Written by Jessica Patella, ND. Astaxanthin improved all measures of oxidative stress in a three week study.

Antioxidant has become the new buzz word, and rightfully so, due to all the positive research. Oxidative stress occurs in the body when there are too many free radicals (ROS), which are molecules that cause harmful reactions in the body when there are not enough antioxidants.  Oxidative stress has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammatory disease, and aging (2,3). Studies have also shown that being overweight or obese increases oxidative stress in the body (4). Therefore, it might be possible that antioxidants may prevent oxidative stress related disease (1).

Astaxanthin is an antioxidant derived from algae (Haematococcus pluvialis); its antioxidant status has been shown in one experiment to be greater than beta carotene (vitamin A) and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) (5).  Astaxanthin has been shown to be protective against inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and some autoimmune disease in test tube studies or non-clinical trials (6). The first clinical study of astaxanthin has shown its beneficial effects in oxidative-stress in obese and overweight adults (1).

The research included 23 participants who were overweight or obese. Participants were randomized to receive either a low dose of 5 mg astaxanthin (n=12) or a high dose of 20 mg astaxanthin (n=11) for 3 weeks (1). Participants were instructed to keep their same diet through out the study.

Four markers of oxidative stress in the body were measured in all the participants (MDA, ISP, SOD, TAC). MDA and ISP levels measure poor antioxidant status, so the lower the values, the better. SOD and TAC levels measure good antioxidant status, meaning the higher the values the better . Daily supplementation with astaxanthin (5mg or 20mg) for 3 weeks, significantly decreased the plasma levels of MDA and ISP, and increased the levels of TAC and SOD. All results showed positive improvements from astaxanthin supplementation (1).

The MDA level was significantly lower (5mg= 34.6%; 20mg=35.2%; p<0.01). The ISP level was significantly lower (5mg=64.9%; 20mg= 64.7%; p=0.004).  The SOD level was significantly higher (5mg=193%; 20mg=194%; p=0.001).  The TAC level was significantly increased (5mg= 121%; 20mg= 125%; p<0.001) (1).

The blood concentration of astaxanthin in the 20mg group was significantly higher than the 5 mg group over the 3 weeks (0.4 micrograms/mL vs 0.2 micrograms/mL respectively; p<0.01), yet the biomarkers between the two groups were not significantly different (as shown in the previous paragraph percentages). This suggests a daily dose of 5mg astaxanthin is adequate to reduce oxidative stress in overweight and obese individuals (1).

Participants also self-reported symptom improvement after astaxanthin supplementation, with decreased fatigue (35.9%), improved skin condition (7.69%) and improvements in allergic rhinitis (2.56%) (1).

In conclusion, 3-week supplementation with astaxanthin improved all biomarkers of oxidative stress (MDA, ISP, SOD, TAC) in overweight and obese adults (1). A longer-term study with more participants needs to be conducted in the future to confirm results of this study, the first human clinical trial with astaxanthin (1),

MDA stands for Malondialdehyde. It is a three-chain aldehyde that is produced during the decomposition of lipid hydroperoxide and is an marker of lipid peroxidation.

ISP stands for 15-Isoprostane F2t. It is used to determine the level of lipid peroxidation damage and is produced by free-radical peroxidation of lipoproteins.

SOD stands for Superoxide dismustase.  It is an antioxidant enzyme that dismutates the superoxide anion (O2-) into hydrogen peroxide and oxygen.

TAC stands for total antioxidant capacity.  It refers to the full spectrum of antioxidant activity against free radicals.

Source: “Effects of Astaxanthin on Oxidative Stress in Overweight and Obese Adults.” by Choi HD, et al. in Phytotherapy Research. Posted May 24, 2011. r/mk


  1. Choi HD, et al. Effects of Astaxanthin on Oxidative Stress in Overweight and Obese Adults. 2011 Phytother. Res. Doi: 10.1002/ptr.3494
  2. Libby P. Inflammatory mechanisms: the molecular basis of inflammation and disease. 2007. Nutr Rev 65: S140-146.
  3. Cottone S, et all. Oxidative stress, inflammation and cardiovascular diese in chronic renal failure. 2008. J Nephrol 21: 175-179.
  4. Ozata M, et al. Increased oxidative stress and hypozincemia in male obesity. 2003. Clin Biochem 35: 627-631.
  5. Palozza P, et al. Astaxanthin and canthaxanthin are potent antioxidants in a membrane model. 1992. Arch Biochem Biophys 297:291-295.
  6. Hussein G, et al. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid with potential in human health and nutrition. 2006. J Nat Prod 69: 443-449.