Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that has consistently proven, in many different comparative antioxidant studies, to be the strongest natural antioxidant. Figure 1 shows that it is many times more powerful in singlet oxygen quenching than any other antioxidant tested. In fact, it was 800 times more active than CoQ10 and 6000 times more active against singlet oxygen than Vitamin C.
Astaxanthin is a member of the xanthophyll family within the broader carotenoid classification, and as such it contains not only carbon and hydrogen but also oxygen atoms (Figure 2). In nature, astaxanthin is found in algae and is what gives salmon, lobster, crab and shrimp as well as flamingoes their red color. Within the animal world, astaxanthin is found in the highest concentration in the muscles of salmon – in fact, it’s what gives salmon the strength and endurance to swim up rivers and waterfalls for days on end, the greatest display of stamina in nature.
Health benefits of astaxanthin
The benefits of natural astaxanthin are so diverse that it seems almost unbelievable. How can one sup- plement help the body in so many different ways? But if you examine the different benefits more closely, it becomes clear that they all are linked to the two foundational properties astaxanthin has that separate it from other supplements (including other members of its own carotenoid family):
• astaxanthin is nature’s strongest and highest-quality antioxidant
• astaxanthin safely and naturally modulates the inflammatory response through multiple pathways.
Many human clinical trials have demonstrated astaxanthin’s powerful antioxidant activity. We won’t cite all of them here (a comprehensive abstract list is available from BGG upon request, with over 1,000 studies listed), but a few of the most recent, interesting studies include:
• Astaxanthin decreased levels of oxidative stress marker malondialdehyde and inflammatory marker interleukin-6 in patients with Type-2 diabetes (Mashhadi et al., 2021).
• Astaxanthin added to dark chocolate decreased oxidative stress in aging subjects (Petyaev et al., 2018).
• Astaxanthin improved exercise tolerance, reduced oxidative stress and improved cardiac contractility in heart failure patients (Kato et al., 2020).
• Astaxanthin reduced pain and improved satisfaction with life of patients suffering from incurable rheumatoid arthritis (Nir and Spiller, 2002).
• Astaxanthin decreased muscle inflammation and improved recuperation in elite soccer players (Baralic et al., 2015).
• In a University of Memphis study, Astaxanthin prevented joint soreness after intense knee exercise (Fry, 2001).
• Astaxanthin reduced inflammation and injury to the vocal fold after vocal loading (Kishimoto et al., 2017).
Astaxanthin for athletes and active people
Exerting energy causes a vast increase in free radicals in our bodies, particularly when doing grueling work for long hours or participating in intense sports activities. So, taking a strong antioxidant is a tremendous bonus for people participating in difficult work or sports activities to prevent cell damage and to recover better after physical exertion. This is why many athletes are using natural astaxanthinjust like salmon that have high concentrations of astaxanthin in their muscles and get the incredible strength and energy to swim upstream for weeks, athletes and hard-working people can increase their strength and energy levels by supplementing with astaxanthin each day.
As far back as the 1990’s, research was being done in this area. A human clinical trial in Sweden in 1998 took healthy, active young men and gave them either 4 mg per day of natural astaxanthin or a placebo for six months. At the end of the trial, the strength of the men taking astaxanthin had increased three times faster than the men taking placebo. This was measured by the amount of deep knee bends they could do at the start and again at the end of the study – after six months the men taking astaxanthin could do 62% more deep knee bends (Malmsten, 1998).
Another study was done on competitive bicyclists, it lasted four weeks, and each athlete took either 4 mg of astaxanthin or a placebo. Astaxanthin made these athletes stronger and gave them more energy in just four weeks, and at a relatively low dose of only 4 mg per day. Statistically significant improvements were found in the treatment group’s power output and in their time in a 20 km time trial. In fact, the cyclists taking natural astaxanthin saved an average of 2 minutes off their time trials which was about a 5% improvement. In addition, their power output increased by a whopping 15% (Earnest et al., 2011). This is an incredible advantage for a competitive athlete – to be that much stronger that they can improve in a race by 5% in just a month. And of course, this can help anyone who has to work hard or compete in sports on any level.
A related study showed that astaxanthin helped improve performance, enhanced whole-body fat oxidation rates, and reduced respiratory exchange ratio in recreational cyclists (Brown et al., 2021). In addition to athletes, astaxanthin has also shown a beneficial effect on the recovery of the elderly population and cardiovascular patients. Namely, it improved exercise tolerance, reduced oxidative stress and improved cardiac contractility in patients with heart failure (Kato et al., 2020).
Astaxanthin improved metabolic adaptation and muscle endurance in elderly subjects during aerobic training (Liu et al., 2021) and increased physical activity and improved self-reported of mental and physical quality of life in heart failure patients (Ishiwata et al., 2020).
Production of the natural astaxanthin
Generally, a two-stage culture system is adopted as a successful strategy for the commercial production of H. pluvialis: green stage for cell growth and induction stage for astaxanthin accumulation. In the green stage, cell growth is fast, but astaxanthin content is low. However, in the induction stage, cells grow slowly but can accumulate astaxanthin quickly. Hence, H. pluvialis is cultured to obtain enough cell density in the green stage, and then is induced to increase astaxanthin content in the induction stage by changing culture conditions (Wan et al., 2014).
The initial production of Haematococcus usually takes place in closed culture systems, some as large as 40,000 liters, after a series of inoculation and cultivation. Then the microalgae culture is transferred to either open ponds or photobioreactors for the cultivation and induction.
Some producers grow astaxanthin with giant open culture ponds, up to 500,000 liters, during the final reddening cycle – Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae cells gradually turn from green to red as they accumulate astaxanthin. When the algae are sufficiently infused with astaxanthin, these companies harvest, wash and then dry the algae. Finally, they extract the lipids from the dried biomass.
Other suppliers of astaxanthin grow Haematococcus entirely in closed systems, using biodomes, giant tanks or tubes. Advocates of this process argue that this method results in higher concentrations of astaxanthin in the biomass, and that there is no exposure to heavy metal contamination or microbiological contamination from birds. Unfortunately, open pond systems are plagued by varying temperatures and heavy rainfall, and generally produce a low yield product which has been exposed to a barrage of contaminants such as heavy metals and other pollution as well as bird excrement, and of course, the habitual invaders of open pond systems such as invasive microbes and competing algal species.
BGG’s astaxanthin (AstaZine®) is cultivated in a 100% closed system that is located in a GEO Park (Figure 4) in a sparsely settled area in Yunnan region. This region is well known for its mild climate, clean air and abundant, pure water resources. In fact, the water used in our algae cultures is Himalayan mountain water that originates on the Tibetan plateau. This area has consistent sunlight over 200 days per year, with moderate rainfall and humidity, which remains consistent throughout the year. Daytime temperatures in this area range from 23-28 °C (73-84 F) (so it’s an ideal location for photo induction), while nighttime temperature remain below 28 °C (Wan et al., 2014).
The requirement for temperature control is crucial to the production of Haematococcus biomass. This species of algae does not tolerate high temperatures that would, If left out of control, kill it. For this reason, a drip system of flowing water is constantly maintained to cool the glass tubes where the algae are grown. BGG’s farm for Haematococcus cultivation (as shown in the Figure 5) initiated in 2006, and after several expansions, is now by far the largest natural astaxanthin production facility in the world.
BGG employs an advanced photobioreactor (PBR) system (which facilitates better control of the culture environment), nutrients such as carbon dioxide, a consistent supply of cool, underground water, optimal temperature, efficient exposure to light, culture density, pH levels, gas supply rate, mixing regime, etc. All of the parameters are strictly monitored 24 hours per day during cultivation to ensure that the highest quality, purest Astaxanthin is produced. The photobioreactor has a built-in CIP cleaning system that internally cleans the tubes to prevent contamination. The whole system is highly automated and remotely controlled. This advanced management allows for high consistency and stability for every batch of production.
The closed system allows for a very strict quality control process that ensures the best astaxanthin yield and the least contamination. BGG’s AstaZine® is the purest and most concentrated natural astaxanthin in the world.
Advantages to BGG’s astaxanthin production are summarized as follows:
• Better protection from outside contamination.
• Cultivation of algae is in controlled conditions, hen- ce greater potential for much higher productivity.
• Large surface-to-volume ratio. PBRs offer maximum efficiency in using light and therefore greatly improve productivity. Typically, the culture density of algae produced is 10 to 20 times greater than bag culture (in which algae culture is done in bags) and can be even greater.
• Better control of gas transfer.
• Reduction in evaporation of growth medium. More uniform temperature.
• Space saving – can be mounted vertically, horizontally or at an angle.
• Reduced fouling – recently employed tube self-cleaning mechanisms can dramatically reduce fouling. All of these benefits and close management by the production team ensures that the absolute best quality astaxanthin is produced.
BGG has developed the top R&D team for microalgae strain development. Great efforts have been employed in selecting the best strains for cultivation in last few years. Currently the best strain can reach over 8% astaxanthin content in the dried microalgae biomass as compared to some other leading producers which are in the 2–3% range. BGG has by far the highest level of astaxanthin content achieved to date by producers anywhere, which is a key measure of our ultra-advanced technology.
Extraction of astaxanthin can be obtained by solvents. However, since it is impossible to remove all traces of toxic solvents, the EEC directive (88/344) and the Food and Drug Administration have imposed great restrictions in the use of organic solvents, namely hexane, methyl acetate and methylene chloride. Supercritical CO2 fluid extraction (SFE) is presently an important alternative to the traditional separation methods (Palavra et al., 2011). This SFE extrac- tion technique is especially indicated when thermolabile compounds are present, in addition to avoiding the use of toxic solvents, since CO2 is a GRAS solvent type. The major advantage of supercritical fluid extraction over conventional extraction is that this technique does not require subsequent processing steps to separate the solvent, since CO2 is a gas at normal temperature and pressure. The conventional extraction processes produce extracts that are very dilute, and containing materials that are strongly susceptible to oxidation. So the subsequent steps of separation of these solvents can promote the degradation of the compounds of interest (Sánchez-Camargo et al., 2011).
Astaxanthin, a powerfull antioxidant has demonstrated various health benefits, including supporting cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, promoting eye health, and showing promise in anti-aging, neuroprotection and exercise performance, making it a promising ingredient for future research and development, and usage in finished products.
Earnest, C., Lupo, M., White, K, Church, T. (2011). “Effect of Astaxanthin on cycling time trial performance.” International Journal of Sports Medicine 2011;32:882-88..,
Malmsten, C., Lignell, A. (2008). “Dietary supplementation with astaxanthin-rich algal meal improves strength endurance-a double blind placebo controlled study on male students.” Carotenoid Science, 2008.
Malmstem, C. (1998). “Dietary supplementation with Astaxanthinrich algal meal improves muscle endurnace-a double blind study on male students.” Karolinska Institute, Gustavsberg, Sweden.
Palavra, A. M. F., Coelho, J. P., Barroso, J. G., Rauter, A. P., Fareleira, J. M. N. A., Mainar, A., . . . Novais, J. M. (2011). Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction of bioactive compounds from microalgae and volatile oils from aromatic plants. The Journal of Supercritical Fluids, 60(0), 21-27. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.supflu.2011.04.017
Wan, M., Zhang, J., Hou, D., Fan, J., Li, Y., Huang, J., & Wang, J. (2014). The effect of temperature on cell growth and Astaxanthin accumulation of Haematococcus pluvialis during a light–dark cyclic cultivation. Bioresource Technology, 167(0), 276-283. doi: http://dx. doi.org/10.1016/j.biortech.2014.06.030
Other literature available on request.
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