The Astaxanthin Difference

The Astaxanthin Difference

1. What makes astaxanthin different from other carotenoids?

There are several attributes that differentiate astaxanthin from other carotenoids, but let’s start with the main quantitative differences: antioxidant potency, singlet oxygen quenching, and free radical elimination.

Astaxanthin was identified as an extremely potent carotenoid as far back as the 1940’s by French scientists. Further research done in Japan in the 1990’s expanded on this finding by showing that “the activities of astaxanthin are approximately 10 times stronger than the other carotenoids that were tested, namely zeaxanthin, lutein, tunaxanthin, canthaxanthin and beta-carotene, and 100 times greater than a-tocopherol” (Miki, et al, 1991). Astaxanthin was also shown in the same study to be active in free radical elimination or singlet oxygen quenching.

A later 2007 study with Dr. Miki from the Japan 1990’s study tested astaxanthin’s strength again against a different set of antioxidants including coenzyme Q10, green tea catechins, alpha lipoic acid, and vitamin C. This study showed that the potency of the other antioxidants compared to astaxanthin in regards to eliminating singlet oxygen was not even close – astaxanthin was 8,000 times more potent than vitamin C, 800 times more potent than CoQ10, 550 times more potent than green tea catechins, and 75 times more potent that alpha lipoic acid (Nishida, et al, 2007).

Next, a 2013 study done by Dr. Debasis Bagchi from Creighton University tested astaxanthin against other antioxidants to measure its ability to scavenge free radicals. The results of the study showed that astaxanthin was 14 times stronger than vitamin E, 18 times stronger than Pycnogenol®, 21 times stronger than synthetic astaxanthin, 54 times stronger than beta-carotene, and 65 times stronger than vitamin C (Capelli, et al, 2013).

There are three qualitative differences between astaxanthin and other carotenoids. They are as follows:

1. Astaxanthin is both water and fat soluble and therefore, can span the cell membrane to protect the entire cell. This is unique because many carotenoids are either lipid soluble (e.g. vitamin E) and protect the lipid/fat soluble part of our cells, or water soluble (e.g. vitamin C) and can only protect the water soluble part of our cells. The unique shape of the astaxanthin molecule allows it to penetrate the entire cell and provide superior antioxidant protection. 

2. Astaxanthin can never become a pro-oxidant. Many antioxidants can become pro-oxidants under certain conditions that can make them harmful. However, astaxanthin can never become a harmful pro-oxidant (Beutner, et at, 2000).

3. Astaxanthin can cross the blood-brain and blood-retinal barrier. While antioxidants are known to be beneficial to many different parts of the body, very few of them are able to cross through the blood brain and blood retinal barrier. This means that the brain and eyes are not able to receive any protective benefits from these antioxidants. But, research has shown that astaxanthin is able to pass through to protect against oxidation of the brain and eyes.

2. How is your astaxanthin sourced, and how do those methods ensure product efficacy?

The astaxanthin used in BioAstin® Hawaiian Astaxanthin® is derived from natural Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae grown on our 90 acre farm in Kona, Hawaii, USA. The astaxanthin in BioAstin is processed on our farm starting with cultivation and then it’s processed through our very own C02 extraction facility. Being vertically integrated provides us the ability to control the stability, quality, and purity of our product. Having total control of the manufacturing process has allowed us to guarantee the efficacy of our product.

Cyanotech Corporation, makers of BioAstin, is a founding member of the Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association (NAXA), a group that is dedicated to building awareness of the health benefits of natural astaxanthin versus synthetic astaxanthin made from petrochemicals. Synthetic astaxanthin is starting to show up in the supplement market and it's NAXA’s mission to educate brands and retailers of the drastic differences between natural and synthetic astaxanthin. BioAstin is made with NAXA verified natural astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae.

3. What processing methods must be followed during production to ensure potency so that health benefits can be realized?

Once the algae is harvested and processed, the astaxanthin needs to be extracted from the algae biomass. The extraction process can be done easier and cheaper using chemical solvents such as hexane, but this method leaves a chemical residue in the finished product as well as make it unstable. The other and more superior method for extraction is using super critical high pressure CO2. Super critical CO2 extraction is a best practice amongst the top astaxanthin suppliers as it produces a pure and clean final extract, free of any solvents. Hawaiian Astaxanthin is extracted in-house at Cyanotech with the only 1,000 bar (15,000 psi) CO2 extractor in the world. 

Astaxanthin is highly reactive with oxygen, so great care needs to be taken with the material once the astaxanthin has been extracted from the algae. If exposed to oxygen, astaxanthin will oxidize into a degradation product called astacene and will lose all of its benefits. Astaxanthin is typically blended in an oil carrier and then encapsulated in a soft gel. The oil helps protect the astaxanthin from oxidizing, as well as helping with absorption once consumed. The soft gel also protects the astaxanthin from oxygen and light. The oil and the soft gel play a big part in ensuring stability so this is why you typically will not find astaxanthin as a separate liquid tincture or as a tablet.

4. Are there delivery forms that are best suited to ensure astaxanthin bioavailability?

The most common delivery form of astaxanthin is in a soft gel, either animal or plant based, since the soft gel helps with protecting the astaxanthin from oxidizing.

It is not recommended to put astaxanthin in a capsule (pull-apart) or press the astaxanthin powder into a tablet because of the instability of these delivery forms.

5. Why is bioavailability an issue with astaxanthin?

This issue of bioavailability with astaxanthin doesn’t have to do with astaxanthin itself, but with individual carotenoid absorption. People have a wide range of how much of a carotenoid their body can absorb. One body may absorb 90% off a certain carotenoid while another body may only absorb 10% of a certain carotenoid. This disparity makes it difficult for supplement manufacturers to come up with a general suggested dosage.

But the good news is that carotenoids are better absorbed when taken with fats. An example of this is the recommendation of including an oil like olive oil on your salad to help your body absorb more of the lycopene in the tomato in your salad. It works the same with astaxanthin. Astaxanthin should be consumed with oils or fats for best absorption and bioavailability. Astaxanthin, like many other carotenoids, is a fat-soluble molecule so it needs to bond with other fats to be absorbed in the body. A study centered around astaxanthin and fat absorption tested three different fat/lipid based formulas and found that all three lipid formulas had better absorption than astaxanthin formulas without lipids (Mercke, et al, 2003).


Capelli, B., Bagchi, D., Cysewski, G. (2013). “Synthetic Astaxanthin is significantly inferior to algal-based Astaxanthin as an antioxidant and may not be suitable as a human nutritional supplement.” NutraFoods (2013). 12:145-52.

Mercke Odeberg, J., Lignell, A., Petterson, A., Hoglund, P. (2003). “Oral bioavailability of the antioxidant astaxanthin in humans is enhanced by incorporation of lipid based formulas.” European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 19(4):299-304.

Miki, W. (1991). “Biological functions and activities of animal carotenoids.” Pure & Applied Chemistry. Vol. 63, No. 1, pp. 141-146.

Nishida, Y., Yamashita, E., Miki, W. (2007). “Quenching activities of common hydrophilic and lipophilic antioxidants against singlet oxygen using chemiluminescence detection system.” Carotenoid Science 2007, Vol. 11, pp. 16-20.