Astaxanthin: New Health Promises on the Horizon?

May 17, 2016

For one of the world’s smallest organisms, microalgae pack a big punch. One freshwater species in particular, Haematococcus pluvialis, is among nature’s most abundant sources of astaxanthin—an ingredient that has climbed up the dietary supplement sales charts in recent years.

Synthetic and natural-source astaxanthin combined may account for a worldwide market value of $1.1 billion by 2020, according to a 2015 report from Research and Markets, with much of that demand coming from the nutraceutical and cosmetic markets.

Part of the growth is likely due to astaxanthin’s antioxidant benefits, as well as high-profile endorsements on The Dr. Oz show and elsewhere, but astaxanthin has also been steadily amassing a solid research profile in a variety of health areas. Microalgae-based astaxanthin is now marketed for benefits to heart health, brain health, joint health, and skin health on the strength of recent studies, and the list continues to grow.

Astaxanthin supplier AstaReal (Tokyo, Japan) recently shared some of the latest research behind its astaxanthin ingredient at the AstaReal Symposium 2016 in Tokyo. Between recently published studies and the preliminary findings of soon-to-be-published research, the diverse range of health areas covered at the symposium speaks to the remarkably broad potential of astaxanthin in the dietary supplements market. Here are a few of the most notable findings.


Insulin Resistance and NASH

Vitamin E has become one of the most well-researched ingredients for its potential beneficial effects on insulin resistance and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)—both of which occur frequently in people suffering from obesity or type 2 diabetes. But a recent animal study1 suggests astaxanthin may be an even more effective option for these health areas.

Writing in Scientific Reports, researchers administered a variety of astaxanthin- or vitamin E–based diets to mice with diet-induced NASH for 12 weeks. Both astaxanthin and vitamin E have been found to inhibit lipid peroxidation in past research, which otherwise may lead to insulin resistance and NASH.

Researchers found that astaxanthin was more effective than vitamin E at suppressing lipid accumulation, reducing inflammation and insulin resistance, and preventing and reversing hepatic fibrosis—all of which suggest beneficial effects on NASH.

Additionally, in mice with advanced-stage NASH, astaxanthin decreased plasma triglyceride, total cholesterol, non-esterified fatty acid, aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and insulin levels, without affecting body and liver weight. Vitamin E, by comparison, “had little effect on these metabolic parameters.”

“Collectively, these results suggest that astaxanthin is similarly or more effective at preventing and treating NASH than is vitamin E,” researchers concluded.



Another study2, published in the March issue of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, explores astaxanthin’s effect on adult hippocampal neurogenesis and spatial memory in mice. Though past studies have suggested astaxanthin’s potential neuroprotective effects, little was known about its effect on hippocampal plasticity and cognition.

The study involved mice whose diets were supplemented with 0%, 0.02%, 0.1%, or 0.5% astaxanthin. Using a DNA microarray analysis, researchers found that 0.1% and 0.5% astaxanthin doses improved cell proliferation and survival. Astaxanthin doses of 0.5% were also associated with higher levels of newborn mature neurons, which may be linked to enhanced spatial memory.

The researchers concluded, “[Astaxanthin] supplementation enhanced [adult hippocampal neurogenesis] and spatial memory, and a DNA microarray approach provided, for the first time, novel molecular insights into [astaxanthin] action.”



  1. Yinhua Ni et al., “Astaxanthin prevents and reverses diet-induced insulin resistance and steatohepatitis in mice: a comparison with vitamin E,” Scientific Reports. Published online November 25, 2015.
  2. Yook JS et al., “Astaxanthin supplementation enhances adult hippocampal neurogenesis and spatial memory in mice,” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, vol. 60, no. 3 (March 2016): 589–599
  3. Mizuta M et al., “Effect of astaxanthin on vocal fold wound healing,” The Laryngoscope, vol 124, no. 1 (January 2014): E1–7