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Astaxanthin: Exploring the Potential Benefits and Risks of the 'Miracle' Supplement

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Astaxanthin: Exploring the Potential Benefits and Risks of the 'Miracle' Supplement

The global astaxanthin market is estimated to reach $7.5 billion by 2031, according to a new report by Straits Research.

Astaxanthin is the latest supplement to be making the rounds as a ‘miracle’ supplement — with some claiming that it gives the skin a natural glow, while others say it can fight the effects of aging at a cognitive and cardiovascular level. There’s even ongoing research to see if its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce COVID-19 related complications. (1)

But, like all health trends, it’s worth examining the validity of these claims before adding this supplement to your diet.

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What is astaxanthin?

Astaxanthin is a type of natural pigment that belongs to a group of substances called xanthophyll carotenoids. These pigments give plants, algae, and certain animals their vibrant colors, ranging from yellow to deep red.

Astaxanthin is found in a variety of microorganisms (like certain algae and yeast) and marine animals, such as salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, and lobsters, which is why these creatures often have a reddish or pinkish hue. (2)

Astaxanthin is available as a supplement, which is typically derived from the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis and the bacterium Paracoccus carotinifaciens. It can also be produced synthetically.

The benefits of astaxanthin

There are many claims about the benefits of astaxanthin. Although the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) haven't officially endorsed any health benefits, we’ll explore some of the more common ones below: 

  • Skin health. There’s evidence that astaxanthin can help protect skin cells, reduce signs of aging like wrinkles, and even prevent the skin weakening effects of too much sun exposure. (2)
  • Brain health. Astaxanthin has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and, as a result, potentially have neuroprotective qualities. Other studies have also found evidence of efficacy for age-related decline in cognitive and psychomotor function, including dementia. (3, 4)
  •  Immune support. Astaxanthin has been found to be a strong antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, which means that it’s effective in managing and preventing inflammatory responses. This may be a critical component of fighting diseases like COVID-19, which causes a cytokine storm — or an overreaction of the body's immune system to an infection or other trigger — in the body. (5)

The side effects of astaxanthin

Studies find that astaxanthin is generally safe when it is consumed with food. (6) The FDA has also placed astaxanthin on the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list.

However, it should be noted that astaxanthin is only GRAS at 6 to 7 milligrams (mg) daily and only when it’s derived either from Haematococcus pluvialis or Paracoccus carotinifaciens.

While astaxanthin is generally considered safe, some individuals may experience side effects, so it's essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement.

Is astaxanthin worth taking?

While astaxanthin has so far been shown to have several potential health benefits, more research is needed to fully understand its effects and optimal dosage. 

It’s also important to be aware that supplements, while regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are categorized as food, not drugs, which means they’re not held to as high of a standard. This means that quality may vary widely.

All of this to say: it’s important to do your research before adding an astaxanthin supplement to your regimen.

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Key Takeaways:

  • The global astaxanthin market is estimated to reach $7.5 billion by 2031.
  • Astaxanthin has been found to have potential benefits for skin health, brain health, and immune support.
  • Like with all supplements, it’s important to do your research before adding it to your regimen.
The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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References

  1. Fakhri, S., Nouri, Z., Moradi, S. Z., & Farzaei, M. H. (2020). Astaxanthin, COVID ‐19 and immune response: Focus on oxidative stress, apoptosis and autophagy. Phytotherapy Research, 34(11), 2790–2792. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.6797
  2. ‌Ambati, R., Phang, S.-M., Ravi, S., & Aswathanarayana, R. (2014). Astaxanthin: Sources, Extraction, Stability, Biological Activities and Its Commercial Applications—A Review. Marine Drugs, 12(1), 128–152. https://doi.org/10.3390/md12010128
  3. ‌Bjørklund, G., Gasmi, A., Lenchyk, L., Shanaida, M., Zafar, S., Mujawdiya, P. K., Lysiuk, R., Antonyak, H., Noor, S., Akram, M., Smetanina, K., Piscopo, S., Upyr, T., & Peana, M. (2022). The Role of Astaxanthin as a Nutraceutical in Health and Age-Related Conditions. Molecules, 27(21), 7167. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules27217167
  4. ‌Nakagawa, K., Kiko, T., Miyazawa, T., Carpentero Burdeos, G., Kimura, F., Satoh, A., & Miyazawa, T. (2011). Antioxidant effect of astaxanthin on phospholipid peroxidation in human erythrocytes. British Journal of Nutrition, 105(11), 1563–1571. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114510005398
  5. ‌Ahmadi, A.-R., & Ayazi-Nasrabadi, R. (2021). Astaxanthin protective barrier and its ability to improve the health in patients with COVID-19. Iranian Journal of Microbiology. https://doi.org/10.18502/ijm.v13i4.6965
  6. ‌Ambati, R., Phang, S.-M., Ravi, S., & Aswathanarayana, R. (2014). Astaxanthin: Sources, Extraction, Stability, Biological Activities and Its Commercial Applications—A Review. Marine Drugs, 12(1), 128–152. https://doi.org/10.3390/md12010128
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