Neuroprotective Effects of Astaxanthin

9 Min Read
Neuroprotective Effects of Astaxanthin

Substantial evidence shows most diseases associated with the brain are the result of oxidation and/or inflammation. Free radicals and singlet oxygen wreak havoc over time in the head, and the consequences, if left unchecked, manifest in such horrible conditions as:

  • Alzheimers disease

  • Parkinsons disease

  • Huntingtons disease

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrigs disease)

  • Senility

  • Injuries resulting from trauma

  • Inflammatory injuries

  • Other forms of age-related dementia

Antioxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier are essential for people as they get older to protect the brain and central nervous system. Scientists believe something may cause peoples internal antioxidant defense system to malfunction or wear out as they age.  Our bodies may lose the ability to produce high levels of the antioxidants that are normally produced internally such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase and glutathione peroxidase. Also, our bodies are now subjected to unprecedented levels of oxidation caused by environmental factors such as pollution, containments, processed food and the high levels of stress in modern life. All of these lead to an assault on vital organs as we age, particularly our brains and eyes.

Recent research has validated astaxanthins ability to protect our central nervous system. A great deal of this research has been centered on the neuroprotective benefits of astaxanthin. Two human clinical trials were done in Japan in the last two years in this area. The first study took 10 elderly subjects with age-related forgetfulness and administered 12 mg of astaxanthin each day for 12 weeks.1 The researchers found efficacy for age-related decline in cognitive and psychomotor function.

The second study was randomized, double blind and placebo-controlled; a state-of-the-art study in human volunteers.2 After 12 weeks at either 6 mg or 12 mg of daily astaxanthin, subjects were found to have decreased levels of phospholipid hydroperoxides (which accumulate in people suffering from dementia), as well as improved erythrocyte antioxidant status. The researchers concluded astaxanthin supplementation may contribute to the prevention of dementia in humans as they age.

Several other studies in the last two years have shown evidence that astaxanthin may be the best supplement for brain health:

  • Human brain cells were subjected to an oxidative stress-induced neuronal cell damage system at Nagoya University in Japan.3 Significant protection was found in cells pre-treated with astaxanthin. Additionally, pre-treatment with astaxanthin inhibited the generation of reactive oxygen species. The authors concluded, The neuroprotective effect of astaxanthin is suggested to be dependent upon its antioxidant potential and mitochondria protection; therefore, it is strongly suggested that treatment with astaxanthin may be effective for oxidative stress-associated neurodegeneration and a potential candidate for natural brain food."

  • A different set of researchers at University of Pittsburghs medical school also found astaxanthin to have neuroprotective effects; they too attributed this to its potent antioxidant activity.4

  • Researchers at a biotechnology university in Taiwan concluded astaxanthin could be used as a potent neuron protectant and as a therapy for early stages of Alzheimers disease.5

  • Astaxanthin can protect against damage from ischemia, the condition where there is a deficient supply of blood to the brain as a result of an obstruction of the arteries, which results in stroke, brain cell death and impaired brain function.6 The researchers attributed astaxanthins benefits to its intense antioxidant activity.

  • Another study found that pretreatment with astaxanthin five hours and again one hour before ischemia provided protection against brain damage.7

  • Astaxanthin was found to be a potent agent against neurodegenerative disorders.8

  • Brain cell death was reduced by astaxanthin.9

  • Lastly, astaxanthin displayed an ability to improve the profileration of neural stem cells.10

The flurry of activity in 2009 and 2010 was not the first research on astaxanthins benefits for the brain; a series of tests on rodents prior to this at the International Research Center for Traditional Medicine in Japan showed astaxanthins potential as a supplement for the brain.11 In the first experiment, blood pressure was reduced by the introduction of astaxanthin to hypertensive rats. Blood pressure is a causative factor for many diseases including some associated with the eyes and brain. The researchers went on to examine the effects of astaxanthin on stroke-prone rats. They found after five weeks of continuous supplementation, the incidence of stroke was delayed in the treated group. Next, they established a possible mechanism for these results in-vitro, which they believed to be nitric oxide suppression.

The same study went on to demonstrate a neuroprotective effect on ischemic mice. In the case of these mice, ischemia was induced by blocking the carotid artery. In humans, this condition can be caused by plaque buildup, which can block the flow of blood through the carotid artery in the neck, the primary source of blood to the brain. This build up of plaque can lead to many different types of dementia.  

The ischemic mice were fed astaxanthin only oncejust one hour before the ischemia was induced. Remarkable results were seen in the treated groupthe mice performed better in a maze designed as a learning performance test. The present results suggest that astaxanthin can attenuate the development of hypertension and may help to protect the brain from stroke and ischemic insultsIn addition, astaxanthin showed neuroprotective effects at relatively high doses by preventing the ischemia-induced impairment of spatial memory in mice. This effect is suggested to be due to the significant antioxidant property of astaxanthin on ischemia-induced free radicals and their consequent pathological cerebral and neural effects. The current result indicates that astaxanthin may have beneficial effects in improving memory in vascular dementia." It appears that astaxanthin actually made these mice with restricted blood flow to their brains smarter by improving their memory.

A similar study had been done previously and was published in Carotenoid Science.12 This study also demonstrated that astaxanthin could prevent brain damage due to ischemia. A company in Japan did some further work in this area in a rat model.13 The company fed rats astaxanthin twice: Twenty-four hours before and again one hour before inducing ischemia by occluding the rats middle arteries. The blood flow stoppage duration was one hour, at which point blood flow to the brain was permitted to resume. The rats were given one more dose of astaxanthin after blood flow restarted, and then two hours later, the rats were sacrificed and their brains were removed. The brains were compared to rats from a control group fed olive oil, and it was found that the rats fed astaxanthin had 40-percent less brain damage than the control group.  

Strong evidence shows astaxanthin holds great promise for those wishing to prevent cognitive diseases and maintain general brain health. In particular, daily supplementation with astaxanthin may have tremendous benefits for those wishing to protect there brains as they age. The implications of the studies cited above are extremely exciting, as our aging population sees growing numbers of Alzheimers patients, stroke sufferers and people afflicted by dementia caused by other factors.

Bob Capelli, vice president of sales and marketing for Cyanotech Corp., graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in liberal arts. He spent four years traveling and working in developing countries in Asia and Latin America while he was in his 20s. Upon returning to the United States, Capelli began working in the natural supplement and herb industry, where he has remained for the last 19 years. 

Gerald Cysewski has more than 30 years experience in microalgae research and commercial production of microalgae products. Cysewski co-founded Cyanotech in 1983 in Washington. As the companys scientific director, he launched the commercial production of microalgae in the Kona coast of Hawaii. Cysewski holds a bachelors of science in chemical engineering from the University of Washington and a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.

References listed on the next page.


1.       Satoh, A., Tsuji, S., Okada, Y., Murakmi, N., Urami, M., Nakagawa, K., Ishikura, M., Katagiri, M., Koga, Y., Shirasawa, T. (2009) Preliminary Clinical Evaluation of Toxicity and Efficacy of a New Astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis Extract." Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, 2009:44(3):280-4.

2.       Nakagawa, K., Kiko, T., Miyazawa, T., Carpentero Burdeos, G., Kimura, F., Satoh, A., Miyazawa, T. (2011) Antioxidant effect of Astaxanthin on phospholipid peroxidation in human erythrocytes." British Journal of Nutrition, 2011: Jan 31:1-9.

3.       Liu, X., Osawa T. (2009) Astaxanthin Protects Neuronal Cells against Oxidative Damage and is a Potent Candidate for Brain Food." Forum Nutr. Basel, Karger, 2009, vol 61, pp 129-135.

4.       Lee, DH., Lee, YJ., Kwon, KH. (2010). Neuroprotective Effects of Astaxanthin in Oxygen-Glucose Deprivation in SH-SY5Y Cells and Global Cerebral Ischemia in Rat." Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition 2010:47(2):121-9.

5.       Chang, CH., Chen, CY., Chiou, JY., Peng, RY., Peng, CH. (2010). Astaxanthin secured apoptic death of PC12 cells induced by beta-amyloid peptide 25-35: its molecular action targets." Journal of Medicinal Food 2010:13(3):548-56.

6.       Curek, GD., Cort, A., Yucel, G., Demir, N., Ozturk, S., Elpek, GO., Savas, B., Aslan, M. (2010). Effect of Astaxanthin on hepatocellular injury following ischemia/reperfusion." Journal of Toxicology 2010:267(1-3):147-53.

7.       Lu, YP., Liu, SY., Sun, H., Wu, XM., Li, JJ., Zhu, L. (2010). Neuroprotective Effect of Astaxanthin on H(2)O(2)-Induced Neurotoxicity In-Vitro and on Focal Cerebral Ischemia In-Vivo." Brain Research 2010: Sept. 21.

8.       Chan, KC., Mong, MC., Yin, MC. (2009). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory neuroprotective effects of astaxanthin and canthaxanthin in nerve growth factor differentiated PC12 cells." Journal of Food Science 2009:74(7):H225-31.

9.       Wang, HQ., Sun, XB., Xu, YX., Zhao, H., Zhu, QY., Zhu, CQ. (2010). Astaxanthin upregulates heme oxygenase-1 expression through ERK1/2 pathway and its protective effect against beta-amyloid-induced cytotoxicity in SH-SY5Y cells." Brain Research 2010:Sept 7.

10.   Kim, JH., Nam, SW., Kim, BW., Kim, WJ., Choi, YH. (2010). Astaxanthin Imrpoves the Proliferative Capacity as well as the Oxteogenic and Adipogenic Differentiation Potential in Neural Stem Cells." Food Chemistry and Toxicology 2010:48(6):1741-5.

11.   Hussein, G., Nakamura, M., Zhao, Q., Iguchi, T., Goto, H., Sankawa, U., Watanabe, H. (2005). Antihypertensive and neuroprotective effects of astaxanthin in experimental animals." Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 28(1):47-52.

12.   Kudo, Y., Nakajima, R., Matsumoto, N. (2002). Effects of astaxanthin on brain damages due to ischemia" Carotenoid Science. 5,25.

13.   Oryza Oil & Fat Chemical Company. (2006). Natural Antioxidant for Neuro-protection, Vision Enhancement & Skin Rejuvenation." September 7, 2006.

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