Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring carotenoid compound that is commonly found in seafood such as crabs and lobster. Astaxanthin has various antioxidant and inflammatory effects which are beneficial for long-term health. With respect to cognition, astaxanthin has been shown to be useful for improving fatigue, attention and memory. On the molecular level, astaxanthin prevents neuronal and ganglion cell damage.
Pharmacology of Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin is an antioxidant compound. Astaxanthin sources include seafood such as crabs, salmon and lobster, as well as the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis.
Astaxanthin has many beneficial effects, as it acts on pathways to prevent neoplasm formation and proliferation, and to boost the immune response.
Astaxanthin and Mental Performance
In scientific studies, astaxanthin has been shown to improve cognition with respect to working fatigue, memory, mood and attention.
One study found that astaxanthin supplementation was beneficial for mitigating age-related forgetfulness. In this study, 96 middle-aged and healthy subjects consumed astaxanthin in either a low dosage (6 mg/day) or high dosage (12 mg/day). The subjects that consumed the high dosage (12 mg/day) were found to exhibit greater improvements in a memory task, the Groton Maze Learning Test. While both groups taking astaxanthin witnessed improvements on the test, the group taking 12 mg/day exhibited improvements starting from an earlier point in time, at 4 weeks after initiation of the supplementation.
The effects of astaxanthin on attention have been studied in the context of the critical flicker fusion test. A study on 26 visual display terminal workers, showed that there were no significant differences in scores on the flicker fusion test when comparing before supplementation and after supplementation. However, it was found that pupil accommodation was significantly improved (greater in amplitude) after supplementation with astaxanthin. This finding suggests a physiological effect that could be linked to performance with respect to attention.
Astaxanthin has been found to have anti-anxiety effects in animal studies. In one study, mice were supplemented with astaxanthin, and it was found that at dosages of 100 and 300 mg/kg/day for 10 days, the mice taking astaxanthin exhibited lower amounts of anxiety as measured by the elevated plus maze task and the hole-board test.
Astaxanthin is classified as a Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) compound by the FDA. There are no known severe adverse effects when astaxanthin is taken within normal safe quantities. Studies have shown that doses of astaxanthin of up to 20-50 mg per day are well tolerated. Minor side effects of astaxanthin may include decrease in blood pressure, minor changes in skin pigmentation, changes in hormonal balance, lower blood calcium levels, and additional hair growth.