Introduction to Astaxanthin

Astaxanthin is a natural carotenoid commonly found in microalgae, such as Haematoccis pluvialis. The algae turns from a green color to red when access astaxanthin builds outside of the cholorplast. (1).  One of the most well-known functions of Astaxanthin is its antioxidant properties.  This carotenoid is a potent antioxidant indicated in a variety of mechanisms useful for human health. Research for astaxanthin has focused on beneficial immune effects, lessening inflammation, supporting eye and skin health, and lowering oxidative stress and plasma triglycerides. While humans are incapable of converting astaxanthin to a usable form of vitamin a, astaxanthin is still bioavailable and transported by lipoproteins through the plasma. Outside of nutraceutical applications, Astaxanthin is a popular feed supplement in aquaculture and farm animals.(1)

Astaxanthin - Chemical compound





Figure 1 Chemical structure of Astaxanthin

Astaxanthin’s Antioxidant Abilities

Astaxanthin has gained popularity in the nutraceutical market as a potent antioxidant supplement. This nutraceutical has a greater antioxidant capacity than other well-known carotenoids such as lutein and beta-carotene. (1). In the human body, various species of free radicals occur from normal metabolism.  Free radicals in higher quantities can be quite destructive. Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant because it can inhibit reactive oxygen species. (3) Astaxanthin supplementation for human consumption has been generally reported safe. (2) The antioxidant capacity of astaxanthin is estimated to be 500 times that of alpha tocopherol. (3)

Growth and Extraction

Astaxanthin can be grown in either indoor or outdoor conditions. Haemattoccus pluvalis is cultivated in open ponds in Hawaii, India, China, and Japan. Tubular PBR (Photo Bioreactors) are used for cultivation in India and Israel. (4) Large scale production of astaxanthin from haematococcus pluvalis is focused on providing the required stressed environment to produce the astaxanthin. This process generally utilizes two very different steps. First, optimum growing conditions establish a well-nourished crop of algae. Then, controlled stressed conditions are applied, such as dilution, which causes haematococcus to produce and increase the content of astaxanthin.(2)

Extracting astaxanthin from haematoccus for use in nutraceutical supplements is achieved by super critical CO2 extraction or edible oils. The extract is then diluted in oil to the right consistency. (2)

Applications for use

Whole biomass is used in animal feeds. Astaxanthin promotes positive reproductive health and coloration for certain species of fish. Animals benefit from astaxanthin supplementation by its antioxidant functions by protecting DNA, lipids, and other cells. (2) Certain species of aquaculture benefit from the color enhancing effects from consuming astaxanthin. Shrimp, prawn, trout and salmon benefit from enhanced coloring from astaxanthin for their market value.(3) Salmonid feed for the trout and salmon are top users of astaxanthin in aquaculture. (2)

The interest for astaxanthin is growing in several different markets. Animal feed, food, cosmetics, and nutraceutical industries find astaxanthin a highly valued and popular extract.(4)



  1. Wan-Loy C. POTENTIAL APPLICATIONS OF ANTIOXIDANT COMPOUNDS DERIVED FROM ALGAE. Current Topics In Nutraceutical Research [serial online]. August 2011;9(3):83-98. Available from: Food Science Source, Ipswich, MA. Accessed August 5, 2013.
  2. Barrow, Colin James. (2007). Nutraceutical Science and Technology, Volume 7 : Marine Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods. Boca Raton: CRC Press. P.323-329.
  3. Venugopal, V. 1., & ebrary, I. (2009). Marine products for healthcare: Functional and bioactive nutraceutical compounds from the ocean. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.p.223
  4. Posten, Clemens Walter, Christian. (2012). Microalgal Biotechnology: Integration and Economy. Munchen, DEU: Walter de Gruyter.p.17
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