Axtaxanthin is a carotenoid of the xanthophyll class. It is brightly red in color and is responsible for the intense red or pink color of certain sea creatures including crabs, crayfish, krill, salmon, and shrimp. It is also the compound responsible for the characteristic color of flamingo feathers.
Astaxanthin is not produced by humans. It is synthesized by algae, bacteria, and fungi and is concentrated in animals that eat these organisms. Dietary intake of astaxanthin is almost exclusively from seafood.
Astaxanthin is not converted to vitamin A in the body.
Although synthetic astaxanthin is available, most astaxanthin supplements are of natural origin and are produced from cultures of the alga Haematococcus pluvialis. Synthetic astaxanthin contains a mixture of the three stereoisomers of the compound ((3R,3’R), (3R,3’S), and (3S,3’S) while natural astaxanthin from H. pluvialis is the (3S,3’S) stereoisomer.1
In food and natural supplements, astaxanthin is found bound to protein or as the mono or diester form. Esterified astaxanthin makes up more than 99% of the astaxanthin produced by H. pluvialis.
Astaxanthin supplements should be taken with food containing fats to improve bioavailability and promote absorption.
Astaxanthin is classified as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) in the Code of Federal Regulations. No reports of adverse effects have been reported. No side effects from astaxanthin supplements have been reported in clinical trials.
Astaxanthin supplements are not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding. No specific hazards are known, but there is not a sufficient amount of information to support recommendation of use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Seafood is the greatest source of astaxanthin in diets in the United States. Fish provide the largest quantity of astaxanthin in the western diet; 113 g wild-caught salmon provides 4.5 mg astaxanthin, 113 g farmed salmon provides up to 2 mg per serving. Shellfish, lobster, crab, and shrimp are also sources of astaxanthin.
Effect of astaxanthin on cycling time trial performance.
A randomized trial investigated the effects of astaxanthin supplements on cycling time trial performance with twenty-one competitive cyclists. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 4 mg astaxanthin or a placebo daily for 28 days. At baseline and after 28 days, participants completed a VO2max test and on a separate day a 2 h constant intensity pre-exhaustion ride, after a 10 h fast, at 5% below VO2max stimulated onset of 4 mmol/L lactic acid followed 5 min later by a 20 km time trial. Only 14 participants successfully completed the trial (7 from the astaxanthin supplemented group and 7 from the placebo group). In the astaxanthin group, there were significant improvements in the 20 km time trial (n=7; -121 s, 95% CI, -185 to -53) and a significant increase in power output (20W; 95% CI, 1 to 38). The placebo group did not exhibit significant improvements (20 km time trial:-19 s, 95% CI, -84 to 45; power output: 1.6 W, 95% CI, -17 to 20). The two groups were statistically different (P<0.05). Further trials to investigate possible mechanisms and verify results are necessary.2
Effects of astaxanthin on oxidative stress in overweight and obese adults.
A prospective, randomized, double-blind study investigated the effects of astaxanthin on oxidative stress in overweight and obese (BMI > 25.0 kg/m2) adults in Korea. Twenty-three adults participated in the trial. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 5 mg or 20 mg astaxanthin daily for three weeks. Malondialdehyde and isoprostane levels were significantly decreased during astaxanthin supplementation compared to baseline (5 mg/day and 20 mg/day for malondialdehyde: 34.6% and 35.2%; for isoprostane: 64.9% and 64.7%). Superoxide dismutase and total antioxidant capacity were increased for the 5 mg/day and 20 mg/day groups (193% and 194% for superoxide dismutase and 121% and 125% for total antioxidant capacity). The results of this prospective study indicate that astaxanthin improves measures of oxidative stress. Further trials with larger study populations and placebo-controlled design should be pursued.3
Effects of astaxanthin supplementation lipid peroxidation.
A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial investigated the effects of astaxanthin supplements on lipid peroxidation in healthy, non-smoking adult men. A three month trial with Finnish men aged 19 to 33 years evaluated the use of 8 mg astaxanthin or a placebo daily for lipid peroxidation. Plasma 12- and 15-hydroxy fatty acids were reduced in the supplemented group (p=0.048 and p=0.047, respectively). The study also evaluated the absorption of astaxanthin from the capsules. Plasma astaxanthin was increased to 0.032 pmol/L in the astaxanthin supplemented compared to the placebo group (p<0.001). Further trials to evaluate the effects of astaxanthin supplementation are needed to evaluate the biological activity of this supplement.4
Administration of natural astaxanthin increases serum HDL-cholesterol and adiponectin in subjects with mild hyperlipidemia.
A randomized, placebo-controlled trial investigated the effects of astaxanthin supplements for people with mild hyperlipidemia. Sixty-one non-obese people with elevated fasting serum triglyceride (120 to 200 mg/dL) without diabetes and hypertension participated in the 12 week trial. Participants were aged 25 to 60 years. Participants were randomly assigned to receive 6, 12, or 18 mg astaxanthin or a placebo daily. Serum triglycerides were significantly decreased (for 18 mg/d: -23.8 ± 31.3%; for 12 mg/d: -25.2 ± 31.0% compared to control; p<0.05)), HDL-cholesterol was significantly increased (for 12 mg/d: 15.4 ± 12.2% (p<0.05); for 6 mg/d: 15.4 ± 12.2% (p<0.01) compared to control), and adiponectin was significantly increased (for 12 mg/d 26% (p<0.01); for 18 mg/d 19% (p<0.05)) with astaxanthin supplements. Percentage change in adiponectin and HDL cholesterol were significantly correlated (r=0.331, p=0.0089; 95% CI 0.086 to 0.538). The results of this study suggest that astaxanthin supplements improve triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels. Further trials will help to clarify appropriate dosages.5
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