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Astaxanthin is an Antioxidant Related to Vitamin A

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Updated February 09, 2014

Astaxanthin is a natural substance found in microalgae, krill and such seafood as salmon, trout and shrimp. It's a carotenoid, so it's related to vitamin A, beta-carotene and the other carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. It may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

If that's true, astaxanthin might be part of the reason why fish and seafood are good for you (along with being low in calories and rich in healthy omega-3 fats).

Carotenoids in general are thought to be beneficial for your health because of their antioxidant capacity. Population studies show that people who eat diets rich in carotenoids tend to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. But it's really not possible to know how much of that benefit is due to any specific foods or carotenoids.

Salmon, trout and shrimp are all good sources of astaxanthin. They're low in calories and total fat, plus they contain the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Here are a few healthy recipes that feature salmon, trout and shrimp:

Astaxanthin has been studied in the lab to see if it might help prevent or treat cardiovascular disease, upset stomach, male infertility, macular degeneration and diabetes, and reduce the discomfort of menopause. Laboratory research on animals has shown some promise, but clinical studies on humans are lacking. Only a few preliminary and small, controlled trials have been published, so it's too early to know if astaxanthin is really beneficial as a therapeutic agent or not.

Of course, strong evidence isn't always necessary for a natural substance to be extracted, packed into pills and sold as a dietary supplement. Astaxanthin is marketed with the claims that it supports muscle endurance, improves sperm quality, promotes healthier skin and is good for your vision. But these claims are made with little or no evidence.

Astaxanthin appears to be safe, but right now there isn't any evidence that the supplements will help prevent or treat any health condition. You're probably better off getting your astaxanthin from such foods as salmon and trout, and skipping the supplements. And always, speak to your healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplements.

Sources:

Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Cornelli U, Dugall M. "MF Afragil® in the treatment of 34 menopause symptoms: a pilot study." Panminerva Med. 2010 Jun;52(2 Suppl 1):49-54.

Comhaire FH, El Garem Y, Mahmoud A, Eertmans F, Schoonjans F. "Combined conventional/antioxidant "Astaxanthin" treatment for male infertility: a double blind, randomized trial." Asian J Androl. 2005 Sep;7(3):257-62.

Fassett RG, Coombes JS. "Astaxanthin: a potential therapeutic agent in cardiovascular disease." Mar Drugs. 2011 Mar 21;9(3):447-65.

Kupcinskas L, Lafolie P, Lignell A, Kiudelis G, Jonaitis L, Adamonis K, Andersen LP, Wadström T. "Efficacy of the natural antioxidant astaxanthin in the treatment of functional dyspepsia in patients with or without Helicobacter pylori infection: A prospective, randomized, double blind, and placebo-controlled study." Phytomedicine. 2008 Jun;15(6-7):391-9.

Riccioni G, D'Orazio N, Franceschelli S, Speranza L. "Marine carotenoids and cardiovascular risk markers." Mar Drugs. 2011;9(7):1166-75.

Standard Research Collaboration. "Astaxanthin Bottom Line Monograph." Accessed February 14, 2012. http://naturalstandard.com

Yoshida H, Yanai H, Ito K, Tomono Y, Koikeda T, Tsukahara H, Tada N. "Administration of natural astaxanthin increases serum HDL-cholesterol and adiponectin in subjects with mild hyperlipidemia." Atherosclerosis. 2010 Apr;209(2):520-3.

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