The emerging science on the carotenoid, astaxanthin, is uncovering some interesting and potent effects on human health.

Astaxanthin supplementation is consistent with our philosophy of addressing factors lacking or absent from modern life that, when restored, allow numerous common health conditions to recede, an approach distinct from introducing factors to “treat” abnormalities. Don’t “treat” high blood sugar, for example; instead, address the factors that allow high blood sugar to emerge in the first place, an approach that leads to broad and powerful recovery of health, not just reduced blood sugars. An increase in dietary carotenoids such as astaxanthin can be part of this effort.

Astaxanthin is ordinarily obtained through ingestion of fish and crustaceans. Salmon can be especially abundant source of astaxanthin: 6 ounces of wild salmon contains around 4-6 mg of astaxanthin (and it’s sometimes added to farmed salmon to enhance color). Trout, shrimp, crab, and crayfish are also sources. Commercial production of astaxanthin, however, relies on the microalgae, Haematococcus pluvialis, a vigorous producer of astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a close relative of other carotenoids, such as the beta-carotene and lycopene of carrots, kale, squash, tomatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables and fruits. And, in light of my recent conversations on how you and I can favorably impact body shape and composition (i.e., distribution of fat and muscle), astaxanthin is an important player in that effort. 

Emerging evidence is uncovering a number of interesting effects of increased intake of astaxanthin. Among the effects:

  • If you subscribe to the idea that oxidation is an adverse phenomenon, astaxanthin is one of the most potent antioxidants known, several thousand times more potent, for instance, than vitamin C, 10x more potent than carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, five times more potent than beta-carotene. Astaxanthin thereby reduces reactive oxidative species in LDL particles, mitochondria (where oxidation may contribute to the aging process), and in the brain.
  • Astaxanthin suppresses cytokine mediators of aging, so-called “inflammaging,” the inflammation of aging. This involves mediators such as Nrf1, nuclear factor κB, and TGFβ1 that increase with aging. Astaxanthin is a potent inhibitor of all three and is therefore suspected to slow some of the phenomena of aging, though not yet proven in a real-world setting (as is true for many agents suspected to provide anti-aging or longevity benefits).
  • Astaxanthin reverses multiple aspects of skin aging, resulting in reduced wrinkle depth, increased moisture, increased skin flexibility, and reductions in sun damaged skin. Astaxanthin also increases tolerance to UV radiation, helping prevent future sun damage. Such effects have been well-documented in human clinical trials.
  • Astaxanthin blocks the oxidation of LDL particles that are more atherogenic, i.e., likely to cause increased accumulation of atherosclerotic plaque. (Recall that glycated and oxidized LDL particles, i.e., “glycoxidized” LDL particles, are potent triggers of atherosclerotic plaque.) It also inhibits the action of matrix metalloproteinase enzymes within atherosclerotic plaque that makes the plaque unstable and prone to rupture, i.e., cause heart attack. Astaxanthin therefore likely reduces risk for cardiovascular events.
  • Causes a modest shift towards preferentially “burning” fat for energy while extending exercise duration, a phenomenon that appears to apply to everyday people but not the super fit or trained athletes.
  • Modest reduction in blood glucose and blood pressure. 
  • While the evidence is preliminary, astaxanthin may exert beneficial effects on the gastrointestinal microbiome, discouraging proliferation of fecal microbes (Proteobacteria such as E. coli) and encouraging proliferation of beneficial species such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species, as well as Akkermansia, changes that further support metabolic health and restoration of normal distribution of fat and muscle.

Astaxanthin is not well-absorbed unless ingested with fats and oils. Take it, for instance, with fish oil capsules, something with butter, or a salad that contains extra-virgin olive oil. Dosing is not well worked out, but most benefits occur at 4 mg per day or higher.

I mention all this because, at first, I did not fully appreciate that astaxanthin provided such a broad array of metabolic and potentially young-preserving effects. But I believe I am witnessing this play out in those of us who have been supplementing astaxanthin to add to the dietary intake from salmon, shrimp, lobster, etc. It is part of our effort to compensate for all the disasters caused by “official” dietary guidelines that caused us to abandon consumption of organ meats and thereby lead to lack of collagen, hyaluronic acid, and other nutrients; advice to increase consumption of grains that causes mineral deficiencies and triggers numerous modern diseases; reduce dietary fat intake that leads to incessant hunger and a need to compensate for lost calories by consumption of grains and other junk sources; and problems caused by human pollution of the oceans that forces us to limit consumption of fish, shellfish, and other marine creatures due to contamination with mercury and cadmium. Unless we return to the style of eating programmed into the human genetic code, we are thereby forced to restore lost nutrients piecemeal.