Joseph F. McCaffrey MD, FACS


Astaxanthin - The Most

Important Supplement You

May Never Have Heard of


Many people have never heard of Astaxanthin, which is unfortunate. This extremely safe substance has a host of probable health benefits along with an excellent safety profile. I’ll discuss some of these benefits here to help you decide if this is a supplement that you want to add to your program. Let’s begin with what Astaxanthin is, where it comes from and what it does.



Astaxanthin is a member of  a group of compounds named carotenoids, compounds that usually led an orange or reddish color to foods they are in. For example, carotenoids give carrots their characteristic color. They also, by the way, are why pink flamingos are pink.


While many carotenoids occur in plants, astaxanthin naturally occurs most abundantly in microalgae, crustaceans, and some fish. 


Carotenoids are excellent anti oxidants and astaxanthin is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful antioxidants in this category. But its beneficial actions don’t stop there.


Astaxanthin moderates the inflammatory response, boosts the immune system, and appears to protect DNA from damage. These effects have many mechanisms that researchers are currently exploring. They translate into several real-world benefits benefits we should take advantage of today.


Astaxanthin lowers blood sugar levels and improves sensitivity to insulin. It also raises levels of HDL while reducing triglyceride levels. These effects suggest it could help both metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.


Animal studies show that astaxanthin reduces the rate of colon and breast cancer in several animal models. The probable mechanism is by preventing free radical damage to DNA and reducing the levels of circulating inflammatory mediators.


Human studies demonstrate that astaxanthin does indeed reduce DNA damage while at the same time boosting immune performance. For example, it increases the activity of natural killer cells, cells which play a role in protecting the body from cancer.


Astaxanthin doesn't only prevent disease. It also significant improves healthy exercise performance. It reduces the stressful effects of strenuous exercise and also helps the muscle cells more effectively use fat as an energy source. The end result is improved endurance and exercise performance.


Some of the most important benefits of astaxanthin are its effects on eye health. It protects against ultraviolet damage which helps reduce the risk of cataract development. It's antioxidant effects help protect the retina, reducing the risk of macular degeneration, one of the more common causes of loss of vision.


That same UV protection seems to apply to the skin. Astaxanthin accumulates in skin cells and appears to reduce their sensitivity to ultraviolet induced damage. It also appears reduced the activity of enzymes that ultimately lead to wrinkles.


Perhaps best of all, no side effects have been reported associated with astaxanthin, even at relatively high doses.


All in all, I think it's worth considering supplementing with astaxanthin. A reasonable dose for most purposes is 4 to 10 mg per day. Someone struggling with metabolic syndrome could try more, perhaps up to 20 mg per day.


Again, it appears to be a safe supplement. Even doses as high as 40 mg had not been associated with any side effects.


If you're interested, here are just a few of the recent research studies looking at astaxanthin: 

Chew BP, Park JS. Carotenoid action on the immune response. J Nutr. 2004 Jan;134(1):257S-61S.

Suganuma K, Nakajima H, Ohtsuki M, Imokawa G. Astaxanthin attenuates the UVA-induced up-regulation of matrix-metalloproteinase-1 and skin fibroblast elastase in human dermal fibroblasts. J Dermatol Sci. 2010 May;58(2):136-42.

Hussein G, Sankawa U, Goto H, Matsumoto K, Watanabe H. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid with potential in human health and nutrition. J Nat Prod. 2006 Mar;69(3):443-9.

Higuera-Ciapara I, Felix-Valenzuela L, Goycoolea FM. Astaxanthin: a review of its chemistry and applications. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46(2):185-96.

Park JS, Chyun JH, Kim YK, Line LL, Chew BP. Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010;7:18.

Aoi W, Naito Y, Sakuma K, et al. Astaxanthin limits exercise-induced skeletal and cardiac muscle damage in mice. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2003 Feb;5(1):139-44.

Ikeuchi M, Koyama T, Takahashi J, Yazawa K. Effects of astaxanthin supplementation on exercise-induced fatigue in mice. Biol Pharm Bull. 2006 Oct;29(10):2106-10.

Aoi W, Naito Y, Takanami Y, et al. Astaxanthin improves muscle lipid metabolism in exercise via inhibitory effect of oxidative CPT I modification. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2008 Feb 22;366(4):892-7.

Yuan JP, Peng J, Yin K, Wang JH. Potential health-promoting effects of astaxanthin: a high-value carotenoid mostly from microalgae. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011 Jan;55(1):150-65.

Nakajima Y, Inokuchi Y, Shimazawa M, Otsubo K, Ishibashi T, Hara H. Astaxanthin, a dietary carotenoid, protects retinal cells against oxidative stress in-vitro and in mice in-vivo. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2008 Oct;60(10):1365-74.

Suzuki Y, Ohgami K, Shiratori K, et al. Suppressive effects of astaxanthin against rat endotoxin-induced uveitis by inhibiting the NF-kappaB signaling pathway. Exp Eye Res. 2006 Feb;82(2):275-81.

Izumi-Nagai K, Nagai N, Ohgami K, et al. Inhibition of choroidal neovascularization with an anti-inflammatory carotenoid astaxanthin. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2008 Apr;49(4):1679-85.

Parisi V, Tedeschi M, Gallinaro G, Varano M, Saviano S, Piermarocchi S. Carotenoids and antioxidants in age-related maculopathy italian study: multifocal electroretinogram modifications after 1 year. Ophthalmology. 2008 Feb;115(2):324-33.

Cort A, Ozturk N, Akpinar D, et al. Suppressive effect of astaxanthin on retinal injury induced by elevated intraocular pressure. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2010 Oct;58(1):121-30. home page

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