Astaxanthin Health Benefits
Astaxanthin health benefits include an ability to fight inflammation, boost the immune system, and possibly fight cancer. This naturally occurring pigment is in a class of phytonutrients called carotenoids. Beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein are also carotenoids.
The most common sources of astaxanthin are a microalgae called Haematoccous pluvialis and the fresh water and marine creatures that eat the algae. This includes salmon, which is the best source, along with shrimp and krill. Indeed, the reason salmon and shrimp are pink is because they eat the astaxanthin-rich algae. Wild caught salmon is reported to contain about 400 times the amount of astaxanthin than farmed salmon.
When it comes to antioxidant power, astaxanthin health benefits are impressive. This nutrient reportedly is 65 times more powerful than vitamin C, 54 times more potent than beta-carotene, and 14 times more powerful than vitamin E. Astaxanthin has the ability to cross over the blood-brain barrier. This means it can have an impact on brain function. Among other astaxanthin health benefits is the ability to cross the blood-retinal barrier. This action may explain why it has been shown to be helpful in managing eye disorders.
Research on Astaxanthin Health Benefits
Research suggests that astaxanthin can help reduce DNA damage and absorb ultraviolet B rays, along with other astaxanthin health benefits already mentioned. In a study from the University of Minnesota, for example, investigators found that astaxanthin improved immune system cell activity and partly restored reduced immune response.
Unlike some other carotenoids, astaxanthin is not a pro-oxidant. This is one of the unusual things about many antioxidants: while they fight free radicals caused by oxidation, some also have pro-oxidant properties. This means they actually cause damage when present in sufficient concentrations. Astaxanthin, however, is not a pro-oxidant, which makes it an especially potent antioxidant.
Because astaxanthin is found in few foods and then it is not present in significant amounts, supplementation is necessary for people who want to take advantage of astaxanthin health benefits. What are some of the astaxanthin health benefits for men?
One study examined the effect of astaxanthin on levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), testosterone, and estradiol. These three hormones can have a role in the development of an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia, BPH) and/or prostate cancer as well as andropause (male menopause).
Investigators gave a supplement that contained both astaxanthin and saw palmetto berry extract (Alphastat®) to 42 healthy men ages 37 to 70: one group took 800 mg/day while the other took 2,000 mg daily for 14 days.
Analysis showed a significant increase in testosterone and a significant decrease in DHT in both groups within three days of treatment. A significant decline in estradiol was seen only in the 2,000 mg per day group.
Since there was no significant difference between the increase in testosterone and decline in dihydrotestosterone between the two different doses, the authors concluded that the lower dose was sufficient for having a positive impact on these two factors. (Angwafor) All of the improvements in hormone levels seen in this study bode well for men and prostate health.
In one of the most recent studies of astaxanthin and cardiovascular health, scientists reported that “astaxanthin has demonstrated to be a potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory therapeutic agent in models of CVD [cardiovascular disease].” They pointed out that astaxanthin has not shown any adverse effects in human clinical trials. They predicted that “because of its greater antioxidant potency and membrane preservation, astaxanthin will reduce measures of oxidative stress and inflammation and provide vascular benefits.” (Riccioni)
An association between astaxanthin health benefits and cancer is still in the early investigative stages. A mouse study found that astaxanthin at various doses added to the diet of mice had an effect on colitis and colitis-related colon cancer. Specifically, the authors noted that astaxanthin “is one of the candidates for prevention of colitis and inflammation-associated colon carcinogenesis [cancer] in humans.” (Yasui)
Astaxanthin health benefits may also include helping men who have high cholesterol. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted with overweight and obese adults found that supplementation with astaxanthin “has positive effects on improving LDL cholesterol [the so-called "bad" cholesterol], ApoB, [a substance that attaches to LDL cholesterol and transports it through the body and is a measure of cardiac risk], and oxidative stress biomarkers.” (Choi)
Want to experience healthy aging? Astaxanthin health benefits come into play here as well. A 2011 study noted that astaxanthin reduced oxidative stress in overweight and obese individuals, lowered triglycerides, raised levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, improved cognition, blocked DNA damage, and lowered levels of inflammation-causing substances. All of these actions are measures of aging. The authors concluded that “astaxanthin’s clinical success extends beyond protection against oxidative stress and inflammation, to demonstrable promise for slowing age-related functional decline.” (Kidd)
Carotenoids are present in high concentrations in the macula, an area of the retina that is responsible for central, high resolution. Research examining astaxanthin health benefits on the macula and vision problems such as macular degeneration have shown that the antioxidant can be positive. In particular, two groups of patients were assigned to receive either lutein, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin and antioxidants/vitamins or no supplements for two years. After two years, patients in the treatment group had significantly better visual acuity and improved contrast sensitivity than patients who did not take the supplement. (Piermarocchi)
Men who want to improve exercise performance may want to consider astaxanthin. A study evaluated the use of astaxanthin on cycling time in 14 competitive cyclists. Overall, the researchers observed a significant improvement in time trial performance in cyclists who took astaxanthin when compared with cyclists in the placebo group. Cyclists in the astaxanthin group showed increased power output while those in the placebo group did not. For now, experts are uncertain why astaxanthin use led to these improvements. (Earnest)
The suggested daily dose of astaxanthin is 2 to 12 milligrams. Men who want to take astaxanthin should consult their healthcare provider about the optimal dose to enjoy astaxanthin health benefits. Side effects of astaxanthin may include a decline in blood pressure, increase in skin pigmentation and hair growth, hormonal changes, reduction of calcium levels in the blood, changes to blood count values, reduced libido, and enlargement of the breasts.
Angwafor F, Anderson ML. An open label, dose response study to determine the effect of a dietary supplement on dihydrotestosterone, testosterone and estradiol levels in healthy males. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008 Aug 12; 5:12
Choi HD et al. Positive effects of staxanthin on lipid profiles and oxidative stress in overweight subjects. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 2011 Nov; 66(4):363-69
Earnest CP et al. Effect of astaxanthin on cycling time trial performance. Int J Sports Med 2011 Nov; 32(11): 882-88
Healthline/Natural Standard website: http://www.healthline.com/natstandardcontent/astaxanthin
Kidd P. Astaxanthin, cell membrane nutrient with diverse clinical benefits and anti-aging potential. Altern Med Rev 2011 Dec; 16(4): 355-64
Mercola website: http://products.mercola.com/astaxanthin/
Piermarocchi S et al. Carotenoids in age-related maculopathy Italian study (CARIS): two-year results of a randomized study. Eur J Ophthalmol 2012 Mar; 22(2): 216-25
Riccioni G et al. Marine Carotenoids and cardiovascular risk markers. Mar Drugs 2011; 9(7): 1166-75
Yasui Y et al. Dietary astaxanthin inhibits colitis and colitis-associated colon carcinogenesis in mice, via modulation of the inflammatory cytokines. Chemico-Biological Interactions 2011 Aug 15; 193(1): 79-87