Life Extension Magazine®
Man exercising in a city park

Astaxanthin Promotes Heart Health

Astaxanthin is best known for eye, brain, and skin health, but data show it also reduces cardiovascular risk factors.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, on January 2021. Written By Chancellor Faloon.

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment that has long been associated with eye, skin, and brain health.1-4

A lesser known benefit is being revealed in studies showing it can also reduce the risk of heart disease.

Astaxanthin does this in several ways, including:5

  • Inhibits LDL oxidation,
  • Increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol,
  • Supports healthy glucose metabolism, and
  • Reduces risk of arterial blockage.

In one study, mice fed astaxanthin had a 36.5% reduction in the formation of plaque in the aorta, the main artery that leaves the heart.6

A 2020 prospective pilot study found that three months of astaxanthin supplementation suppressed oxidative stress and improved cardiac contractility and exercise tolerance in heart failure patients.7

Many people take astaxanthin to support overall health. Now there is evidence for an additional benefit: improved heart health.

What is Astaxanthin?

Astaxanthin is a red carotenoid, a pigment that is especially high in certain microalgae.

It is responsible for the reddish-pink color of flamingos, lobsters, and crawfish, due to the high amounts of astaxanthin they consume.8

It is a free-radical scavenger and anti-inflammatory that provides a wide range of health benefits. Researchers are only now discovering the role it plays in protecting the heart.

How Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease

Astaxanthin showing a high amount of conjugated double bonds

Cholesterol plays a role in the development of heart disease.

This waxy, fat-like substance is found in every cell in the body and serves many important functions. Cholesterol provides the raw material for hormone synthesis and provides important components for cell structures.9-11

LDL is often referred to as “bad cholesterol.” But small and dense LDL particles cause much of LDL’s harm. The reason is that small and dense LDL particles are more susceptible to oxidation, that makes them more inflammatory and atherogenic.12

In atherosclerosis, the arteries become clogged and stiff and the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and brain is reduced. This can eventually result in angina, heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.13

HDL (the “good cholesterol”) is responsible forclearing out excess LDL particles. In a process called reverse cholesterol transport, HDL removes potentially dangerous cholesterol particles from the cell and brings them to the liver to be broken down and excreted.14

A Powerful Antioxidant

The molecular structure of carotenoids makes them exceptional antioxidants, quenchers of harmful free radicals.

Research has shown that carotenoids can reduce oxidative stress more than certain forms of vitamin E.18

Lab Studies on Astaxanthin

Researchers have discovered that astaxanthin can increase reverse cholesterol transport.15

That may reduce or prevent atherosclerosis, protectingagainst heart disease and heart attacks.

In one study, researchers tested the effects of astaxanthin on mice genetically bred to have dyslipidemia (improper cholesterol balance) and fed a high-fat diet.6

The mice were divided into three groups:

  • High-fat diet plus astaxanthin-rich oil
  • High-fat diet plus EPA + DHA-rich oil
  • High-fat diet (control)

Compared to the control group, both the astaxanthin and EPA + DHA groups saw reductions in atherosclerotic lesions. In particular, the mice that received the astaxanthin-rich oil had:

  • A 36.5% reduction in aorta atherogenesis (the development of artery-clogging plaque), and
  • A 34.8% reduction in damage to a vital part of the aorta called the aortic arch.

In another study, researchers put rats on a high-cholesterol diet. One group received no treatment and served as a control, a second was given a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, a third was given astaxanthin, and a fourth group got lycopene.

The statin group achieved the greatest benefits. But the groups that received astaxanthin and lycopene also had significantly reduced LDL and increased HDL compared to the untreated animals.16

They also had reduced foam cells in the arteries. Foam cells play a central role in the atherosclerotic process.17

Heart Benefits in Humans

A man laying down and a doctor putting sensors on his chest

In 2010, the first randomized controlled human trial on astaxanthin was published. It showed that daily supplementation led to a noteworthy decrease in levels of harmful triglycerides in the body.19

Triglycerides are one of the two main types of lipids found in the blood (the other being cholesterol). High levels of either increase the risk of heart disease.

In clinical trials conducted since then, astaxanthin has been shown to provide multiple heart healthbenefits.

Being overweight increases oxidative stress, which is closely associated with atherosclerotic disease. In one trial, researchers recruited 23 patients who were overweight or obese and tested whether astaxanthin could reduce oxidative stress.20

After three weeks of daily astaxanthin intake, markers of oxidative stress decreased significantly.

At the same time, levels of superoxide dismutase (an enzyme that breaks down the harmful super-oxide free radical) and total antioxidants (which reduce oxidative stress) increased significantly compared to baseline.

The same group of researchers conducted another trial on a different group of overweight or obese patients. This time, markers of lipids (fats) were also evaluated, and the trial was extended to 12 weeks.

The results again showed beneficial reductions in oxidative stress. There were also decreased levels of LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B (a marker for LDL particle count), compared to a placebo group.21

What you need to know

Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

  • Astaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Recent research has shown that ithelps protect the heart and prevent against heart disease.
  • Among other benefits, it lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol, reduces athero-sclerosis in animal models, and decreases levels of harmful lipids.
  • Astaxanthin also supports healthy glucose metabolism, helping to prevent or control type II diabetes.
  • The best way to take astaxanthin is in combination with phospholipids, which makes it far more bioavailable (absorbable).

Controlling Type II Diabetes

A man smiling after exercising

People with type II diabetes have a dramatically increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Preventing or controlling diabetes protects the heart.

In type II diabetics, the body fails to properly metabolize glucose, creating an environment in which insulin levels are increased, contributing to insulin resistance.

This insulin resistance can be lowered by adiponectin, a protein hormone that regulates the metabolism of glucose and lipids.22

In 2018, a randomized controlled trial of astaxanthin was conducted on 44 patients with type II diabetes.23

After eight weeks, those receiving astaxanthin daily had significantly increased adiponectin levels. They also had reduced visceral body fat mass, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and systolic (the top number) blood pressure.

Most importantly for diabetics, astaxanthin intake reduced levels of glucose and of fructosamine, a compound formed when glucose binds to proteins.

Fructosamine levels are another way to determine glucose averages over a shorter period compared to the hemoglobin A1C test.24

These actions, together with astaxanthin’s cholesterol-lowering effects and other benefits, can help protect against heart disease.

Summary

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid compound that has long been known to provide a wide range of health benefits. Recent research has shown that it protects the heart as well.

Studies have demonstrated that it helps reduce dangerous lipid fractions like apolipoprotein B, significantly reduce oxidative stress, lower glucose, improve lipid profiles, and more.

These effects may reduce heart disease risk and help control type II diabetes.

If you have any questions on the scientific contentof this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

References

  1. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm. Accessed November 12, 2020.
  2. Davinelli S, Nielsen ME, Scapagnini G. Astaxanthin in Skin Health, Repair, and Disease: A Comprehensive Review. Nutrients. 2018 Apr 22;10(4).
  3. Otsuka T, Shimazawa M, Inoue Y, et al. Astaxanthin Protects Against Retinal Damage: Evidence from In Vivo and In Vitro Retinal Ischemia and Reperfusion Models. Curr Eye Res. 2016 Nov;41(11):1465-72.
  4. Galasso C, Orefice I, Pellone P, et al. On the Neuroprotective Role of Astaxanthin: New Perspectives? Mar Drugs. 2018 Jul 24;16(8).
  5. Kishimoto Y, Yoshida H, Kondo K. Potential Anti-Atherosclerotic Properties of Astaxanthin. Mar Drugs. 2016 Feb 5;14(2):35.
  6. Eilertsen KE, Maehre HK, Jensen IJ, et al. A wax ester and astaxanthin-rich extract from the marine copepod Calanus finmarchicus attenuates atherogenesis in female apolipoprotein E-deficient mice. J Nutr. 2012 Mar;142(3):508-12.
  7. Kato T, Kasai T, Sato A, et al. Effects of 3-Month Astaxanthin Supplementation on Cardiac Function in Heart Failure Patients with Left Ventricular Systolic Dysfunction-A Pilot Study. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1896.
  8. Fassett RG, Coombes JS. Astaxanthin in cardiovascular health and disease. Molecules. 2012 Feb 20;17(2):2030-48.
  9. Miller WL, Auchus RJ. The molecular biology, biochemistry, and physiology of human steroidogenesis and its disorders. Endocr Rev. 2011 Feb;32(1):81-151.
  10. Alberts B JA, Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. 2002.
  11. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279327/. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  12. Ivanova EA, Myasoedova VA, Melnichenko AA, et al. Small Dense Low-Density Lipoprotein as Biomarker for Atherosclerotic Diseases. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity. 2017;2017:1273042-.
  13. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507799/. Accessed November 17, 2020.
  14. Favari E, Chroni A, Tietge UJ, et al. Cholesterol efflux and reverse cholesterol transport. Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2015;224:181-206.
  15. Zou TB, Zhu SS, Luo F, et al. Effects of Astaxanthin on Reverse Cholesterol Transport and Atherosclerosis in Mice. Biomed Res Int. 2017;2017:4625932.
  16. Kumar R, Salwe KJ, Kumarappan M. Evaluation of Antioxidant, Hypolipidemic, and Antiatherogenic Property of Lycopene and Astaxanthin in Atherosclerosis-induced Rats. Pharmacognosy Res. 2017 Apr-Jun;9(2):161-7.
  17. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/foam-cell. Accessed February 26, 2020.
  18. Rodrigues E, Mariutti LR, Mercadante AZ. Scavenging capacity of marine carotenoids against reactive oxygen and nitrogen species in a membrane-mimicking system. Mar Drugs. 2012 Aug;10(8):1784-98.
  19. Yoshida H, Yanai H, Ito K, et al. Administration of natural astaxanthin increases serum HDL-cholesterol and adiponectin in subjects with mild hyperlipidemia. Atherosclerosis. 2010 Apr;209(2):520-3.
  20. Choi HD, Kim JH, Chang MJ, et al. Effects of astaxanthin on oxidative stress in overweight and obese adults. Phytother Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):1813-8.
  21. Choi HD, Youn YK, Shin WG. Positive effects of astaxanthin on lipid profiles and oxidative stress in overweight subjects. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2011 Nov;66(4):363-9.
  22. Achari AE, Jain SK. Adiponectin, a Therapeutic Target for Obesity, Diabetes, and Endothelial Dysfunction. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Jun 21;18(6).
  23. Mashhadi NS, Zakerkish M, Mohammadiasl J, et al. Astaxanthin improves glucose metabolism and reduces blood pressure in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2018;27(2):341-6.
  24. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470185/. Accessed November 17, 2020.