Astaxanthin is a red carotenoid that occurs in plants, algae, and seafood. It’s the pigment that gives salmon and flamingos their pinkish hue (Trends in Biotechnology). It protects the skin and eyes of these animals from the harmful irradiation of the sun — so what does it do for people?
Astaxanthin as an antioxidant
Astaxanthan has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant that works better than vitamin E by 100 times (Trends in Biotechnology), and by some estimates as much as 1000 times (Japanese Society for Carotenoid Research). In both in vitro and in vivo studies, it’s shown to help fight oxidative stress. In a study with rats, it was found to heal and serve as an anti-inflammatory for carrageenan-induced paw endema better than vitamin E at lower concentrations (Physiological Chemistry & Physics & Medicine).
[Read More: Spotlight On: Vitamin E]
Its antioxidant potential comes in part from its structure. It has a conjugated polyene chain and terminal ring that allow it work both within and on the surface of a cell (ß-carotene only works on the surface) (Biochimica et Biophysica Acta). Carotenoids cover the cell and can absorb oxygen-singlet molecules in the caroteniod chain, destroying itself but simultaneously saving other tissues and molecules (Trends in Biotechnology). It works particularly well to stop lipids and phospholipids from undergoing perioxidation.
How does it help the body?
Astaxanthin has been very promising for the body in many ways, in particular brain and heart health. When taken as a supplement it has beneficial effects on hypertension, improves cardiovascular remodeling, and lessens oxidative stress (Life Extension). In one study with rats it decreased macrophage infiltration and aptosis under conditions of atherosclerosis.
It’s also hopeful as “brain food.” Some reports have hypothesized that astaxathin might be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and fight the oxidative stress that causes neurodegeneration. One study with rats found that it reduced ischemia-related brain tissue injury. With further studies, researchers are looking into whether astaxanthin could be used to treat diseases like early-stage Alzheimer’s.
How does it help the skin?
In a study with 49 women around age 47, researchers gave women 4 milligrams of astaxanthan or a placebo twice a day for six weeks in a single-blind study. They found that the women who took astaxanthan had noticeable improvement in wrinkles, fine lines, and elasticity (Japanese Society for Carotenoid Research). Another eight-week study with 30 women found similar results (Acta Biochimica Polonica).
Topically applied it works too. A study with 36 men found that applying a cream with astaxanthin for six-weeks improved elasticity and signs of crow’s feet (Acta Biochimica Polonica).
It’s also showing potential for being helpful with UV-induced stress. In vitro, it’s been found to protect against UVA light-induced oxidative stress, more so than ß-carotene (Journal of Dermatological Science). Other antioxidants have been shown to be effective in reducing UV-damage, so with more scientific evidence we’ll see how beneficial astaxanthin can be (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology).
What should you be aware of being using astaxanthin orally or topically?
Before taking any supplement, you should consult your doctor to make sure that it won’t interfere with any medications or cause issues with pre-existing conditions. Dr. Josheph Mercola, along with other doctors, recommends a dosage of 10 mg. Curiously, astaxanthin has been shown as safe in doses as high as 460 mg per day in studies with rats (BioReal).
And don’t use it topically with retinol for now. One study found that when mice were treated with just retinol and exposed to UV light, there was a decrease of damaging epidermal ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) and there was no accumulation of free polyamines. With astaxanthine and ß-carotene there was even more of a reduction of both. But when retinol was mixed with either astaxanthine or ß-carotene, there was a slight increase in ODC and free polyamines (International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research). We don’t know what causes this or whether the results are the same when one or both are taken as supplements, so until then, if you want to use astaxanthin consider skin-firming peptides instead of retinol and talk to your dermatologist.
Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant that’s been shown to have some anti-inflammatory and healing effects. It works topically to reduce wrinkles and fine lines but also internally to do the same. In addition to being beneficial to the skin as a supplement, there’s also evidence that it could help the brain and the heart, protecting against certain diseases. However, it seems that it could increase ODC and free polyamines when used topically with retinol. If you’re going to use astaxanthin, as with any new supplement or topical agent, it’s important to consult your doctor or dermatologist.