By: Robert M. Blair, Ph.D.
Astaxanthin is a red, carotenoid pigment found in various microorganisms and marine animals. It is well known for its antioxidant capacity and has been reported to have numerous potential health benefits . Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are thought to contribute to its potential benefits related to diabetes, heart health, immune health, eye health and more . Recent research has started to examine the potential benefits of astaxanthin for cognitive health [2, 3].
In one recent study published earlier this year, men and women between 45 – 64 years of age were assigned to take either 8 mg astaxanthin/day for 8 weeks or a placebo. Cognitive function was measured at the beginning of the study and after 4 and 8 weeks by a word memory test, a verbal fluency test, and a test to assess the brain’s ability to distinguish and process verbal and color information entering the brain at the same time (Stroop test).
The results showed that compared to the beginning of the study, improvements in word memory, verbal fluency, and the Stroop test were observed after 4 or 8 weeks in both the placebo and astaxanthin groups, though improvements were seen in slightly more cognitive areas in the astaxanthin group than in the placebo group. While these differences were not statistically different between the placebo and astaxanthin groups when the full study population group was analyzed, differences were observed when the data were analyzed by age groups. In study of volunteers 45 – 54 years of age, astaxanthin supplementation improved three measures of word memory compared to the placebo group, while no differences between supplementation groups were observed in volunteers 55 years of age and older. Thus, the study investigators concluded that astaxanthin supplementation may improve cognitive health and that improvement is more evident in individuals younger than 55 years of age.
In another study published earlier this year, investigators examined the potential benefits of a supplement containing astaxanthin and sesamin on cognitive function in individuals with mild cognitive impairment. For this small pilot study, volunteers (50 – 79 years of age) were asked to consume either the supplement containing astaxanthin + sesamin or a placebo supplement for 12 weeks. The astaxanthin + sesamin supplement provided 6 mg of astaxanthin/day and 10 mg of sesamin/day. Two types of tests for cognitive function were given at the beginning of the study and after 6 and 12 weeks of supplementation.
The results of this study showed that supplementation with astaxanthin + sesamin improved the change in psychomotor speed and the change in processing speed after 12 weeks compared to placebo supplementation. According to the paper’s authors, psychomotor speed “reflects how well a subject perceives, attends, responds to complex visual-perceptual information and performs simple fine motor coordination”, while processing speed “reflects how well a subject recognizes and processes information”. Based on these results, the researchers suggest that supplementation with astaxanthin + sesamin may help individuals “quickly and accurately judge complex information” and may improve their mental and physical coordination.
What They Mean:
While each of these studies was limited by the small number of volunteers, the results suggest that astaxanthin may have cognitive health benefits for some people. With all the positive news on astaxanthin’s potential health benefits, this is one more reason to keep astaxanthin near the top of your supplement list.
- Ambati RR, Phang SM, Ravi S, Aswathanarayana RG. Astaxanthin: sources, extraction, stability, biological activities and its commercial applications – a review. Marine Drugs 2014; 12(1):128-52.
- Hayashi M, Ishibashi T, Maoka T. Effect of astaxanthin-rich extract derived from Paracoccus carotinifaciens on cognitive function in middle-aged and older individuals. J Clin Biochem Nutr 2018; 62(2):195-205.
- Ito N, Saito H, Seki S, Ueda F, Asada T. Effects of a composite supplement containing astaxanthin and sesamin on cognitive functions in people with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2018; 62:1767-1775.