Astaxanthin is a compound found in certain foods that has various benefits for health. It is a red pigment that belongs to a group of chemicals called carotenoids. One of the most widely known benefits of astaxanthin is the ability to support eye health and function. In this article, we will discuss astaxanthin and the benefits of astaxanthin for eye health.
What Is Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin is a biologically active compound known as a xanthophyll carotenoid. It is found in various microorganisms and marine animals, such as algae, yeast, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, and crayfish. (1) Astaxanthin is a type of red pigment in these organisms responsible for their reddish-pink color.
While not an essential nutrient, plant pigments such as astaxanthin can have significant health benefits. Chlorophyll is another commonly known plant pigment with many health benefits and is what gives leaves and green vegetables their color.
Astaxanthin is found in microorganisms and marine mammals, though it is also commonly extracted for use as a dietary supplement. Astaxanthin extracts are usually derived from a red algae called Haematococcus pluvialis. (2)
What Are the Health Benefits of Astaxanthin?
Astaxanthin has numerous health benefits. Some of the benefits attributed to astaxanthin include:
- Has antioxidant properties
- Supports immune system health
- Helps to lower inflammation
- Protects from UV damage
- Supports cognitive health
- Supports heart health
- Supports eye health (3)
Astaxanthin Eye Health Benefits
One of the most well-known uses for astaxanthin is as a supplement for eye health. Numerous studies have found that astaxanthin may support overall eye health and function and benefit different eye disorders.
One of the main ways that astaxanthin supports eye health is by triggering natural defense proteins that support other antioxidant compounds and help with detoxification. Studies have found that astaxanthin also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. According to one study, astaxanthin “attenuates molecules that signal inflammatory triggers. It also increases ocular blood flow velocity, allowing the blood to reoxygenate the tissues of the retina and eyeball and clear out toxins and waste more efficiently.” (4)
One of the unique ways that astaxanthin offers eye protection is by providing stronger light absorption, which protects the retinas from light-induced damage. Astaxanthin may also protect the eyes from age-related visual impairment. Among the major age-related eye diseases are glaucoma, cataracts, age macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. Numerous studies have found that astaxanthin may help in the prevention and alleviation of each of these eye conditions. (4)
Cataracts are among the most common age-related conditions to develop and affect an estimated 50% of people over 75. (5) One study involving 35 patients undergoing cataract surgery found that just two weeks of astaxanthin supplementation enhanced free radical scavenging activity, reducing cell damage in the eye's aqueous humor.
Age macular degeneration (AMD) is another common eye condition that affects the central part of the retina, known as the macula. AMD is caused by oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and inflammatory processes in the retina that cause the vascular layers of the retina to decrease, leading to eye damage and vision impairment. Studies have found that taking astaxanthin helped improve circulation in the capillaries of the vascular layers of the eyes, suggesting it could potentially prevent or slow down the effects of AMD and other eye diseases. (4)
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, which sends visual information from the eye to the brain. This optic nerve damage is often related to high pressure in the eye, known as ocular pressure. (6) Studies on astaxanthin have found that it may help to reduce ocular pressure, helping to prevent or alleviate the symptoms of glaucoma. (7)
Diabetic retinopathy is another major eye disease that is a complication of diabetes and is the most significant cause of acquired blindness in adults. A key part of the pathology of diabetic retinopathy is the formation and accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are proteins or lipids that become glycated after exposure to sugars. Studies on astaxanthin have found that it may inhibit the effects of AGEs and retinal oxidative stress, potentially helping to prevent diabetic retinopathy. (8)
The research on astaxanthin and eye health has found that this carotenoid has tremendous benefits for the eyes, and it is highly encouraged for those suffering from eye diseases to eat more foods with astaxanthin, especially as they age.
Why Is Astaxanthin So Beneficial for Eye Health?
Now we know about astaxanthin eye health benefits, but why exactly is astaxanthin so beneficial for the eyes? Well, the research on astaxanthin reveals that it stimulates physiological processes that are the exact counter to the primary physiological processes that degrade eye health.
For example, most eye diseases are related to a few key factors:
- Oxidative stress
- High ocular pressure
These tend to build over time, slowly degrading eye health if not addressed—which is why most eye diseases are progressive and tend to increase with age.
Oxidative stress is caused by the buildup of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause chemical reactions in the body, a process known as “oxidation.” (9) While oxidation is a normal byproduct of chemical processes, it can also cause oxidative stress, which can lead to cell damage.
Free radicals are everywhere in our environment, and we are exposed to tens of thousands daily. (9) The eyes have the least protection of any cell in the body from oxidative stress and are protected by only a thin membrane. Over time, constant exposure to oxidative stress can impair eye health.
Astaxanthin, however, is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from oxidative stress, which has great benefits to all the body’s cells—not just eye cells.
Antioxidants like astaxanthin also have the potential to reduce inflammation in the body. Oxidative stress is a major cause of inflammatory reactions by the immune system. By reducing oxidative stress, you may also reduce a primary factor causing inflammation, which again has tremendous benefits for the body, including the eyes. (10)
Lastly, studies on astaxanthin have found that it may help to reduce ocular pressure, potentially protecting the eyes from glaucoma.
So, while the three primary causes of age-related eye disorders are oxidative stress, inflammation, and high ocular pressure, astaxanthin has been found in numerous studies to reduce oxidative stress, lower inflammation, and reduce ocular pressure.
Foods with Astaxanthin for Eye Health
To get more astaxanthin in your diet naturally, you can eat foods like:
You can also get a therapeutic astaxanthin dosage for eye health in various astaxanthin supplements.
Zuma Nutrition’s Eye Support Tonic
Our Eye Support Tonic contains a synergistic blend of organic ingredients designed to support vision and overall eye health.† This formula contains various carotenoids and organic compounds that may neutralize oxidative stress, protect the eyes from damage from UVA rays, and support the membrane of the eye.
Astaxanthin is a red pigment compound found in certain foods that has various benefits for health. One of the most widely known benefits of astaxanthin is the ability to support eye health and function.
Studies on astaxanthin have found that it supports eye health by helping to reduce oxidative stress, lower inflammation, and reduce ocular pressure by increasing circulation to the vascular layers of the eye.
Astaxanthin is found mainly in marine animals like salmon, trout, shrimp and crayfish. However, it can also be found as an extract, usually extracted from a type of red algae.
If you are considering supplementing with astaxanthin or are suffering from an eye condition, you should speak to your doctor about the best treatment method for you.