Astaxanthin sources: Suitability for human health and nutrition
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.
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