Astaxanthin: A Review of the Literature

The scientific evidence on the uses, contraindications, and interactions of this carotenoid

By Natural Medicine Journal

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Related Terms

  • 3,3'-Dihydroxy-4,4'-diketo-beta-carotene, 3,3'-dihydroxy-beta,beta'-caroten-4,4'-dione, 3R,3'R-astaxanthin, 3R,3'S-astaxanthin, 3S,3'S-astaxanthin, Agrobacterium aurantiacum, alpha-carotene, Antarctic krill, AST, AstaCarox®, AstaFactor® Rejuvenating Formula, AstaFactor® Sports Formula, Astavita AstaREAL®, astaxanthin diester, astaxanthin dilysinate tetrahydrochloride, astaxanthin-amino acid conjugate, astaxanthine, Astaxin®, ASX, Atlantic salmon, basidiomycete yeast, beta-carotene, Botryococcus braunii, canthaxanthin, canthoxanthin, Cardax®, carotenoid, CDX-085, Chlorella zofingiensis, Chlorococcum spp., crayfish, crustaceans, DDA, disodium disuccinate astaxanthin, E161j, Euphausia superba, fatty acids, flamingo, gamma-tocopherol, green microalgae, Haematococcus algae extract, Haematococcus pluvialis, homochiral (3S,3'S)-astaxanthin, krill, lutein, lycopene, meso-3R,3'S isomer, meso-astaxanthin, microalgae, nonesterified astaxanthin, non-provitamin A carotenoid, omega-3 fatty acids, ovoester, Phaffia rhodozyma, propolis, quail, red carotenoid, retinoid, salmon, shrimp, sockeye salmon, storks, terpenoids, tetrahydrochloride dilysine astaxanthin salt, tomato, trout, wild salmon, Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous, xanthophylls.

Background

  • Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring carotenoid found in nature primarily in marine organisms such as microalgae, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crayfish, and crustaceans. The green microalga Haematococcus pluvialis is considered the richest source of astaxanthin. Other microalgae, such as Chlorella zofingiensis, Chlorococcum spp., and Botryococcus braunii, also contain astaxanthin. It may also be found in the feathers of birds, such as quail, flamingo, and storks, as well as in propolis, the resinous substance collected by bees.
  • Carotenoids are well known for their therapeutic benefits in the aging process and various diseases, because of their antioxidant properties. Astaxanthin is a xanthophyll carotenoid like lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin, which do not convert to vitamin A.
  • According to a review, carotenoids are of interest based on their beneficial mechanisms of action for cancers, cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration, and cataract formation. Numerous studies support the use of astaxanthin as a potent antioxidant that may be beneficial in decreasing the risks of certain chronic diseases. It may also reduce oxidative stress in the nervous system, reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Additionally, astaxanthin has well-documented anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating effects.
  • Human trials have been conducted in disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, dyspepsia (with or withoutHelicobacter pylori infection), hyperlipidemia, male infertility, and skin conditions, and regarding exercise capacity, muscle soreness, and transplants. However, results have been mixed, and more research is needed in these areas before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

Scientific Evidence

Uses
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not
always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be
evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Grade*
Antioxidant
Evidence suggests that astaxanthin may have antioxidant activity. Additional research is
needed to confirm these results.
B
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Preliminary research suggests that astaxanthin, as part of a multi-ingredient antioxidant
supplement, may reduce pain and duration associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
However, larger studies are warranted before a conclusion can be drawn.
C
Dyspepsia
Limited evidence suggests that astaxanthin may be beneficial in dyspepsia. Additional
evidence is warranted before a conclusion can be drawn.
C
Exercise capacity
High-quality evidence supporting the use of astaxanthin to improve exercise capacity
is lacking. More studies are warranted before a conclusion can be drawn.
C
High cholesterol
High-quality evidence supporting the use of astaxanthin for high cholesterol is lacking.
More studies are warranted before a conclusion can be drawn.
C
Macular degeneration
Preliminary research suggests that astaxanthin, as part of a multi-ingredient supplement,
may benefit patients with macular degeneration. However, studies evaluating astaxanthin
alone are warranted before a conclusion can be drawn.
C
Male infertility
Limited evidence suggests that astaxanthin may be beneficial in male infertility. Additional
evidence is warranted before a conclusion can be drawn.
C
Menopausal symptoms
According to preliminary research, a combination product containing astaxanthin was found
to reduce climacteric symptoms in women with menopause. Studies evaluating astaxanthin
alone are needed before a conclusion can be drawn.
C
Muscle soreness
Evidence supporting the use of astaxanthin for muscle soreness is lacking. More studies
are warranted before a conclusion can be drawn.
C
Rheumatoid arthritis
According to preliminary research, astaxanthin may be beneficial in alleviating pain and
improving the ability to perform daily activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. However,
larger studies are warranted before a conclusion can be drawn.
C
Skin conditions
According to preliminary research, astaxanthin may help reduce fine lines and wrinkles
and improve skin elasticity and moisture content. More studies are warranted before a
conclusion can be drawn.
C
Transplants
There is an ongoing study being conducted assessing the effects of astaxanthin on vascular
structure, oxidative stress, and inflammation in renal transplant patients. Results of this trial
are pending.
C
 

Tradition/Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
  • Alzheimer's disease, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiviral, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis (prevention), autoimmune diseases, back pain (chronic), benign prostate hyperplasia, cancer, canker sores, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, chronic illness, dementia, depression, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, eye problems, gastrointestinal disorders, hepatitis, hormonal effects, hypertension, immune stimulant, ischemic injury, leukemia, liver disorders, mitochondrial diseases, neuroprotection, obesity, panic disorder, Parkinson's disease, photoprotection, renal failure, stroke, thrombosis, toxicity (iron-chelate; drug-induced cardiotoxicity), vascular disorders.

Dosing

The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.
 
Adults (18 years and older)
  • As an antioxidant, in general, manufacturers recommend taking 4-8 milligrams of astaxanthin by mouth 2-3 times daily with meals. Clinical evidence is lacking.
  • For dyspepsia, 40 milligrams of astaxanthin (AstaCarox®) has been taken by mouth daily in divided doses for four weeks.
  • For exercise capacity, the manufacturers of Xanthin® recommend taking one capsule by mouth (each containing eight milligrams of astaxanthin) before and after physical activity. Four milligrams of astaxanthin has also been taken by mouth in the morning with food.
  • For high cholesterol, 6, 12, and 18 milligrams of astaxanthin (AstaREAL® Astaxanthin) has been taken by mouth daily for 12 weeks. In healthy human subjects, 3.6, 7.2, and 14.4 milligrams has been administered in a beverage daily for two weeks.
  • For male infertility, 16 milligrams of astaxanthin (AstaCarox®) has been taken by mouth daily for three months.
  • For skin conditions, two milligrams of astaxanthin (Astavita AstaREAL® Astaxanthin; each capsule containing two milligrams of astaxanthin derived from Haematococcus plubialis microalgae) has been taken by mouth twice daily with breakfast and dinner for six weeks. According to secondary sources, four milligrams of astaxanthin (BioAstin®) daily for two weeks may prevent sunburn.
  • For transplant (renal), 12 milligrams of astaxanthin (BioAstin®; four milligram tablets taken by mouth three times daily) has been used for one year.
  • Note: Various seafoods contain the astaxanthin pigment. A standard serving portion of four ounces of Atlantic salmon contains from 0.5 to 1.1 milligrams of astaxanthin, whereas the same amount of sockeye salmon may contain 4.5 milligrams of astaxanthin.
Children (under 18 years old)
  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for astaxanthin in children.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
 
Allergies
  • Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to astaxanthin or related carotenoids, including canthaxanthin, or hypersensitivity to an astaxanthin source, such as Haematococcus pluvialis.
Side Effects and Warnings
  • Astaxanthin may affect bleeding. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or those taking drugs that may affect bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
  • Astaxanthin may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
  • Astaxanthin may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood pressure.
  • Use cautiously in patients with taking certain drugs, herbs and supplements metabolized by the liver's cytochrome P450 enzyme system. Taking astaxanthin with these drugs may cause the levels of these drugs to be decreased in the blood and may reduce the intended effects. Patients taking any medications should check the package insert and speak with a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, about possible interactions.
  • Use cautiously in patients with hormone disorders or those using agents that affect hormones, particularly 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors, as astaxanthin may inhibit 5-alpha-reductase, thereby inhibiting the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Theoretically, adverse effects related to 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors, such as decreased libido, gynecomastia, decreased semen quantity during ejaculation, impotence, increased skin pigmentation, hair growth, weight gain, and depressed mood, may occur.
  • Use cautiously in patients with autoimmune disorders or those using immunosuppressants, as astaxanthin has been shown to enhance immune function and theoretically may interfere with immunosuppressive therapy. Although astaxanthin has been found to stimulate the immune system, in clinical research, astaxanthin was found to lower eosinophil levels.
  • Use cautiously in patients with hypocalcemia, osteoporosis, or parathyroid disorders, as astaxanthin may lower serum calcium levels.
  • Use cautiously in patients using beta-carotene, as astaxanthin may alter beta-carotene conversion.
  • Use cautiously in women who are pregnant or might become pregnant, as astaxanthin may inhibit 5-alpha reductase.
  • Astaxanthin may also cause severe abdominal pain and aplastic anemia.
  • Avoid in patients with known allergy or hypersensitivity to astaxanthin or related carotenoids, including canthaxanthin, or in those with hypersensitivity to an astaxanthin source, such as Haematococcus pluvialis.
  • Avoid in patients with known hypersensitivity to 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
  • Use cautiously in women who are pregnant or might become pregnant, as astaxanthin may inhibit 5-alpha reductase. Astaxanthin is not suggested in breastfeeding women, due to a lack of safety data.
 

Interactions

Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.
 
Interactions with Drugs
  • Astaxanthin may increase the risk of bleeding or blood clotting when taken with drugs that increase such risks. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, antiplatelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).
  • Astaxanthin may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. Patients taking insulin or drugs for diabetes by mouth should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
  • Astaxanthin may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood pressure.
  • Astaxanthin may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver's cytochrome P450 enzyme system. As a result, the levels of these drugs may be decreased in the blood and may reduce the intended effects. Patients taking any medications should check the package insert and speak with a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, about possible interactions.
  • Astaxanthin may interact with 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors, calcium salts, diabetes drugs, drugs that affect bleeding, heart medications, hormonal agents, immunosuppressants, and rofecoxib.
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
  • Astaxanthin may increase the risk of bleeding or blood clotting when taken with herbs or supplements that are believed to increase such risks. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding or blood clotting, although this has not been proven in most cases.
  • Astaxanthin may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.
  • Astaxanthin may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood pressure.
  • Astaxanthin may interfere with the way the body processes certain herbs or supplements using the liver's cytochrome P450 enzyme system. As a result, the levels of other herbs or supplements may become too low in the blood. It may also alter the effects that other herbs or supplements potentially may have on the cytochrome P450 system.
  • Astaxanthin may interact with calcium (and foods containing calcium), carotenoids (and foods containing carotenoids), herbs and supplements for the heart, hormonal herbs and supplements, immunosuppressants, and saw palmetto.

Author Information

This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

About the Author

Natural Medicine Journal is an electronic peer-reviewed journal and open access website dedicated to the field of integrative medicine.

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