Testing shows some astaxanthin products on shelf can't be proven to come from algae

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Testing shows some astaxanthin products on shelf can't be proven to come from algae
Not all astaxanthin supplements can prove that the ingredient on the label is derived from algae, according to recent testing conducted by an industry group.

The Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association (NAXA) has taken the next step in verification of the source of this ingredient with the results of its first round of finished product testing. The results showed that of 12 products bought off the shelf, in two cases the HPLC readouts didn’t match the profile for astaxanthin derived from algae.

Not a common test

“This is an important result because this is a test that brand holders don’t usually conduct,” ​Scott Steinford, president of NAXA told NutraIngredients-USA. It’s a new consideration, one that has only recently come to the fore, he said. This particular test looks only at whether the astaxanthin came from algae or from another source, such as the various synthetic versions on the market.

“We tested products that identified that their astaxanthin was from algae. It’s an HPLC test that is specifically designed to detect the source. These tests were conducted at an independent laboratory with a great degree of proficiency in astaxanthin testing,”​ Steinford said.

Steinford said that when he was brand holder as president of the Doctor’s Best line of dietary supplements, he didn’t even know that a test existed to determine this question of natural vs synthetic in astaxanthin. His company conducted that standard array of finished product tests, including assay and contaminant testing. And that’s the situation that remains today, where brands are verifying that the ingredient is astaxanthin but aren’t asking for a test that proves its source.  Depending on the test used, both synthetic and natural forms will yield a positive result, Steinford said.

Steinford said that tests were also conducted on the 12 products looking at assay questions, though NAXA was not making the results of those public at this time. The HPLC test is in this cases analogous in a way to DNA testing.  The only question asked, and answered, is whether thing is what it says it is.  If there is as much of it there as there ought to be is another question.

NAXA was formed by three founding members, Cyanotech, Fuji and Algatech, to try to make clear the differentiation between astaxanthin derived form algae and the synthetic forms, which NAXA says have a different sterioisomer makeup. This is a key difference, the organization asserts, because all of the research on the ingredient has been done on the natural form (which is more expensive), and for synthetic forms to claim those benefits is case of borrowing science without proof.

Protecting the category

NAXA has added two members since its beginning, though it lost Fuji earlier this year.  One of the disagreements about the group in the broader marketplace has been the question of whether membership implies that all suppliers within the organization are making ingredients of identical quality. Steinford said that as a condition of membership companies must adhere to existing monograph standards for the ingredient and must submit to a site inspection. The goal is to create a baseline of quality, to make sure that all ingredients in the market come through the front door and start on the ground floor, so to speak. Steinford said members are free to differentiate further on quality starting from that baseline.

“We are protecting the industry and protecting the category within the industry and are also looking at furthering science into astaxanthin’s benefits,”​ Steinford said.

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