and blood sugar medications.
Generally very safe.
Uncommon: Diarrhoea, red-colored stools, allergic reaction, hypotension, hypocalcaemia, bleeding, hypoglycaemia, decreased libido.
Usual Dose: 4-12mg daily in one to three doses for most conditions. Higher doses up to 40mg daily have been used (for sports). Take with food/fats to increase absorption.