Astaxanthin has become an immensely popular supplement in recent years with a variety of products appearing on the market. I’ve previously addressed the general potential health benefits of astaxanthin and some generalities about doses.
Recently, “Hi-Potency” astaxanthin products have appeared on the market. The consumer may be confused as to whether the higher potency products are right for them.
Typically, astaxanthin comes in 2 or 4 mg softgels. Recently, there has appeared on the market higher potency softgels containing 10 to 12 mg softgels.
The main problem with astaxanthin is that it is not water soluble and for this reason, is poorly absorbed in the digestive tract. It was found that mixing astaxanthin with fat greatly enhanced absorption and formulations prepared with artificial surfactants like polysorbate increased absorption [European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 2003, 19: 299-304].
It is interesting that astaxanthin from farm-raised salmon is more absorbable than that from wild caught salmon. Unfortunately, the farm raised salmon are fed synthetic astaxanthin. Synthetic astaxanthin, like synthetic beta-carotene, may not be desirable because of potentially toxic non-naturally occurring isomers being present and not in the proper ratios. This is why one should be sure that the astaxanthin comes from a natural source like the algae: Haematococcus pluvialis. The label on the bottle should clearly state the source.
The bottom line is: I don’t know the maximal amount of astaxanthin that can be absorbed at one time, however, studies suggest that because of processing that must occur in the intestine, astaxanthin’s absorption into the blood may be rate-limited. This means that beyond a certain single dosage, one would be wasting their precious astaxanthin.
I do know that human studies have ranged from 2 to 100 mg per day. In many cases the doses did not have to be more than 4 to 12 mg to see positive results [Marine Drugs 2011, 9:447-465].
Another factor to consider in the bioavailabiltiy of your astaxanthin product is that it is bound up to some extent in the cellular matrix of the organism and must be released from it and purified. Supercritical CO2 Extraction is a process that allows this to be achieved without the aid of harsh and degrading chemicals.
Your product should mention both the source of the astaxanthin, like the algae Haematococcus pluvialis, and that it was extracted by “Supercritical CO2”. This information should be clearly stated on the bottle. When shopping online, there is usually the option of viewing the product label.
Well, just as it may not be desirable to obtain a double or triple strength dose of a prescription medicine for a variety of reasons like toxicity, cost and efficacy, the same holds for supplements like astaxanthin. I would suggest that three divided doses of 2 to 4 mg softgels with meals that have some fat would be the best strategy.
Just remember, that no matter how high the dosage, if it is an inferior product then it is not worth placing in your shopping cart.
I predict we will see a variety of products as occurred with CoQ10. Both astaxanthin and CoQ10 share bioavailability problems due to them not mixing with water. So my prediction is that we will see “Astaxanthin-Gel” and other water soluble versions in the future as we saw Ubiquinol in the case of CoQ10.
Dr. Rudi E. Moerck
Your article is very informative and I appreciate your efforts. There are some points that should be made:
1. See the Valensa web site for a presentation on the bio-availability of astaxanthin.
2. Do not take more than 4 mg a day it is a waste. Asta bio-accumulates (like in salmon) and even a 1 mg dose a day results in a level in your membranes and flesh that is significant.
3. Astaxanthin is fairly bio available as is but if you want to absorb more then take it with a fatty food.
4. You cannot compare the bio availability with CoQ-10 because asta is far more available as is and enhanced even more using Valensa’s Zanthin-XP-3 with Asta/Perilla oil and sunflower lecithin.
5. Consuming excessive carotenoids will lead to accumulation in the liver and this is not good because the liver needs to oxidize things. Studies with Lycopene by BASF showed accumulation in the liver.
If astaxanthin is 40 times more powerful than lutein they why on earth would you take a dose that is the same as lutein?
SmartDoc, Dr. Moerck
Thanks for your insightful comments; they are well taken.
The toxicity issue of astaxanthin’s bioaccumulation in the liver, that you mention, is interesting. In the 1980’s, a self-tanning pill was on the supplement market that contained canthaxanthin; which is a carotenoid like astaxanthin. This product was pulled from the shelf following adverse events such as kidney and liver failure along with abnormal accumulation in the retina. The amounts in the pills must have been enormous to color the skin.
In regards to absorbability or bioavailabilty, most of the introductions of research papers on astaxanthin mention its water insolubility being a limiting factor in absorption in the intestine. However, they mention that dissolving it in an oil emulsion or with a surfactant could greatly overcome this problem. Regarding your statement, “You cannot compare the bio availability with CoQ-10 because asta is far more available as is and enhanced even more using Valensa’s Zanthin-XP-3 with Asta/Perilla oil and sunflower lecithin.” Well, isn’t Zanthin-XP-3 an oil emulsion? The first “improved” CoQ10 products were oil emulsions. You even use the term “enhanced” when referring to this product.There is also a water soluble version of astaxanthin on the market which would be analogous to CoQ10 in the form of Ubiquinol.
In the competitive supplement industry, which I think you’re familiar with, one company’s brand is touted as superior to the rest for reasons ranging from pristine waters from which the product was harvested from, most active form to greatest bioavailabilty and absorption. We’ve all seen some company’s bar graphs showing amazing results when it comes to absorption or bioavailabilty of their product. This is often a simple bar graph with the first bar being the other company’s product in one color and then their product that towers over it in another color; boasting 150 to 200% increase. There is an interesting review article (http://naturalmedicinejournal.net/pdf/NMJ_JAN10_NaPh.pdf) of the studies that give rise to bioavailabilty claims. The article suggests that these studies are often seriously flawed in their statistical analysis; either due to oversight or in the case of in-house studies, by deliberate massaging of the data. This article addresses bioavailabilty claims for both CoQ10 and astaxanthin thus I believe, supporting the validity of my analogy.
Thanks again for taking the time to comment on my blog post.