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Astaxanthin for eye, heart and brain health

Wednesday September 30, 2020
Astaxanthin for eye, heart and brain health

Chances are you have not heard of astaxanthin, yet if you consume pink and red coloured foods you are getting it in your diet. Astaxanthin belongs to the carotenoid family, a group of highly pigmented bioactives. 

Astaxanthin is found in salmon, crustaceans and algae, denoted by its rich red pigment.  In wildlife it is clear which species consume large volumes of astaxanthin, due to the transfer of pigment, these include salmon, crustaceans and flamingos.  But rest assured, this effect is not apparent in humans.


Carotenoids are associated with several health benefits and so it is no surprise that many are attributed to astaxanthin. The pigmentation of astaxanthin denotes its antioxidant capacity which may confer a protective effect from several chronic conditions, of greatest significance are eye, heart and brain health. 

In fact, a fluorometric assay revealed that astaxanthin demonstrated the greatest antioxidant activity toward peroxyl radicals, these are the aggressive molecules that are generated from UV rays, compared to all the other carotenoids.

Eye Health

The eye is governed by a series of tissues, tendons, ligaments and fine muscles that stretch the lens to allow the eye to focus on sites of varying distance.  These tissues are at risk of damage and such damage can contribute to diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. However, carotenoids are found in abundance in macular tissues and this has led to further research to investigate the effect of individual carotenoids on eye health.

Although astaxanthin is historically reputed beneficial for skin health and anti-aging, emerging evidence has revealed exactly where astaxanthin exerts its antioxidant effects.  In most cases, an antioxidant nutrient exerts its effects either solely on the outer region of the cell membrane or the inner.  But what makes astaxanthin so special, is that it exerts antioxidant effects on both the inner and outer regions of the cell.

The CARMIS Study group, Carotenoids in Age-Related Maculopathy Italian Study, ran a series of investigations in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  The initial study evaluated astaxanthin as part of an antioxidant nutrient formula, then again, as part of a carotenoid blend.  


In the astaxanthin plus antioxidant nutrient group impairment in the central region of the retina was improved at 6 and 12 months of supplementation in those who were not classified as advanced AMD.  While in the astaxanthin plus carotenoid group visual acuity was improved at 24 months of supplementation.  Overall, these outcomes are highly encouraging and show that retinal damage was improved so that the ability to see in detailed definition was improved.

Brain Health

The brain can be thought of as the control centre, it is a highly sophisticated organ which regulates the whole body through a network of feedback loops.  Not only does the brain manage conscious activities but also reflexes, motor skills and the ability to retain and recall information.  

Neurodegenerative disorders refer to the progressive loss of sensory, motor and cognitive function induced by brain cell death, in short, brain cells become damaged or dysfunctional.  Brain cell death or damage is considered a result of oxidative damage, inflammation and cell suicide. Subsequently, astaxanthin offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and so may be useful in preserving cognitive function and overall brain health.

Astaxanthin naturally occurring in the algae, Haematococcus pluvialis was investigated for its effect on cognitive function in 96 middle aged and elderly patients who complained of forgetfulness.  The group were given either 6mg, 12mg of astaxanthin or placebo for 12 weeks.  Every 4 weeks the patients underwent cognitive tests.  Both the 6mg and 12mg doses showed improvements in cognitive function within the 12-week time frame.


These results show that the antioxidant effect of astaxanthin is beneficial for the brain and may slow cognitive decline while further confirming that astaxanthin works upon several types of body tissues.

Heart Health

While the brain is the control centre the heart can be likened to the engine of the body.  It is a site dense in energy producing structures, veins, arteries and muscle.  The damaging side effect of energy production is the amount of charged oxygen molecules that are produced and contribute to oxidative damage and inflammation.  The heart muscle is especially susceptible to oxidative damage and inflammation, so it makes sense to investigate the protective effects of antioxidant nutrients in terms of heart health.  

Astaxanthin has been shown to counter oxidative damage generated by homocysteine, an aggressive molecule that when elevated is associated with the increased risk of cardiovascular conditions.  It is proposed that astaxanthin protected the cells from homocysteine-induced damage and quelled the molecules responsible for oxidative damage to the heart tissues.

Astaxanthin - A potential natural protector

Subsequently, this collection of evidence has demonstrated that astaxanthin can confer a protective effect to a variety of organ tissues.  This non-specific effect may mean that further future benefits from the dietary inclusion of astaxanthin are revealed.  Furthermore, it is refreshing to see a greater availability of natural algae-derived astaxanthin in favour of highly processed sources that may be packed with fillers, binders and other non-nutritive substances.

Author: Jenny Carson is a Nutritional Practitioner and Technical Services Manager at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Nutritional Science and is a Master of Research (MRes) in Public Health.

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Fan CD, Sun JY, Fu XT, et al. Astaxanthin Attenuates Homocysteine-Induced Cardiotoxicity in Vitro and in Vivo by Inhibiting Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Oxidative Damage. Front Physiol. 2017;8:1041. Published 2017 Dec 12.

Giannaccare, G., Pellegrini, M., Senni, C., Bernabei, F., Scorcia, V., & Cicero, A. (2020). Clinical Applications of Astaxanthin in the Treatment of Ocular Diseases: Emerging Insights. Marine drugs, 18(5), 239.

Katagiri, M., Satoh, A., Tsuji, S., & Shirasawa, T. (2012). Effects of astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis extract on cognitive function: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition, 51(2), 102–107. 

Naguib YM. Antioxidant activities of astaxanthin and related carotenoids. J Agric Food Chem. 2000;48(4):1150-1154.

Parisi V, Tedeschi M, Gallinaro G, et al. Carotenoids and antioxidants in age-related maculopathy Italian study: multifocal electroretinogram modifications after 1 year. Ophthalmology. 2008;115(2):324-333.e2.

Piermarocchi S., Saviano S., Parisi V., Tedeschi M., Panozzo G., Scarpa G., Boschi G., Giudice G.L. (2012) Carotenoids in Age-related maculopathy Italian study (CARMIS): Two-year results of a randomized study. European Journal of Ophthalmology, 22 (2) 216-225.

The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.


TAGS: NewsSkin Health, Astaxanthin


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