Natural sources of astaxanthin and where to get this precious carotenoid


Natural sources of astaxanthin and where to get this precious carotenoid

Astaxanthin cultivation facility

The original sources of all astaxanthin are relatively simple organisms. Specifically, algae, fungi, bacteria, yeast and plants.

Not a single animal can synthesize it from scratch. However, animals do accumulate astaxanthin in their tissues by eating astaxanthin-containing organisms or by converting certain compounds to astaxanthin. For example, in marine environments, algae rich in astaxanthin or certain carotenoids (astaxanthin precursors) is a food for zooplankton which in turn is consumed by fish and exoskeleton-bearing creatures like shrimp and crayfish.

Sea harbours much more astaxanthin than land.


Here are some sources of marine astaxanthin:

  • some algae – Haematococcus pluvialis, Chlorella zofingiensis, Botryococcus braunii, Chlorococcum species
  • many fish species like sockey salmon, rainbow trout (had a good time fishing these guys in the past), sea bream. Consequently, their eggs as well, if they are red-tinted (caviar)
  • most crustaceans like crab, crayfish, lobster, shrimp, krill
  • marine bacterium Agrobacterium aurantiacum

That’s a pretty good array of organisms and the nice thing is that many of them are edible.


Some land critters carrying astaxanthin are:

  • a few birds – flamingo (feathers) and quail (iris of an eye)
  • several species of Arctic lichens
  • a few plant species in the genus Adonis. Actually, today, they are the only land plants known to contain this pigment
  • red yeast Phaffia rhodozyma



Where to get astaxanthin if you are vegan


How do we get astaxanthin from the above organisms into our stomachs? Of course, the absolutely  best way to get nutrients is directly from foods. However, if you are vegan, salmon and shrimp are out of the game. But just for the sake of curiosity: you would need to ingest 165 grams of wild salmon, for example, to get 3.6 mg of astaxanthin. As a vegan, you would not be lunching on lichens or yeast either. Meaning, you are left with algae. H. pluvialis algae has more astaxanthin than any other. Actually, by not eating sea foods, you are not missing a lot, as per weight, H. pluvialis has more astaxanthin than anything else known to date. To give you the idea of the difference: per gram, it has 33 times more astaxanthin than shrimp and 8000 more than salmon! However, you can’t go and buy this algae in health stores like you would seaweed. That means that taking it in a supplement form is the only way to go. Just like spirulina. After all, H. pluvalis-derived astaxanthin supplement is how majority of people, including non-vegetarians, get their astaxanthin if they are after it. Sales of astaxanthin supplements started to explode after 2011, thanks to hard work of Dr. Oz and Dr. Mercola.



Two things to keep in mind before you start hunting for astaxanthin supplements…


First. Because astaxanthin is such a valuable compound and growing H. pluvialis algae and extracting the pigment is sophisticated and expensive matter, synthetic astaxanthin supplements have been spotted and now are illegally on the market. You don’t need to hear about their effects on the human health, enough to know that not a single country has approved synthetic astaxanthin supplements. The problem is, even specialists cannot tell the difference between natural and man-made astaxanthin without doing some lab work. That’s because synthetic astaxanthin has the same molecular formula as the real one, the only difference is three-dimensional arrangement of atoms in space. To further minimize the chances of being caught, producers of synthetic astaxanthin mix it with natural astaxanthin which makes the counterfeited thing even harder to identify. So far, the carriers of synthetic astaxanthin turned out to be Asian companies. In a nutshell, to make sure you are not ingesting a red-coloured petroleum chemical, choose astaxanthin supplements from the following verified companies:

    • Regenurex (Canadian)
    • Nutrex Hawaii
    • Algae Health
    • AlgaTechnologies
    • Contract Biotics
    • Cyanotech
    • Valensa International
    • Fuji Health Services
    • Parry Nutraceutical


Second. Another astaxanthin supplement to watch for is the one isolated from metabolically-engineered P. rhodozymaare yeast. Technically, it is synthetic but genetically-modified or derived foods will never become good enough to put in the mouth. It is legal, but in US, for example, it is advised not to exceed 2 mg per day with this supplement.

One last point. Sadly, while synthetic astaxanthin supplements are illegal, a synthetic astaxanthin animal feed IS legal. For a long time, synthetic astaxanthin has been fed to farmed salmon to give it an exciting red appearance. Otherwise, as you can imagine, salmon would be of boring greyish colour. Unfortunately, the synthetic astaxanthin did end up in your body if you ever had a meal of farmed salmon. Something to think about and tell others…



How much astaxanthin is enough?


Relative to other antioxidants, you don’t need a lot of astaxanthin to harvest its benefits. Majority of studies involving humans administered 4-10 mg of astaxanthin daily. However, at higher quantities, say 100 mg, astaxanthin has no known ill effects. At even higher quantities, who knows, maybe astaxanthin will give you a reddish tone, just like beta-carotene gives you an orange tone when you overdo on carrots!

Also, bear in mind that astaxanthin is a fat-soluble antioxidant – always take it combined with some healthy raw fat,  like coconut oil or avocado.




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