Review supports astaxanthin’s role as a ‘mitochondrial nutrient’

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Astaxanthin © Getty Images Hendra Su
Astaxanthin © Getty Images Hendra Su
Astaxanthin’s strong anti-oxidant activity may help prevent mitochondrial dysfunction, which could explain it’s strong potential benefits for a range of health conditions, says a new mini-review from South Korea.

It’s already well known that the function of mitochondria declines with age, while aging is a known risk factor for a number of common age-related and neurodegenerative disorders. This led to the proposition that secondary mitochondrial dysfunction may lead to degenerative diseases.

A role for oxidative stress has been proposed to promote mitochondrial dysfunction, leading some researchers to examine if antioxidants such as CoQ10, and vitamins C and E may play a role.

Astaxanthin may also improve mitochondrial function, according to a new review by Suhn Hyung Kim and Hyeyoung Kim from Yonsei University in Seoul.

“Astaxanthin can effectively mitigate oxidative stress generated under various pathological conditions and prevent oxidative stress-induced mitochondrial dysfunction” ​they wrote in Nutrients​.


There has been a lot of interest in astaxanthin ever since it was featured on an episode of the Dr Oz Show. Unlike some other ingredients that benefited from the Dr Oz Effect​ (ingredients whose popularity spiked and then plummeted), the interest in astaxanthin has remained strong.

Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association (NAXA), a group that educates customers and consumers on the differences between the synthetic and natural forms of this ingredient and the benefits of the latter, derived from the algae species Haematococcus pluvialis​, pegs the current market at around $100 million.

The carotenoid’s health benefits include cardiovascular, joint, and skin health, to name but a few.

A ‘mitochondrial nutrient’

Commenting on the review, Dr Mark Miller, principal of Kaiviti Consulting, LLC​, told NutraIngredients-USA: “It is not often we talk in glowing terms about a review article, but here it is justified because astaxanthin is a remarkable natural product that flies under our ‘Health Radar’. This is primarily because astaxanthin is not a major part of our diet, hence we tend to dismiss its importance, and focus on other carotenoids like beta-carotene and lutein.

“This review is a valuable resource, albeit technical, on how astaxanthin limits mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress, events linked to an array of chronic diseases.

“Kim & Kim have highlighted the importance of the unique structure of astaxanthin and its potency as a free radical scavenger, in protecting membrane structures. In this instance, nature provided the perfect combination of form and function.

“Indeed, it is one of the few nutrients that you could call a mitochondrial nutrient because it is preferentially concentrated within mitochondria while protecting mitochondrial function,”​ added Dr Miller.

Review details

Kim and Kim’s mini-review explores how astaxanthin can reduce oxidative stress and maintain mitochondrial function, citing data that shows a protective effect on mitochondrial redox balance.

The scientists go on to outline the in vitro and in vivo studies that support astxanthin’s potential role in a range of conditions, including inflammatory diseases, aging, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, liver diseases, and metabolic complications, including diabetes and its associated complications. They also produced the following diagram to illustrate the carotenoid’s mechanism of action.

Astaxanthin Nutrients-10-01137-g001
Source: Nutrients, 2018, 10(9), 1137

Source: Nutrients
2018, 10(9​), 1137; doi: 10.3390/nu10091137
“Inhibitory Effect of Astaxanthin on Oxidative Stress-Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction-A Mini-Review”
Authors: S.H. Kim and H. Kim

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