Astaxanthin supplements may improve heart rates during exercise

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/mihtiander
© iStock/mihtiander

Related tags Mitochondrion Haematococcus pluvialis Astaxanthin

Daily supplements containing astaxanthin may lower the heart rate of recreational athletes during exercise, says a new study.

Data presented at the American College of Sports Nutrition indicated that a daily 12 mg dose of astaxanthin (AstaZine Natural Astaxanthin by AlgaeHealth) reduced heart rate by 10% during long distance running (or submaximal intensity).  

On the other hand, no impact was seen at higher intensities. The double-blind, parallel-design study included 28 recreational runners with an average age of 42 randomly assigned to consume astaxanthin supplements (Haematococcus pluvialis​ algal extract) or placebo for eight weeks.

“We found a very novel effect of natural astaxanthin to improve overall cardiovascular function,”​ said lead researcher Shawn Talbott, PhD, from Utah-based EQQIL.  “The subjects in this study were able to perform the same amount of ‘work’—but at lower cardiovascular ‘strain’ after supplementing with astaxanthin.” 

Yanmei Li, PhD, the CEO of BGG (the parent company of AlgaeHealth), said: “The implications of this study for athletes as well as potential benefits for anyone concerned with cardiovascular health are immense.  We plan to publish this result in conjunction with some other exciting clinical results in a strong peer-reviewed journal later this year.”​    

BGG funded the study.

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Contradictory science

A 2011 paper published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine​ (Earnest et al. Vol. 32, No. 11, pp. 882-888) found that 4 mg per day of astaxanthin for four weeks produced significant improvements in athletic performance for cyclists. On the other hand, a 2013 paper in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise​ (Res et al. Vol. 45, No. 6, pp. 1158-65) found no benefits on performance for a 20 mg per day dose for four weeks.

Astaxanthin already had a dedicated following among the long-distance runner and triathlete communities, based on the cardiovascular and joint health benefits of the ingredient, long before the ingredient exploded onto the national conscience in 2011.

Dr Joseph Mercola described the potent red antioxidant on the Dr Oz show as the “number one supplement you’ve never heard of that you should be taking”. Sales of products containing the carotenoid subsequently “skyrocketed”, and interest has remained high.

Bob Capelli, EVP Global Marketing of AlgaeHealth, told NutraIngredients-USA, that previous studies have investigated the potential cardiovascular benefits of astaxanthin, but none have specifically focused on heart rate.

The new study found an impact on heart rate under submaximal conditions, but not at higher intensities, leading the researchers to conclude: “These result suggest [astaxanthin] may be a beneficial ergogenic aid for long-ultra-distance endurance athletes, but not necessarily for athletes competing in shorter, higher intensity efforts.

“In addition, these data are also suggestive of a general ‘cardiotonic’ effect of [astaxanthin] that should be investigated in non-athletic populations including elderly subjects and those with cardiac complications,”​ they wrote in their abstract published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise​.


Commenting on the mechanism(s) of action, Capelli noted that the study did not investigate this, but he suspects that it is related to astaxanthin positively affecting the mitochondrial function. 

“Since astaxanthin is protecting the mitochondria from oxidation, heat stress, membrane damage and inflammation, it’s allowing energy production without as much work,” ​he said (“work” in the case of the heart translates to beats per minute). 

In support of this, a 2010 paper published in Anticancer Research​ (Vol. 30, pp. 2721-5) by scientists at Washington State University found that astaxanthin-fed mice had higher “heart mitochondrial membrane potentials”. This membrane potential is important​ because the supply of energy from the mitochondria to the cell depends on maintaining a good gradient or potential across the membrane.

Self-affirmed GRAS

In addition, the company has announced the self-affirmation of the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status of its AstaZine Natural Astaxanthin product line. 

Source: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
May 2017, Volume 49, Issue 5S, Page 941, doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000519563.97355.e1
“Effect of Astaxanthin Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Function in Runners”
Authors: J. Talbott, et al. 

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