Astaxanthin for immune health, brain health, and male fertility?

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 22 No. 6
Volume 22
Issue 6

A brief look at three of the lesser-known health benefits of natural astaxanthin.

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Astaxanthin has long been known for its clinically validated uses for eye health, skin health, joint and tendon support, and its benefits for athletes. But it does a whole lot more. In fact, there are over 100 human clinical trials showing that astaxanthin-and, specifically, natural astaxanthin-has ten distinct health benefits in humans.

Did you know that natural astaxanthin can enhance male fertility? Or that Washington State University did a series of trials showing that natural astaxanthin can modulate the immune system of several different mammal species, including humans? Or that there are nine different human studies showing that natural astaxanthin can support brain health? In this article, we take a brief look at these three lesser-known health benefits of natural astaxanthin.

Immune System Modulator

Washington State University Professors Boon Chew and Jean Soon Park performed a progressive series of studies on astaxanthin’s effects on immunity starting in the late 1990s. They were not the first academics to do research in this area, however. Harumi Jyonouchi, MD, of the University of Minnesota’s School of Medicine was the initiator of immunity research on astaxanthin. She published eight different studies starting in the 1980s-in vitro studies and in rodents-each demonstrating that natural astaxanthin can enhance the immune response.1

Drs. Chew and Park picked up where Dr. Jyonouchi left off. They did a few mouse studies before moving on to a study in cats2 and another in dogs3, both with very positive and similar results showing that astaxanthin increased several immune markers. The dog study went even further, finding that astaxanthin decreased DNA damage and also reduced C-reactive protein, the chief marker of systemic inflammation.

Then they moved to humans and did a landmark clinical study4 in young women. They randomly separated the women into three groups: 1) placebo, 2) 2 mg of astaxanthin per day, and 3) 8 mg of astaxanthin per day. The diverse results showed that, at both the 2-mg and 8-mg doses, natural astaxanthin:

  • Increased the total number of antibody-producing B cells

  • Amplified natural killer cell cytotoxic activity

  • Increased the number of T cells

  • Stimulated lymphocyte counts

  • Significantly increased delayed-type hypersensitivity response

  • Dramatically decreased DNA damage

  • Reduced C-reactive protein

Natural Support for the Brain

There have been almost 100 studies demonstrating that astaxanthin supports the brain in a variety of ways. However, only nine of these studies have been in humans, and five of them have taken place over the last few years. But in the future, we believe that studies exploring astaxanthin’s effects on the brain will continue to grow, leading to increased potential of the ingredient in cognitive health. After all, the supplement industry has long embraced natural astaxanthin for its eye-health benefits for two reasons: 1) because the human research in that area started earlier, and 2) there has been more of it. The same could be true for astaxanthin in the area of brain health as more research accumulates.

The very first trials in the brain-health area were done in rodents way back in the 1940s and 1950s in France. Two doctoral candidates did pioneering work to show that astaxanthin can cross the blood-brain barrier and bring its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection to the brain.5,6 They showed that once astaxanthin reaches the brain, it can then cross the blood-retinal barrier and help protect the eyes as well.

In the interest of brevity, let’s look at some of the most important human clinical trials on brain health to understand natural astaxanthin’s protection of our bodies’ control center:

  • In the first human brain-health study, astaxanthin at 12 mg/day over 12 weeks showed efficacy for age-related decline in cognitive and psychomotor functions in subjects with age-related forgetfulness7

  • In another study on older subjects (who were also suffering from age-related forgetfulness), astaxanthin showed potential to improve cognitive function. The participants were asked to perform two cognitive tests after supplementing with placebo, 6 mg of astaxanthin/day, or 12 mg of astaxanthin/day. Improvements were found in both treatment groups, with the 12 mg/day group showing better results8

  • There have been a few different studies showing that astaxanthin can help people prevent neurodegeneration as they get older. But how does this occur? There is a substance that accumulates in the erythrocytes of dementia patients called phospholipid hydroperoxide (PLOOH). In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on older adults, Japanese researchers found that natural astaxanthin reduced PLOOH levels and increased antioxidant activity in erythrocytes at both dosage levels tested (6 mg/day and 12 mg/day). They concluded that astaxanthin supplementation may contribute to the prevention of dementia9

  • A new benefit for brain health emerged in a study published this year. (Disclosure: This study was sponsored by our company, Algae Health Sciences/BGG.) Healthy individuals who were exercising were given either placebo or 12 mg/day of natural astaxanthin. After eight weeks of supplementation, significant improvement in psychological state was found in the astaxanthin group. Results included reduction in feelings of depression by 57%, decrease in mental fatigue by 36%, and improvement in overall mood state by 11%. (A patent is pending for this novel finding.)10


Male Fertility Enhancer

Infertility is an increasing occurrence among couples worldwide, and in approximately half the cases, the cause is poor semen quality or performance. Due to changes in our environment, food consumption, and lifestyle, sperm just aren’t swimming as well as they used to. Fortunately, research in a few different mammal species (including humans) shows that supplementing with natural astaxanthin may help. Research in this area started back in the 1990s, and a patent (now expired) was taken out on the use of astaxanthin to improve breeding in mammals.11

A landmark study12 was done in couples who had been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for over 12 months and where the male had been diagnosed with poor semen quality. The men were randomized into two groups: a placebo group and a group taking 16 mg/day of astaxanthin. There were no significant differences between the two groups in any fertility-related parameters. This study lasted for three months. At the end of the study, some major differences were found between the placebo and treatment groups:

  • Sperm linear velocity increased in the astaxanthin group

  • Reactive oxygen species decreased in the astaxanthin group

  • 10.5% of the placebo couples got pregnant

  • 54.5% of the astaxanthin-treated couples got pregnant

In simple terms, astaxanthin appears to have made the men’s sperm swim faster. This is most likely due to astaxanthin’s ability to eliminate a lot of the oxidation that occurs in sperm. This is a fantastic result, considering that the average time that the couples were trying to conceive was 20 months, yet in this three-month study, over half of the treatment couples got pregnant. The researchers theorized that this quick result could mean that astaxanthin helps improve the functional capacity of the sperm, as compared to changing the sperm themselves. Another study13 showing similar results had been published previously. This study concluded that astaxanthin helped improve the quality of sperm.

A recent clinical trial14 was done by a group of researchers sponsored by the government of Italy. Unlike the previous two human studies, this study was done on men with no fertility issues. Their fertility was evaluated using a “spermiogram” (a series of biochemical, physical, and morphological tests on a man’s semen, including on sperm count, motility, morphology, volume, fructose level, and pH).

The analysis of the subjects in this study determined that their sperm fell into the normal range on all parameters tested. In addition, the men all had at least one child and were within a normal age group for new fathers (24 to 37 years). Results for the treatment group showed a net increase in different motility parameters and sperm functioning, leading to the conclusion: “Astaxanthin, by ameliorating the patient group’s sperm functioning, may be utilized to decrease male idiopathic infertility.” Thus, we see that astaxanthin can help improve the functionality and motility of sperm in both fertile and infertile men.

Astaxanthin across the Health Spectrum

Most people in the dietary supplement industry are already familiar with astaxanthin’s benefits for eyes, joints, skin, and for athletes. But a review of the literature shows that it does a lot more. It can help protect our brains as we age and may also be effective for reducing depression and mental fatigue. It’s been shown to improve immune markers in many different mammal species, including humans. And one of its most unique benefits is that it can improve male fertility. More research in these areas is needed, but already, it’s remarkable how many ways this one molecule may be capable of keeping us healthy and happy.

Bob Capelli is executive vice president, global marketing, Algae Health Sciences (Irvine, CA), a subsidiary of BGG North America (Irvine, CA). Reach him at Lixin Ding, PhD, is chief scientist for BGG North America. Reach him at Capelli and Ding are the authors of Natural Astaxanthin: The Supplement You Can Feel, a 300-page consumer-friendly book on astaxanthin available at no cost by e-mailing



  1. Capelli B., Ding L. Natural Astaxanthin: The Supplement You Can Feel. ISBN: 978-0-9992223-0-0
  2. Park JS et al. “Astaxanthin stimulates cell-mediated and humoral immune responses in cats.” Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, vol. 144, no. 3-4 (December 15, 2011): 455-461
  3. Chew BP et al. “Dietary astaxanthin enhances immune response in dogs.” Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, vol. 140, no. 3-4 (April 15, 2011): 199-206
  4. Park J et al. “Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans.” Nutrition and Metabolism. Published online March 5, 2010.
  5. Grangaud R. “Research on Astaxanthin, a New Vitamin A Factor.” Doctoral Thesis at University of Lyon, France. (1951)
  6. Massonet R. “Research on Astaxanthin’s Biochemistry.” Doctoral Thesis at University of Lyon, France. (1958)
  7. Satoh A et al. “Preliminary clinical evaluation of toxicity and efficacy of a new astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis extract.” Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, vol. 44, no. 3 (May 2009): 280-284
  8. Katagiri M et al. “Effects of astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis extract on cognitive function: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, vol. 51, no. 2 (September 2012): 102-107
  9. Nakagawa K et al. “Antioxidant effect of astaxanthin on phospholipid peroxidation in human erythrocytes.” The British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 105, no. 11 (June 2011): 1563-1571
  10. Talbott S et al. “Astaxanthin supplementation reduces depression and fatigue in healthy subjects.” EC Nutrition. Published online February 26, 2019.
  11. U.S. Patent #6054491. Lignell A et al. “Agent for increasing the production of/in breeding and production mammals.” (2000)
  12. Comhaire FH et al. “Combined conventional/antioxidant ‘astaxanthin’ treatment for male infertility: a double blind randomized trial.” Asian Journal of Andrology, vol. 7, no. 3 (September 2005): 257-262
  13. Garem Y et al. “Natural Astaxanthin Improves Semen Quality in Infertile Men.” XIII International Carotenoid Symposium Hawaii, January 2002. Patent Cooperation Treaty Application WO99/29313. AstaCarotene AB, Sweden.
  14. Andrisani A et al. “Astaxanthin improves human sperm capacitation by inducing lyn displacement and activation.” Marine Drugs, vol. 13, no. 9 (August 25, 2015): 5533-5551
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