If you’re like most people, Astaxanthin is probably a word you’ve never heard before.
But astaxanthin is quickly climbing the ranks of the antioxidant world, and most people are aware of the body-wide benefits of consuming a diet high in antioxidants.
Specifically, astaxanthin is a compound that’s been extensively studied for its benefits on skin health because of its potent photoprotective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. But more recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the power of astaxanthin to protect the eyes.
Here’s what you need to know about astaxanthin and ocular health.
What Is Astaxanthin?
On a technical level, astaxanthin is a xanthophyll carotenoid, which is naturally synthesized by several types of bacteria, micro-algae, and yeasts 1.
Due to their diet, it’s a red-pink pigment that’s also present in a variety of aquatic life and gives species like salmon, shrimp, and lobster their characteristic pink flesh.
Because of its unique molecular structure, it possesses some important biologic properties as well, mostly represented by potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-apoptotic activities 2.
There’s also a growing body of evidence to support its role in the prevention and treatment of several ocular diseases.
However, one of its most well-known properties is as an antioxidant. Some studies suggest that its antioxidant capabilities are ten times more powerful than zeaxanthin, lutein, and beta-carotene, and up to 100 times more powerful than vitamin E 3.
Astaxanthin Activity: What Does It Do
So, by now you’re probably wondering what’s all the hype about with astaxanthin…
There’s a substantial body of research and clinical trials to suggest the potential role of astaxanthin in promoting eye health, as demonstrated by improvements in the outcomes of various ocular diseases including diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts 2.
But here’s what you need to be concerned with:
Our lifestyles nowadays are linked to elevated inflammation and oxidative stress that results when the delicate balance between pro-and anti-inflammatory reactions is thrown off-kilter.
When the balance is tipped in favor of pro-inflammatory molecules (i.e. free radicals), they can react with proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids and subsequently cause functional and structural damage to various areas of the body 2.
Typically, carotenoids like beta-carotene act as antioxidants by either disrupting free-radical chain reactions or by reacting with them to produce harmless by-products.
Astaxanthin, on the other hand, neutralizes oxygen singlets and scavenges radical molecules to prevent these chain reactions from happening in the first place, thus protecting membrane structure 4.
Multiple studies have shown that astaxanthin can reduce levels of oxidative markers and increase levels of antioxidant agents like superoxide dismutase (SOD) 5, 6.
By recovering the balance between pro-oxidative and anti-oxidative compounds, astaxanthin addresses one of the major features behind various ocular diseases that affect areas of the eye driven by elevated oxidative stress 1.
Light is one of the major factors in the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), as well as things like hyperglycemia and inflammatory stimuli, which contribute to adverse ocular outcomes like cellular dysfunction, apoptosis, along with the development of diseases like keratopathies, cataracts, and retinopathies.
As astaxanthin has been shown to effectively prevent the formation of ROS, supplementing with astaxanthin may prevent both the onset and progression of ROS-related diseases and maintain eye health.
What’s interesting, though, is that unlike other antioxidants that work in the inner or outer membrane of the eye, astaxanthin is capable of stretching through the bilayer membrane, thus providing greater protection against oxidative stress by scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS) in both the inner and outer layers of the cellular membrane 1, 7.
Inflammation is one of the leading underlying factors behind a whole slew of chronic health conditions, but it just so happens that it’s also a causative factor in several eye-related conditions, as well.
The link between inflammation and oxidative stress is a vicious cycle. Mediators of inflammation like interleukins (IL-1B, IL-6, and IL-8) and TNF-α, which are elevated in many ocular diseases, increase the generation of ROS, which subsequently increases the release of inflammatory cytokines and other chemicals that alter homeostasis 2; it’s a never-ending loop of inflammation caused by ROC, which increases inflammation and causes more ROS.
The inflammatory response is necessary and beneficial in acute situations, however, in a chronic situation, it can become detrimental, leading to cellular damage, pathological neovascularization, and resulting functional impairment.
However, there is some good news. Studies have shown that astaxanthin can reduce the negative effects of oxidative stress by inhibiting expression of several pro-inflammatory biomarkers, including IL-1B, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) 1.
Eye Health and Astaxanthin
When it comes to your eyes and astaxanthin, this is why you should include it in your supplement stack.
Helps Reduce Eye Strain (Asthenopia)
For those of us who spend hours on end staring at a screen, you know how hard it can be on your eyes.
Asthenopia, the more technical term for eye fatigue, is a common condition that presents as discomfort, watery eyes, blurry vision, light sensitivity, and sometimes pain in more severe cases.
Research suggests that supplementing with astaxanthin may help to relieve eyestrain in people using computer monitors.
In one study, subjects receiving astaxanthin supplementation experienced significant relief from eyestrain compared to individuals without astaxanthin 8.
The mechanisms behind how astaxanthin elicits its effects may be related to its capacity to relax the ciliary muscle, increase blood flow in retinal capillaries, and decrease NF-kB in ciliary bodies 9.
Improves Ocular Surface and Dry Eyes
The ocular surface, specifically the cornea and conjunctiva, is continually exposed to both sunlight and artificial lighting, which consists of UV light known to increase oxidative stress levels.
As we’ve mentioned, inflammation and oxidative stress are an underlying factor in the development of ocular surface disorders like dry eye disease/syndrome.
Dry eye disease is characterized by an increase in oxidative stress markers and ROS, which alter epithelial proliferation and differentiation homeostasis 2.
Decreased tear volume, an unstable tear film, and excessive tear evaporation create a hyperosmolar environment, which subsequently stimulates both inflammatory and oxidative cascades.
One study looked at the effects of an antioxidant supplement (anthocyanosides, astaxanthin, vitamins A, C, E, and herbal extracts) and a placebo in patients with dry eye disease for eight weeks.
Results showed that oral micronutrient supplementation improved both tear production and stability while simultaneously decreasing tear ROS levels. Overall, participants experienced significant relief in both signs and symptoms 10.
Uveitis is a term used to describe several inflammatory conditions affecting the middle layer of the eye.
The breakdown of the blood-aqueous barrier results in cellular infiltration, increasing protein permeability, and the upregulation of inflammatory markers such as TNF-α, IL-6, MCP-1 and MIP-1 in the aqueous humor and uveal regions 11.
The inflammatory cascade is also linked with a subsequent increase in oxidative stress levels, which in turn, increase inflammation, and the nasty cycle continues. As a result, normal tissue homeostasis is destroyed and leaves grounds for disease development.
Two studies examined the effect of astaxanthin injection in treating uveitis. They confirmed that 100mg/kg of astaxanthin is comparable to 10mg/kg of prednisone in terms of reducing cellular infiltration, protein concentration, and cytokine levels in the aqueous humor 12, 13. Thus, supplementing with astaxanthin may help to relieve uveitis.
Benefits Retinal Diseases
The retina is the most light-sensitive layer of the eye, as well as the most metabolically active tissue in the entire body.
It has a very high demand for oxygen and continuous exposure to light, meaning it’s highly vulnerable to oxidative damage and resulting inflammation.
Retinal ganglion cell death is a common characteristic of several retinal disorders, including glaucoma, optic neuropathy, and diabetic retinopathy 2.
Age-related macular degeneration is another ocular disease that occurs due to degeneration of the photoreceptors in the macula; these are responsible for sharp and high-resolution vision.
Gradual loss of vision causes a decline in quality of life and an inability to perform daily activities.
As we said, photoreceptors are exposed to extensive oxidative stress from light and oxygen, and what’s interesting is that roughly 10% of these receptors are shed daily.
The debris from this shedding is absorbed and removed by retinal pigment epithelium (RPE); the RPE has several important functions in the eyes, including light absorption, epithelial transport and secretion, along with immune modulation 14.
Damage to the RPE may disrupt homeostatic balance and may be an indicator for early onset AMD.
However, research suggests that astaxanthin may help to protect the eyes against light-induced retinal damage. One study specifically showed that 100mg of astaxanthin per kilogram of body weight reduces cellular oxidative stress 15.
Another study showed that over two years, AMD patients treated with a combination of lutein/zeaxanthin and astaxanthin reported significant improvements in visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and vision-related functions 16.
Some research also suggests that astaxanthin supplementation may help manage glaucoma because of its anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and anti-apoptotic properties 17.
Where You Can Find It
Natural astaxanthin is scarce because it’s found in only two sources: algae and the aquatic life that eats it (fish and shellfish).
Any fish with pink-red flesh contains astaxanthin, including salmon, trout, red snapper, lobster, crab, and shrimp. However, dietary amounts may not meet daily requirements.
In supplements, however, it’s a bit more common. And as one of the purest and most effective eye health supplements on the market, Performance Lab Vision contains astaxanthin, besides five other powerful antioxidants designed to maintain crystal clear vision.
If you want to keep your vision at its peak and avoid disease development, getting your hands on Vision is one of the best decisions you will make.
- S Davinelli, ME Nielsen, G Scapagnini. Astaxanthin in Skin Health, Repair, and Disease: A Comprehensive Review. Nutrients. 2018;10(4):522.
- G Giannaccare, M Pellegrini, C Senni, F Bernabei, V Scorcia, AFG Cicero. Clinical Applications of Astaxanthin in the Treatment of Ocular Diseases: Emerging Insights. Mar Drugs. 2020;18(5):239.
- M Yiki. Biological functions and activities of animal carotenoids. Pure&App. Chem. 1991;63(1):141-146.
- S Fakhri, F Abbaszadeh, L Dargahi, M Jorjani. Astaxanthin: A mechanistic review on its biological activities and health benefits. Pharmacol Res. 2018;136:1-20.
- HD Choi, JH Kim, MJ Chang, Y Kyu-Youn, WG Shin. Effects of astaxanthin on oxidative stress in overweight and obese adults. Phytother Res. 2011;25(12):1813-1818.
- JH Kim, MJ Chang, HD Choi, et al. Protective effects of Haematococcus astaxanthin on oxidative stress in healthy smokers. J Med Food. 2011;14(11):1469-1475.
- P Kidd. Astaxanthin, cell membrane nutrient with diverse clinical benefits and anti-aging potential. Altern Med Rev. 2011;16(4):355-364.
- Y Nagaki, S Hayasaka, T Yamada, Y Hayasaka, M Sanada, T Uonomi. Effects of astaxanthin on accommodation, critical flicker fusion, and pattern visual evoked potential in visual display terminal workers. J. Trad. Med. 2002; 19: 170-173.
- K Kono, Y Shimizu, S Takahashi, S Matsuoka, K Yui. Effect of Multiple Dietary Supplement Containing Lutein, Astaxanthin, Cyanidin-3-Glucoside, and DHA on Accommodative Ability. Curr Med Chem. 2014;14(2):114-125.
- JY Huang, PT Yeh, YC Hou. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of oral antioxidant supplement therapy in patients with dry eye syndrome. Clin Ophthalmol. 2016;10:813-820.
- UC Yadav, NM Kalariya, KV Ramana. Emerging role of antioxidants in the protection of uveitis complications. Curr Med Chem. 2011;18(6):931-942.
- K Ohgami, K Shiratori, S Kotake, et al. Effects of astaxanthin on lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation in vitro and in vivo. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2003;44(6):2694-2701.
- Y Suzuki, K Ohgami, K Shiratori, et al. Suppressive effects of astaxanthin against rat endotoxin-induced uveitis by inhibiting the NF-kappaB signaling pathway. Exp Eye Res. 2006;82(2):275-281.
- M Boulton, P Dayhaw-Barker. The role of the retinal pigment epithelium: topographical variation and ageing changes. Eye (Lond). 2001;15(Pt 3):384-389.
- T Otsuka, M Shimazawa, T Nakanishi, et al. Protective effects of a dietary carotenoid, astaxanthin, against light-induced retinal damage. J Pharmacol Sci. 2013;123(3):209-218.
- S Piermarocchi, S Saviano, V Parisi, et al. Carotenoids in Age-related Maculopathy Italian Study (CARMIS): two-year results of a randomized study. Eur J Ophthalmol. 2012;22(2):216-225.
- JP Yuan, J Peng, K Yin, JH Wang. Potential health-promoting effects of astaxanthin: a high-value carotenoid mostly from microalgae. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011;55(1):150-165.