All About Astaxanthin: The Top 6 Ways This Compound May Help You Look and Feel Younger
From autophagy to age-related skin deterioration, the antioxidant astaxanthin provides impressive anti-aging benefits. This red-colored compound may help you look and feel younger, both internally and externally. In this article, learn more about astaxanthin and the top six ways that this antioxidant exhibits anti-aging qualities.
What is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin is a fat-soluble carotenoid pigment, providing certain animals with their pink or red colorings, including salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crab, and lobster. Astaxanthin is produced by algae and bacteria, which then get eaten by fish and seafood higher up on the food chain. Astaxanthin also gives flamingos their pink coloring, as the birds consume astaxanthin-rich algae.
Due to its status as a carotenoid, astaxanthin exhibits strong antioxidant abilities. Antioxidants scavenge for harmful free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), compounds that oxidatively damage cells and contribute to aging and disease.
Astaxanthin may have higher antioxidant activity than other well-known carotenoids, including lutein, lycopene, and beta-carotene. This is due to astaxanthin’s unique structure — the compound remains both inside and outside of the cell membrane, allowing it to inhibit fat oxidation and scavenge for inflammatory molecules from all sides.
Top 6 Anti-Aging Benefits of Astaxanthin
The aging process occurs from both the inside and outside. Inside the body, aging can lead to the damage or dysfunction of cells, mitochondria, and DNA. These degradations contribute to the onset of age-related illnesses, including joint problems, neurodegenerative issues, and vision loss. Outwardly, aging can manifest with wrinkles, sallow or sagging skin, and hair loss or graying.
Astaxanthin may be a beneficial compound for fighting some of the inner and outer signs of aging, likely due to its role as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound.
1. Protects Mitochondrial Function
With age, the energy-producing mitochondria in our cells decline in quality and function. When mitochondria produce ATP for energy, a small amount of ROS is created as a byproduct, which needs to be neutralized by antioxidants. When there are not enough antioxidants present or when mitochondrial function declines — as seen with age — the inflammatory compounds accumulate, and chronic disease may develop.
As discussed in a September 2018 review published in Nutrients, astaxanthin inhibits this oxidative stress-induced mitochondrial decline, protects mitochondrial integrity, and may prevent accelerated aging and diseases related to ROS buildup.
2. Promotes Autophagy
Astaxanthin has also been shown to promote autophagy, the body’s internal “recycling” program, where damaged or dysfunctional compounds are removed to promote longevity and prevent chronic disease.
A paper published in Marine Drugs in October 2019 described astaxanthin as a modulator of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) pathway, which inhibits mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). The inhibition of mTOR boosts autophagy and is thought to increase lifespan.
3. Protects Against Skin Deterioration
Aging or damaged skin can be thin, dry, sallow, sun-damaged, sagging, or wrinkled; astaxanthin may be able to protect against some of these deteriorations.
In a small randomized controlled trial published in Nutrients in July 2018, Japanese adults with skin deterioration from UV exposure were assigned to take a 4 mg astaxanthin supplement or a placebo.
After the 10-week trial, those who took astaxanthin had improved skin moisture, texture, and minimal erythema dose (MED). MED is the threshold that produces sunburn from UV radiation; a higher MED means that one would be less susceptible to skin damage from the sun. This indicates that supplemental astaxanthin may protect against UV damage.
Another study looked at the effects of astaxanthin or placebo on skin deterioration in adult women. Those in the placebo group experienced more wrinkles and reduced skin moisture during the 16-week study, while those who supplemented with 6 mg or 12 mg of astaxanthin appeared to be protected. Although the wrinkles and low skin moisture were not reversed in the astaxanthin group, these results indicate that astaxanthin may slow down these signs of skin aging.
Lastly, a 2012 study found that women who used astaxanthin in both supplemental (6 mg per day) and topical form for eight weeks saw significant improvements in crow’s feet wrinkles, age spot size, skin elasticity, skin moisture, and skin texture. The same research group also looked at astaxanthin’s effect on males’ skin; they found that oral supplementation with astaxanthin improved the men’s crow’s feet wrinkles, elasticity, and skin water loss more than a placebo.
4. Supports Joint Health
In animal and cell-based studies, astaxanthin protects against joint-related inflammation. A November 2019 study published in Aging found that astaxanthin mitigated degradation of the extracellular matrix (ECM); the structure of the ECM is crucial for maintaining cartilage health.
Astaxanthin also reduced several inflammatory cytokines and signaling pathways, including IL-1β, TNF-α, and NF-κB. Additionally, astaxanthin increased the expression of Nrf2, a transcription factor that has been shown to slow the progression of OA.
Although studies in humans are needed, the results from this research suggest that astaxanthin may help support joint health with age.
5. Supports Brain Health
As oxidative stress and inflammation are drivers of neurodegenerative disease, researchers have also studied astaxanthin to determine its role in supporting brain health and cognition. Astaxanthin easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support to the brain.Animal studies have supported these claims. In a February 2019 study published in GeroScience, aged mice who received astaxanthin for one month saw improvements in cognitive task performance and synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus. Synaptic plasticity — or the brain’s ability to modify and rewire connections — is an essential part of maintaining memory and cognition.
Similarly, a March 2016 study with mice found that astaxanthin was significantly linked to improved hippocampal neurogenesis and spatial memory scores. Increased neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons, can slow down the aging process and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
6. Supports Eye Health
Vision loss is a common concern with age; astaxanthin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities may mitigate this decline. Astaxanthin may also improve vision by increasing blood flow in the retinal capillaries, inhibiting the NF-κB signaling pathway, and relaxing the eye’s ciliary muscles.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of blindness among older adults, affecting approximately one-third of adults over age 75. As excessive light exposure may cause AMD, researchers aimed to determine if astaxanthin could protect against light-induced retinal damage.
The study, published in the Journal of Pharmacological Sciences in October 2013, exposed mice and cells to excessive light exposure. After astaxanthin supplementation, retinal damage was inhibited, inflammatory reactive oxygen species (ROS) were reduced, and the death of retinal cells was prevented.
Two studies with humans have looked at the effects of astaxanthin supplementation on eye health. Published in April 2015, the first found that adults taking a supplement containing astaxanthin saw improvements in blurred vision and accommodative ability, a marker of clear and focused vision.
The second study, published in April 2012, found that supplementation with astaxanthin and other antioxidant compounds had significantly improved visual acuity and scores on the National Eye Institute visual function questionnaire compared to the placebo.
However, the treatment in both studies also included the carotenoid antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, or other nutrients, like vitamins C and E, so we can’t say for sure that astaxanthin is the sole reason behind the visual improvements.
Supplement Safety and How to Use
Astaxanthin supplements are generally considered safe to use. Its bioavailability is greatly increased when consumed with food compared to on an empty stomach. A standard dose is between 4 and 8 mg per day. However, the ideal dose of astaxanthin is not currently known. Potential side effects may include red stool color or an increased frequency of bowel movements.
As always, ask your doctor before beginning any new supplements. There is not enough research to determine if astaxanthin supplements are safe for pregnancy or lactation.
- Astaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment, providing salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crab, and lobster with their pink or red colorings.
- Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory capabilities, providing anti-aging benefits both internally and externally.
- This compound is linked to improved mitochondrial function and autophagy, improved skin quality, and support to the joints, brain, and eyes.
Ambati RR, Phang SM, Ravi S, Aswathanarayana RG. Astaxanthin: sources, extraction, stability, biological activities and its commercial applications--a review. Mar Drugs. 2014;12(1):128-152. Published 2014 Jan 7. doi:10.3390/md12010128
Fakhri S, Aneva IY, Farzaei MH, Sobarzo-Sánchez E. The Neuroprotective Effects of Astaxanthin: Therapeutic Targets and Clinical Perspective. Molecules. 2019;24(14):2640. Published 2019 Jul 20. doi:10.3390/molecules24142640
Grimmig B, Hudson C, Moss L, et al. Astaxanthin supplementation modulates cognitive function and synaptic plasticity in young and aged mice. Geroscience. 2019;41(1):77-87. doi:10.1007/s11357-019-00051-9
Ito N, Seki S, Ueda F. The Protective Role of Astaxanthin for UV-Induced Skin Deterioration in Healthy People-A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2018;10(7):817. Published 2018 Jun 25. doi:10.3390/nu10070817
Kidd P. Astaxanthin, cell membrane nutrient with diverse clinical benefits and anti-aging potential. Altern Med Rev. 2011;16(4):355-364. PMID:22214255
Kim SH, Kim H. Astaxanthin Modulation of Signaling Pathways That Regulate Autophagy. Mar Drugs. 2019;17(10):546. Published 2019 Sep 23. doi:10.3390/md17100546
Kim SH, Kim H. Inhibitory Effect of Astaxanthin on Oxidative Stress-Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction-A Mini-Review. Nutrients. 2018;10(9):1137. Published 2018 Aug 21. doi:10.3390/nu10091137
Kono K, Shimizu Y, Takahashi S, Matsuoka S, Yui K. Effect of Multiple Dietary Supplement Containing Lutein, Astaxanthin, Cyanidin-3-Glucoside, and DHA on Accommodative Ability. Curr Med Chem. 2014;14(2):114-125. doi:10.2174/187152221402150408111137
Otsuka T, Shimazawa M, Nakanishi T, et al. Protective effects of a dietary carotenoid, astaxanthin, against light-induced retinal damage. J Pharmacol Sci. 2013;123(3):209-218. doi:10.1254/jphs.13066fp
Piermarocchi S, Saviano S, Parisi V, et al. Carotenoids in Age-related Maculopathy Italian Study (CARMIS): two-year results of a randomized study. Eur J Ophthalmol. 2012;22(2):216-225. doi:10.5301/ejo.5000069
Sun K, Luo J, Jing X, et al. Astaxanthin protects against osteoarthritis via Nrf2: a guardian of cartilage homeostasis. Aging (Albany NY). 2019;11(22):10513-10531. doi:10.18632/aging.102474
Tominaga K, Hongo N, Fujishita M, Takahashi Y, Adachi Y. Protective effects of astaxanthin on skin deterioration. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2017;61(1):33-39. doi:10.3164/jcbn.17-35
Tominaga K, Hongo N, Karato M, Yamashita E. Cosmetic benefits of astaxanthin on humans subjects. Acta Biochim Pol. 2012;59(1):43-47. PMID:22428137
Yook JS, Okamoto M, Rakwal R, et al. Astaxanthin supplementation enhances adult hippocampal neurogenesis and spatial memory in mice. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2016;60(3):589-599. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201500634