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Astaxanthin

What You Need to Know About Astaxanthin

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Updated June 26, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Astaxanthin is an antioxidant found in certain algae and several types of seafood (including salmon, shrimp, and lobster). Also available in supplement form, astaxanthin is considered a carotenoid (a class of antioxidants that includes beta-carotene and lycopene.

Uses for Astaxanthin

Proponents claim that astaxanthin can prevent or treat a variety of health conditions, including:

Astaxanthin is also said to reduce inflammation, improve skin, boost athletic performance, and stimulate the immune system. In addition, some proponents suggest that applying astaxanthin to the skin can help prevent or treat sunburn.

Benefits of Astaxanthin

The health benefits of astaxanthin have yet to be extensively examined in scientific studies. Here's a look at several findings from the available research on astaxanthin's potential benefits:

1) Heart Disease

Several studies indicate that astaxanthin shows promise for protection against heart disease. In a 2009 report published in Future Cardiology, for instance, researchers note that astaxanthin may help fight oxidative stress and inflammation (two key factors in the development of cardiovascular disease). Analyzing findings from eight clinical trials (including a total of about 180 participants), the report's authors note that more studies are needed to determine the potential benefit of astaxanthin for people with (or at risk for) heart disease.

2) Immune System

Astaxanthin may boost the immune system, according to a small study published in Nutrition & Metabolism in 2010. For the study, 14 healthy young women took 0, 2, or 8 mg of astaxanthin daily for eight weeks. Study results showed that astaxanthin helped enhance immune response and reduce levels of a biomarker linked to DNA damage. In addition, astaxanthin helped reduce levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation).

3) Skin

Preliminary findings from animal-based studies and test-tube research suggest that astaxanthin may shield the skin from damage caused by exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. However, more research is needed before astaxanthin can be recommended for defense against sun damage.

Side Effects of Astaxanthin

To date, little is known about the potential side effects associated with long-term use of astaxanthin. If you're considering the use of astaxanthin supplements, consult your doctor for help in determining a safe dosage.

Sources

Camera E, Mastrofrancesco A, Fabbri C, Daubrawa F, Picardo M, Sies H, Stahl W. "Astaxanthin, canthaxanthin and beta-carotene differently affect UVA-induced oxidative damage and expression of oxidative stress-responsive enzymes." Exp Dermatol. 2009 Mar;18(3):222-31.

Fassett RG, Coombes JS. "Astaxanthin: a potential therapeutic agent in cardiovascular disease." Mar Drugs. 2011 Mar 21;9(3):447-65.

Fassett RG, Coombes JS. "Astaxanthin, oxidative stress, inflammation and cardiovascular disease." Future Cardiol. 2009 Jul;5(4):333-42.

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

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.

Karppi J, Rissanen TH, Nyyssönen K, Kaikkonen J, Olsson AG, Voutilainen S, Salonen JT. "Effects of astaxanthin supplementation on lipid peroxidation." Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2007 Jan;77(1):3-11.

Lyons NM, O'Brien NM. "Modulatory effects of an algal extract containing astaxanthin on UVA-irradiated cells in culture." J Dermatol Sci. 2002 Oct;30(1):73-84.

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 Mar 5;7:18.

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