July 18, 2024

Health Supplements

Health Supplements make us strong and powerful

What Is Astaxanthin? Dietitians Explain Health Benefits, Risks

3 min read

HUMANITY HAS DONE a lot of strange things in the name of health: sucked down concoctions in the promise of immune health, guzzled raw dairy and animal organs in the battle against food processing, and even supplemented proteins founds in breast milk in the quest for a better workout.

Some of these strategies have more validity than others, but all are out-of-the-box ways to optimize your health and performance. In the constant search for the next best thing, the supplement world has moved onto its next strange, potentially useful, ingredient: astaxanthin, a compound that gives plants and animals their color.

This red pigment might just have some benefits to our health—and supplement companies are selling the stuff with some grand promises for your eyes, skin, and brain

So, are the benefits appropriately hyped? Or is astaxanthin another passing trend? We asked the experts.

What is astaxanthin?

Astaxanthin is an antioxidant known as a carotenoid—yellow, orange, and red fat-soluble pigments found in plants, algae, bacteria, and fungi, says Perri Halperin, M.S., R.D., clinical nutrition coordinator at Mount Sinai Health System. Specifically, it’s a red plant color that’s naturally found in algae, yeast, and fish such as salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, and crayfish.

You can also get astaxanthin in supplement form—often advertised with anti-aging properties. Astaxanthin supplements often advertise skin, eye, brain, and joint health.

What are the health benefits of astaxanthin?

Initial studies are promising, but more research still needs to be done to fully understand astaxanthin’s benefits.

There are a few studies that suggest astaxanthin has some benefit on brain health because it acts like an antioxidant, which relieves oxidative stress, Halperin says. Oxidative stress happens when there’s not enough antioxidants in the body to attack unstable free radicals—cells that form naturally during metabolic processes that have some damaging effects on the body. Reducing this oxidative stress can help prevent or reduce damage to cells.

Astaxanthin might have some anti-inflammatory properties, too. Limited effects have been seen in reference to diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease management, and brain, eye and skin health, Halperin says.

Are there any risks to taking astaxanthin?

Common side effects of astaxanthin supplements include digestive system-related symptoms, such as diarrhea or even red-colored stool (!), Halperin says. There’s also potential for allergic reaction.

Astaxanthin supplementation lead to detrimental interactions with some medications, including blood thinners, cholesterol medications, immune support drugs, and some herbs like Ginkgo biloba.

What You Should Know About Astaxanthin Supplementation

Just like there’s limited research on astaxanthin’s health benefits, there’s limited research on supplementation considerations. Generally, 6 to 7 milligrams of the supplement daily is well tolerated, and recognized as safe by the FDA.

Because the compound is fat-soluble (meaning, it dissolves in fat rather than water), it might be beneficial to take the supplement with an omega-3 rich seed oil such as flaxseed or chia, or a meal containing some source of fat, like Greek yogurt or avocados, Halperin says. This will help optimize absorption.

Of course, because of its potential medication interactions and side effects, speak with your doctor or dietitian before starting an astaxanthin supplement. They will be able to provide more thorough guidance on what is best for your specific body and needs.

Should you take an astaxanthin supplement?

The bottom line is this: there’s limited research to suggest that astaxanthin might have some possible health benefits. So, if you do take one, it might benefit your health, or it might not.

That being said, there’s not a ton of risk in taking them, since it’s generally well tolerated. Before you start, though, you’ll need to consult with your doctor to ensure it’s a good idea for you and your needs.

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