Astaxanthin sources: Suitability for human health and nutrition


  • Bob Capelli Algae Health Sciences
  • Shawn Talbott Eqqil
  • Lixin Ding BGG



Background: Astaxanthin (AX) has been consumed as a nutritional supplement for approximately twenty years. The primary source has been a natural plant-based supplement from the single-cell alga Haematococcus pluvialis (NAT-AX). Recently, Astaxanthin from other sources has entered the marketplace. The primary alternative source in the human nutritional supplement market has been a synthetic form of Astaxanthin produced from petrochemicals (SYN-AX). Additionally, a very small amount of Astaxanthin from a genetically-manipulated yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous (former nomenclature Phaffia rhodozyma, still commonly referred to as “Phaffia”) (PH-AX) is also available in some supplement products. The three forms have substantial chemical differences. In addition to the chemical differences between sources of AX, in-vitro research has demonstrated profound differences in antioxidant strength and animal research has revealed fundamental differences in health benefits.  In all cases, NAT-AX has proven more biologically active than the other sources.  This review is designed to assist readers in understanding which form(s) of AX are suitable for consumers desiring preventive or therapeutic health benefits. 

Results:  In head-to-head antioxidant experiments, NAT-AX demonstrated 14X to 90X greater antioxidant activity than SYN-AX.  In numerous animal trials in diverse species, NAT-AX in esterified form has demonstrated superior efficacy in increasing lifespan; treating skin cancer; preventing the formation of gastric ulcers; improving resistance to stress; decreasing reactive oxygen species (ROS); increasing retinol conversion in the liver; augmenting enzyme levels; increasing growth rates; and improving exercise endurance.

From a safety perspective, NAT-AX has been the subject of human clinical trials demonstrating safety and a wide variety of health benefits.  In addition, no documented adverse events have surfaced during its twenty years of distribution as a food supplement for humans.  SYN-AX and PH-AX have not been proven safe for direct human consumption and have not demonstrated any health benefits in clinical trials.  Due to these facts, SYN-AX and PH-AX have not been allowed for human consumption by government regulators in many countries while NAT-AX is widely accepted in most countries around the world.   

Conclusion: Based on our review of the literature below, we recommend NAT-AX as the sole form of AX for human consumption until SYN-AX and PH-AX have been proven safe and efficacious through human clinical research.   

Author Biographies

  • Bob Capelli, Algae Health Sciences

    Bob Capelli has been involved in natural healing and herbology for thirty years.  After graduating from Rutgers University, Bob spent four years traveling and working in developing countries in Asia and South America, where he learned about and developed a deep respect for the medicinal power of plants.  Upon returning to the United States, Bob began working in the natural supplement industry where he has remained for the last twenty-seven years.   Bob is the lead author of five books (including a book on Astaxanthin called “Natural Astaxanthin:  The Supplement You Can Feel”) as well as dozens of articles for trade and consumer publications and scientific papers for peer-reviewed technical journals.  Bob has been involved with Astaxanthin professionally for seventeen years, focusing on educating consumers and the supplement industry on its health benefits.  

  • Shawn Talbott, Eqqil
    Dr. Shawn Talbott received his Master's degree (M.S.) in Exercise Science from the University of Massachusetts, his Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry from Rutgers University, and is a graduate of both the Entrepreneurial Masters Program (EMP) and the Advanced Executive Certificate Program (ACE) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Business. 

    He has been elected as a Fellow in the American College of Nutrition, the American Institute for Stress, and the American College for Sports Medicine. 

    Dr. Talbott has published hundreds of articles and 10 books on nutrition, health and fitness and has served as a nutrition consultant and educator for elite-level athletes in a variety of sports including professional triathlon, NBA basketball, the U.S. Ski Team, the U.S. Track & Field Team, and the United States Olympic Training Centers. 

  • Lixin Ding, BGG

    Lixin Ding, PhD, earned his doctorate in organic chemistry in 2010 from Texas Christian University, where he focused on natural products and their chemistry.  Upon graduation, Dr. Ding began his work experience with International Flavors & Fragrances as a Research Chemist.  After one year in this position, Dr. Ding chose a career path in the natural supplement business when he joined BGG, a pioneer and leader in herbal extracts and natural products.  At BGG, Dr. Ding became interested in Astaxanthin and its unique bioactivities.  He has since focused on all aspects of the Astaxanthin business, including research and development, microalgae cultivation, production, quality control and business development.  He has held a variety of positions with BGG, most recently serving as Research and Development Director for BGG North America.   





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