Product Reviews
Astaxanthin Supplements Review

Posted: 10/28/2016  Last update: 7/1/2018Astaxanthin Supplements Reviewed By

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  • What is it? Astaxanthin is a red carotenoid and antioxidant which is naturally produced by microalgae and may also be produced synthetically. (See What It Is).
  • What does it do? Astaxanthin supplements are promoted for a wide variety of uses, such as increasing physical endurance, reducing inflammation, and lowering triglyceride levels. However, the evidence supporting these uses is mixed. One study suggests it may also reduce wrinkles in healthy adults. (See What It Does).
  • Best choice? All of the products tested in this review contained natural astaxanthin at the amounts listed on their labels and were not contaminated with heavy metals. However some are 3 times less expensive than others. See CL's Top Picks in the What CL Found section.
  • How to Take? Because astaxanthin is fat-soluble, take it with a meal that contains fats or oils to increase absorption. There is no established safe and effective dose for astaxanthin, but daily doses between 4 mg and 18 mg have shown some benefits without reported side effects in clinical studies, although long-term studies are needed. (See What to Consider When Using). Red coloration of stool may occur at a dose of 20 mg or more (See Concerns and Cautions for more information).

What It Is:
Astaxanthin is a red carotenoid with antioxidant activity which is naturally produced by microalgae (Haematococcus pluvialis). Through the food chain, astaxanthin provides the pink coloration of shrimp, krill, and other crustaceans, as well as of salmon and trout. It is not produced by the human body and is not an essential nutrient. Astaxanthin can also be produced by fermentation by the red yeast Pfaffia rhodozyma.

Brands of natural astaxanthin derived from microalgae and found in supplements include BioAstin (Cyanotech), AstaREAL (Fuji Health Science), Solasta (Solix), and AstaPure (Algatechnologies Ltd). In these products, astaxanthin predominately exists in a single isomeric form (i.e., molecular configuration) known as 3S, 3S', which is the predominate form of astaxanthin naturally found in krill oil.

Astaxanthin can also be produced synthetically. Synthetic astaxanthin differs from natural astaxanthin in that it includes additional isomers, so that one quarter of synthetic astaxanthin is in the 3S, 3S' form. Synthetic versions also provide astaxanthin in its "free form," while natural astaxanthin is in an "esterified" form; both forms can increase blood levels of astaxanthin in people. Although there is some very preliminary evidence that the free (synthetic) form of astaxanthin may be slightly more bioavailable than the esterified form (Coral-Hinostroza, Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol 2004), some in-vitro research that suggests the natural, esterified form may have more antioxidant activity (Capelli, Nutrafoods 2013). Synthetic astaxanthin, such as AstaSana (DSM), appears to be safe in amounts typically used in foods and supplements. 

What It Does:
Astaxanthin is promoted as a powerful antioxidant with a wide range of health benefits; however, these claims are based on very preliminary evidence, some of which is refuted by other studies.

Some animal studies suggest astaxanthin may have cardiovascular benefits such as lowering cholesterol or blood pressure; however, there is little evidence of this in people. One small, company-funded study among 61 healthy men and women (average age 44) with normal to high-normal triglyceride levels found that a daily dose of either 12 mg or 18 mg of astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis (AstaREAL, Fuji Chemical Industry) taken for three months reduced triglyceride levels by an average of about 38 mg/dL, but did not lower "bad" LDL, total cholesterol, fasting blood sugar, or blood pressure compared to placebo. The 12 mg dose significantly increased "good" HDL cholesterol compared to placebo, but the 18 mg dose did not. (Yoshida, Atherosclerosis 2010). The study did not report side-effects or adverse events. Another small study among overweight adults in Korea found 20 mg of astaxanthin taken daily did not lower triglycerides, nor LDL cholesterol or total cholesterol compared to placebo (Choi, Plant Foods Hum Nutr 2011). Although the study showed that LDL was lowered by 10.4% compared to baseline, this was not shown to be statistically significant relative to the change in the placebo group.

There is some evidence that astaxanthin may have anti-inflammatory properties, possibly through the inhibition of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and other pro-inflammatory substances in the body (Choi, J Microbiol Biotechnol 2008). According to a summary published by a company marketing astaxanthin, a small study in adults with rheumatoid arthritis found that taking a formula (BioAstin) providing 4 mg of astaxanthin along with lutein, vitamin A, vitamin E, Haematococcus extract, and safflower oil taken three times daily with meals for 2 months reduced self-reported pain by approximately 40% compared to placebo. (This study was apparently presented at a scientific conference in 2002 but does not appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.) Astaxanthin has not been found to reduce pain in other inflammatory conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, or soreness after exercise (MacDermid, Hand 2012; Bloomer Int J Sport Nutr Exer Metab 2005).

Laboratory and animal studies suggest astaxanthin may have effects which could potentially improve exercise/sports performance; however, studies in people have shown mixed results (Belviranli, Antioxidants in Sport Nutrition 2015). A placebo-controlled study in Sweden apparently found that 4 mg per day of astaxanthin (AstaREAL), taken with a meal, increased endurance/strength in young men based on a significant increase in knee-bends which could be performed after 6 months of supplementation during which the men exercised normally (Malmsten, Carotenoid Sci 2008). A small study among competitive cyclists found those who took 4 mg of astaxanthin with a meal daily for one month had significantly improved the time it took to complete a 20 kilometer timed trial test compared to those who took a placebo (Ernest, Nutrition 2011); however, another study in well-trained cyclists found 20 mg of astaxanthin taken daily for one month did not improve timed trial performance (Res, Med Sci Sports Exerc 2013). A study among 32 elite male soccer players found that 4 mg of astaxanthin taken daily for 3 months modestly reduced blood markers of muscle damage (creatine kinase and aspartate aminotransferase) following a two-hour session of intense exercise, compared to placebo (Djordevic, J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2012). A published study by Bloomer (referenced above) did not find astaxanthin (4 mg daily from BioAstin) to improve muscle performance or soreness any more than placebo in resistance-trained men. It should be noted that use of other antioxidants, such as resveratrol, vitamin E and vitamin C, during exercise have been shown to impede gains in performance.

Laboratory research suggests astaxanthin may protect against UV light induced damage in human skin cells (Lyons, J Dermatol Sci 2002) and, according to a 2002 patent application, an oral daily dose of 4 mg (2 mg twice a day, with meals) was reported to reduce sunburn in two people. There is also a study among 21 individuals which found that 4 mg of astaxanthin (BioAstin, Cyanotech) taken for 2 weeks increased the amount of energy (by 20%) required from a sunlight simulator to burn the skin. However, the effect varied from no effect to a large effect, depending on the individual. The study was funded by Cyanotech and does not appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal. A study in Japan among 22 adults (average age 43) found that 4 mg of astaxanthin (ASTOTS, FUJIFILM) taken daily for nine weeks modestly increased the amount of energy required from a sunlight simulator to burn the skin compared to placebo. Those who took the astaxanthin also reported significant improvements in skin roughness and texture compared to placebo, but no improvement in self-reported skin clarity, youthfulness, or wrinkles around the eyes or nose. No adverse effects were reported, and there were no changes in blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, liver enzymes or blood cell counts (Ito, Nutrients 2018).

One small company-funded study found among healthy men (ages 20 to 60) found that 3 mg of astaxanthin (AstaREAL, Fuji Chemical Industry) taken twice daily for six weeks significantly reduced the area of wrinkled skin around the eye (i.e. crow's feet), but not the depth of the wrinkles compared to placebo (Tominaga, Acta Biochim Pol 2012).

There is insufficient evidence to support the use of astaxanthin supplements for male infertility, cataracts, or age-related macular degeneration.

See the Encyclopedia article about Astaxanthin for information about these and other proposed uses.

Quality Concerns and What CL Tested for:
As no government body normally tests astaxanthin supplements, purchased and tested products to determine whether they contained their claimed amounts of astaxanthin and forms of astaxanthin (natural or synthetic). Products were also tested for contamination with lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury, as these can occur in plant-based supplements, including those derived from algae. Tablet and caplet products were additionally tested for their ability to properly break apart for absorption.

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