As early as 2011 a review of previous and on-going research pointed to the wide range of benefits of this potent antioxidant with excellent tolerability and safety factors as well. It has been found to lower levels of free radicals in people who are smokers or overweight; blocked oxidative damage to DNA, acted as an anti-inflammatory agent, supported tuberculin immunity, lowered triglycerides, increased blood flow and good HDL cholesterol, supported brain functioning with improved cognition and nerve stem cell growth, improved visual acuity, reproductive health and more.1

This antioxidant carotenoid can be helpful in macular degeneration and boosting immune function. It is not made by the body so has to be taken in.

What is astaxanthin?

It is similar to beta-carotene but a slight difference in the structure, and causes a radical difference in biological activity. It is ten times stronger than beta-carotene and up to 500 times stronger than vitamin E as an antioxidant. Unique aspects of the astaxanthin structure allow it to pass the "blood brain barrier", meaning it can deliver antioxidant activity benefits directly to the brain, eyes and nervous system.

This fat-soluble carotenoid is found in the red yeast Phaffia rhodozyma, used in Asian cooking. It is also produced by the algae Haematococcus and accumulates in the muscles of salmon, shrimp, trout and other pink seafood when they eat this algae, which is what gives them their pink hue.

How it works

Astaxanthin kills free radicals in your body, staving off age related diseases like macular degeneration, by preventing these unstable molecules from damaging your cells according to Timothy Maher Ph.D. It also boosts the functioning of your immune system by increasing the number and activity of T cells and macrophages, two kinds of protective cells that fight infection and cancer. Unlike other antioxidants, astaxanthin is available both within and without the cell wall which allows it to fight free radicals both inside and outside the cell wall.2

Eye health

Certain carotenoids have been shown to help protect the retina of the eye from oxidative damage. The lens of the eye focuses incoming light onto the photosensitive retina, which then transmits visual signals to the brain. In the central area of the retina lies the macula, which has the highest density of photoreceptors that provides visual acuity. Oxidation, as from sunlight exposure, degrades the retinal membranes and likely leads to damage or destruction of photoreceptor cells.

A recent study indicates that astaxanthin is able to cross the blood retinal barrier and exert antioxidant effects to stop retinal destruction by staving off light induced oxidation and protect photoreceptors from degeneration.

Inflammation. Astaxanthin is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and pain reliever. Because inflammation is at the root of many eye conditions, this ability to reduce inflammation is extremely beneficial. It is able to block COX-2 enzymes, which cause the pain and inflammation behind various forms of arthritis.7

Mitochondria support. In the lab, astaxanthin was found to protect embryos against heat-stress, apparently by direct action supporting mitochondria, the energy-producers of the cell. 8 It also protected against the cell death of epithelial cells in vivo and in vitro, by supporting the mitochondrial signaling pathway.9

Antioxidant. Astaxanthin destroys the unstable reactive-oxygen species (ROS) molecules, commonly known as free radicals, and wards off their constant attack towards all parts of the body. When tested against a wide variety of ROS and RNS (nitrogen-reactive species) molecules, astaxanthin was one of the most effective in free radical scavenging. Its antioxidant ability is ten times more powerful than beta-carotene,4 lutein, or zeaxanthin, and from 60–500 times stronger than vitamin E.5, 6 It must be taken through food or in supplement form since it is not made by the body.

Light, especially UV light, can trigger photooxidation mechanisms and produce active oxygen species such as singlet oxygen (Noguchi and Niki, 1999, McVean et al. 1999). Lipids (Dontsov et al. 1999, Guillen-Sans & Guzman-Chozas, 1998), pigments (Ostrovskii, 1987, Starostin et al. 1988), DNA (Dunford et al. 1997), proteins (Taylor 1993) have been reported to be sensitive to photooxidation.

Oxidative damage to the eye and skin by UV light has been widely documented (Trevithick and Mitton, 1999, McVean et al,. 1999). The strong antioxidative activities of astaxanthin suggest its potential as a photo protectant, as indicated by the recent study by Tso and Lam (1996), cited above, indicating lower damage by UV light to the eye of animals fed astaxanthin. Research in 2009 using human lens cells substantiated that astaxanthin reduces fat oxidation induced by UV exposure.3

The eye is potentially one of the organs that is the most exposed to oxidation, because it is exposed to air and UV-light as well as being fed by a very large number of small capillaries capable of bringing many of the metabolic oxidative residues through the blood. The eye also contains high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids and pigments that are sensitive to oxidation (Starostin 1988, Donstov et al. 1999). Recently, a research group demonstrated increased superoxide and peroxide formation following UV irradiation of a lens protein (Linetsky et al. 1996). Photooxidation of the lens proteins have been associated to the development of cataracts (Taylor, 1993).

Photoreceptors An animal study indicates that astaxanthin is also effective at protecting photoreceptors from degeneration (Tso and Lam 1996).

Neurodegeneration14, 15 Astaxanthin is able to cross the blood-brain barrier bringing neuroprotection to the brain. 10 It has been shown to be protective across various models of Parkinson's by reducing the pathophysiology that causes neurodegeneration. 11 It accomplishes this, in part, by suppressing oxidative damage in certain signaling pathways and by protecting against mitochondria dysfunction. 12 Its action as an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidative, and an anti-apoptotic may underly its effectiveness in protecting against neurodegeneration. 13

Astaxanthin supports cognition,16 learning, memory, and reaction time.17 It reduces neurotoxicity in cell culture models of Alzheimer’s disease where PC12 cells were protected from cytotoxicity induced by amyloid beta fragments.18, 19 Not only can AXT treatment promote neurogenesis but it offers direct protection to cells exposed to insult and limits the resulting sequence of cell death (apoptosis cascade).

How to take it

Take in pill form from 2-5mg per day for a therapeutic dose. Eat pink seafood like salmon which are food sources. No adverse effects have been reported by people consuming astaxanthin, whether in pill, in yeast or seafood.

Astaxanthin food sources.

Astaxanthin News:

Want to learn more? See our blog for news on astaxanthin.


1. Kidd P. (2011). Astaxanthin, cell membrane nutrient with diverse clinical benefits and anti-aging potential, Alternative Medicine Review, December.
2. Ohia SE, et al. (2005). Pharmacological consequences of oxidative stress in ocular tissues, Mutation Research, November.
3. Camara B, et al. (2009). Astaxanthin, canthaxanthin and beta-carotene differently affect UVA-induced oxidative damage and expression of oxidative stress-responsive enzymes Experimental Dermatology, March.
4. Goto, S., Kogure, K., Abe, K., Kimata, Y., Kitahama, K., et al. (2001). Efficient radical trapping at the surface and inside the phospholipid membrane is responsible for highly potent anti peroxidative activity of the carotenoid astaxanthin. Biochimica Biophysica Acta, 1512:251-8.
5. BetaForce. Astaxanthin: The Most Powerful Natural Antioxidant Ever Discovered. Retrieved Apr 2 2018 from
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12. Grimmig B, Morganti J, Nash K, Bickford PC. (2016). Immunomodulators as Therapeutic Agents in Mitigating the Progression of Parkinson's Disease. Brain Sci. Sep 23;6(4):E41.
13. Ye Q, Zhang K, Huang B, Zhu Y, Chen X. (2013). Astaxanthin suppresses MPP(+)-induced oxidative damage in PC12 cells through a Sp1/NR1 signaling pathway. Mar Drugs. Mar 28;11(4):1019-34.
14. Lee DH, Kim CS, Lee YJ. (2011). Astaxanthin protects against MPTP/MPP+-induced mitochondria dysfunction and ROS production in vivo and in vitro. Food Chem Toxicol. Jan;49(1):271-80.
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16. Grimmig B, Kim SH, Nash K, Bickford PC, Douglas Shytie R. (2017). Neuroprotective mechanisms of astaxanthin: a potential therapeutic role in preserving cognitive function in age and neurodegeneration. Geroscience. Feb;39(1):19-32. 17. Katagiri M, Satoh A, Tsuji S, Shirasawa T. (2012). Effects of astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis extract on cognitive function: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Clin Biochem Nutr. Sep; 51(2):102-7. 18. Chang CH, Chen CY, Chiou JY, Peng RY, Peng CH. (2010). Astaxanthin secured apoptotic death of PC12 cells induced by beta-amyloid peptide 25-35: its molecular action targets. J Med Food. Jun;13(3):548-56. 19. Wang HQ, Sun XB, Xu YX, Zhao H, Zhu QY, et al. (2010). Astaxanthin upregulates heme oxygenase-1 expression through ERK1/2 pathway and its protective effect against beta-amyloid-induced cytotoxicity in SH-SY5Y cells. Brain Res. Nov 11; 1360():159-67. 20. Kim JH, Choi W, Lee JH, Jeon SJ, Choi YH, et al. (2009). Astaxanthin inhibits H2O2-mediated apoptotic cell death in mouse neural progenitor cells via modulation of P38 and MEK signaling pathways. J Microbiol Biotechnol. Nov;19(11):1355-63.