Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 46:185–196 (2006)
Taylor and Francis Group, LLC
Astaxanthin: A Review of its
Chemistry and Applications
I. HIGUERA-CIAPARA, L. F ´
ELIX-VALENZUELA, and F. M. GOYCOOLEA
Centro de Investigaci´on en Alimentaci´on y Desarrollo, A.C., P.O. Box 1735. Hermosillo, Sonora. M´exico. 83000
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid widely used in salmonid and crustacean aquaculture to provide the pink color characteristic
of that species. This application has been well documented for over two decades and is currently the major market driver
for the pigment. Additionally, astaxanthin also plays a key role as an intermediary in reproductive processes. Synthetic
astaxanthin dominates the world market but recent interest in natural sources of the pigment has increased substantially.
Common sources of natural astaxanthin are the green algae Haematococcus pluvialis, the red yeast, Phafﬁa rhodozyma,
as well as crustacean byproducts. Astaxanthin possesses an unusual antioxidant activity which has caused a surge in the
nutraceutical market for the encapsulated product. Also, health beneﬁts such as cardiovascular disease prevention, immune
system boosting, bioactivity against Helycobacter pylori, and cataract prevention, have been associated with astaxanthin
consumption. Research on the health beneﬁts of astaxanthin is very recent and has mostly been performed in vitro or at the
pre-clinical level with humans. This paper reviews the current available evidence regarding astaxanthin chemistry and its
potential beneﬁcial effects in humans.
Keywords astaxanthin, health beneﬁts, carotenoids
Astaxanthin (AX) is a pigment that belongs to the family
of the xanthophylls, the oxygenated derivatives of carotenoids
whose synthesis in plants derives from lycopene. AX is one
of the main pigments included in crustacean, salmonids, and
other farmed ﬁsh feeds. Its main role is to provide the desir-
able reddish-orange color in these organisms as they do not
have access to natural sources of carotenoids. The use of AX
in the aquaculture industry is important from the standpoint
of pigmentation and consumer appeal but also as an essential
nutritional component for adequate growth and reproduction.
In addition to its effect on color, one of the most important
properties of AX is its antioxidant properties which has been
reported to surpass those of β-carotene or even α-tocopherol
(Miki, 1991). Due to its outstanding antioxidant activity AX
has been attributed with extraordinary potential for protecting
the organism against a wide range of ailments such as cardio-
vascular problems, different types of cancer and some diseases
of the immunological system. This has stirred great interest in
AX and prompted numerous research studies concerning its po-
tential beneﬁts to humans and animals. Much work has also
been focused on the identiﬁcation, production, and utilization
Address correspondence to I. Higuera-Ciapara, Centro de Investigaci´on en
Alimentaci´on y Desarrollo. -A.C. Carretera a la Victorial Km 0.6. AP 1735
Hermosillo, Sonora 83000 Mexico. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
of natural sources of AX (algae, yeast, and crustacean byprod-
ucts) as an alternative to the synthetic pigment which currently
covers most of the world markets. This review paper aims to
provide an updated overview of the most important chemical,
biological and application aspects of this unusual carotenoid un-
derlining its relevance to the growing industry of nutraceutical
CHEMICAL STRUCTURE OF CAROTENOIDS
Carotenoids comprise a family encompassing more than
600 pigments which are synthesized de novo in higher plants,
mosses, algae, bacteria, and fungi (Goodwin, 1980). The struc-
ture of carotenoids is derived from lycopene (Figure 1). The
majority are hydrocarbons of 40 carbon atoms which contain
two terminal ring systems joined by a chain of conjugated dou-
ble bonds or poliene system (Urich, 1994). Two groups have
been singled out as the most important: the carotenes which
are composed of only carbon and hydrogen; and the xantho-
phylls which are oxygenated derivatives. In the latter, oxygen
can be present as OH groups (as in zeaxanthin), or as oxi-groups
(as in canthaxanthin); or in a combination of both (as in AX).
The poliene system gives carotenoids its distinctive molecu-
lar structure, their chemical properties and their light-absortion
186 I. HIGUERA-CIAPARA ET AL.
Figure 1 Chemical structure of some carotenoids. Source: Urich, 1994.
characteristics. Each double bond from the poliene chain may
exist in two conﬁgurations; as geometric isomers cis or trans.
Cis-isomers are thermodynamically less stable than the trans
isomers. Most carotenoids found in nature are predominantly
all trans isomers (Britton, 1995). In addition to forming ge-
ometric isomers, and considering that each molecule has two
chiral centers in C-3 and C-3,AXmay present three conﬁgu-
rational isomers: two enantiomers (3R, 3R and 3S, 3S) and a
meso form (3R, 3S) (Turujman et al., 1997) (Figure 2). From
all these isomers, the 3S, 3Sisthe most abundant in nature
(Parajo et al., 1996). Synthetic AX consists of a racemic mix-
ture of the two enantiomers and the meso form (Turujman et al.,
1997). Three types of optical isomers can be found in crustacea
Depending on their origin, AX can be found in associa-
tion with other compounds. It may be steriﬁed in one or both
hydroxyl groups with different fatty acids such as palmitic,
oleic, estearic, or linoleic: it may also be found free, that is,
THE CHEMISTRY OF ASTAXANTHIN 187
Figure 2 Astaxanthin conﬁgurational isomers (a–c) and a geometric cis isomer (d). Source: Turujman et al., 1997; Osterlie et al., 1999.
with the hydroxyl groups without steriﬁcation; or else, form-
ing a chemical complex with proteins (carotenoproteins) or
lipoproteins (carotenolipoproteins). Synthetic AX is not steri-
ﬁed, while found in algae is always steriﬁed (Johnson and An,
1991; Yuan et al., 1997). Crustacean AX on the other hand,
is a mixture of the three forms previously described (Arango,
SOURCES OF AX
Synthetic AX is an identical molecule to that produced in
living organisms and it consists of a mixture 1:2:1 of isomers
(3S, 3S), (3R, 3S), and (3R, 3R) respectively. It is the main
188 I. HIGUERA-CIAPARA ET AL.
carotenoid used worldwide in the aquaculture industry. Since
1990, Roche began a large scale production of synthetic AX and
practically fulﬁlled the world market for the pigment, estimated
at 150–200 million dollars. However, the growing demand for
natural foods and the high cost of synthetic pigments has stim-
ulated the search for natural sources of AX with potential for
Only a few sources of microbial origin can compete econom-
ically with synthetic AX: the green microalgae Haematococcus
pluvialis and the red yeast Phafﬁa rhodozyma. Their manufac-
turing methods have been reviewed by Johnson and An (1991),
Nelis and De Leenheer (1991), and Parajo et al. (1996). Several
small companies have been founded (Igene, Aquasearch, and
Cyanotech) and are trying to compete with Roche by offering
AX from natural sources. However, so far, these products only
take up a very small fraction of the market due to their limited
production (McCoy, 1999).
Numerous research reports exist concerning the study of mi-
croalgae, particularly Haematococcus pluvialis with the aim of
optimizing the AX production processes. The main focus of
these efforts has been the assessment of various factors and con-
ditions which affect algae growth and the production of AX
(Kakizono et al., 1992; Kobayashi et al., 1992, 1993; Harker
et al., 1995, 1996; Fabregas et al., 1998, 2000; Gong and Chen
1998; Boussiba et al., 1999; Zhang et al., 1999; Hata et al., 2001;
Orosa et al., 2001; and Choi et al., 2002). The recent advances
in photobioreactor technology has been a fundamental tool to
achieve commercial feasibility in the production of AX from
microalgae (Olaizola, 2000) as it has allowed the development
of culture methods with AX concentration varying from 1.5 to
3% on a dry weight basis (Lorenz and Cysewsky, 2000). The
production system consists of microalgae cultivation in large
ponds under controlled conditions, followed by processing to
break down the cell wall to increase the bioavailability of the
carotenoid (Cyanotech, 2000) since the intact spores present low
digestibility (Sommer et al., 1991). The biomass is ﬁnally dried
to obtain a ﬁne powder of reddish color. Several AX products
currently marketed are derived from H. pluvialis microalgae and
are being manufactured with the method previously described.
These products may contain between 1.5 and 2.0% of AX and
are utilized as pigments and nutrient for aquatic animals and also
in the poultry industry for the pigmentation of broilers and egg
yolk (Cyanotech, 2000).
On the other hand, other algal species have been proposed
as sources of AX but so far without much success as com-
pared to the species previously described. Gouveia et al. (1996,
2002) shown that Chlorella vulgaris is efﬁcient for pigmenta-
tion purposes with the same magnitude of synthetic pigments.
More recently, a group of researchers has shown interest in the
identiﬁcation, extraction, and puriﬁcation of carotenoids from
the microalgae Chlorococcum sp (Li and Chen, 2001; Ma and
Chen, 2001; Zhang and Lee, 2001; Yuan et al., 2002). Chloro-
coccum seems to be a promising source of AX as well as other
carotenoids such as canthaxanthin and adonixanthin.
The interest shown by the aquaculture industry for natural
sources of AX has been growing as a result of the increasing de-
mand for ﬁsh fed with natural pigments (Guerin and Hosokawa,
2001). In general, the microbial sources of carotenoids are com-
parable to synthetic sources as far as pigmentation is concerned
(Choubert and Heinrich, 1993; Gouveia et al., 1996, 2002;
Bowen et al., 2002; Gomes et al., 2002). However, it is worth
noting that some authors suggest that steriﬁed AX sourced from
algae could be twice as effective as synthetic AX for the pig-
mentation of red seabream (Guerin and Hosokawa, 2001) in
addition to providing a better growth rate in Penaeus monodon
larvae (Darachai et al., 1999).
For more than two decades, the red yeast Phafﬁa rhodozyma
has been widely studied due to its capacity in producing AX. The
scientiﬁc literature is very abundant in reports on this microor-
ganism. Many of these reports have been focused on the effect of
different nutrients or carbon sources in the culture media on the
production of yeast biomass and AX (Kesava et al., 1998; Parajo
et al., 1998a; Chan and Ho, 1999; Ramirez et al., 2000; An, 2001;
Flores-Cotera and Sanchez, 2001). Other authors have been most
interested in optimizing the conditions which favor larger AX
yields (Parajo et al., 1998b; Vazquez and Martin, 1998; Ramirez
et al., 2001) or in assays testing salmonid pigmentation with diets
containing Phafﬁa, with a similar efﬁciency to that achieved us-
ing synthetic AX (Gentles and Haard, 1991; Whyte and Sherry,
2001). Other researchers have concentrated on the utilization of
genetically-improved strains of the same yeast to increase AX
yields (An et al., 1989; Adrio et al., 1993; Calo et al., 1995; Fang
and Chiou, 1996; An, 1997). Currently the yeast is marketed in
a ﬁne powder form as a natural source of AX, protein, and other
nutrients and utilized as an ingredient in salmonid feed. It is
manufactured by natural fermentation in a carefully controlled
environment thus effectively obtaining a product with a high
percentage of free AX (8,000 µg/g) (Igene, 2003).
Crustacean byproducts are generated during processing op-
erations of recovering or conditioning of the edible portion
of crabs, shrimp, and lobster. Generally, these byproducts are
made up of mineral salts (15–35%), proteins (25–50%), chitin
(25–35%), lipids, and pigments (Lee and Peniston, 1982). The
carotenoid pigments contained therein have been thoroughly
studied and quantiﬁed (Kelley and Harmon, 1972; Meyers and
Bligh, 1981; Mandeville, 1991; Shahidi and Synowiecki, 1991;
Olsen and Jacobsen, 1995; Gonzalez-Gallegos et al., 1997).
The carotenoid content in shrimp and crab byproducts varies
THE CHEMISTRY OF ASTAXANTHIN 189
Table 1 Carotenoid contents in various sources of crustaceon biowastes
Total Astaxanthin (%)
Source (mg/100g) Free Monoester Diester carotenoids Reference
Shrimp 14.77 3.95 19.72 74.29 zeaxanthin Shahidi and
(P. borealis) Synowiecki, 1991
Shrimp 4.97a8 22.5 69.5 — Torrisen et al., 1981
Shrimp 3.09a5.6 18.5 75.9 — Guillou et al., 1995
Crawﬁsh 15.3 40.3 49.4 astacene Meyers and Bligh,
(P. clarkii) 1981
Backs snow crab 11.96 21.16 5.11 56.57 lutein, Shahidi and
(Ch. Opilio) zeaxanthin, astacene Synowiecki, 1991
amg/100g wet basis.
between 119 and 148 µg/g. AX is mainly found free or steri-
ﬁed with fatty acids. These byproducts may also contain small
quantities of lutein, zeaxanthin and astacene (Shahidi and Botta,
1994) Table 1.
The potential utilization of shrimp, krill, crab, and langostilla
byproducts to induce pigmentation of cultured ﬁsh has been
tested (Coral et al., 1997). Byproducts generally contain less
than 1000 µg/g of AX. This would imply the incorporation of
large quantities of byproducts as feed ingredients (10–25%) in
order to attain an efﬁcient pigmentation process. A means of pro-
cessing is through the transformation of this biomass into meal.
However, the drying methods which depend on heat application
are not suitable because of the high susceptibility of carotenoids
to oxidative degradation under such thermal processing condi-
tions (Olsen and Jacobsen, 1995). An additional disadvantage is
the high ash and chitin content which signiﬁcantly decrease the
digestibility by ﬁsh and severely limit the rate of byproduct ad-
dition to the formulations (Guillou et al., 1995; Gouveia et al.,
1996; Lorenz, 1998b). In order to avoid this problem various
alternative methods have been suggested so as to process crus-
tacean byproducts. One such methods is silage, which consists
of treating byproducts with organic or inorganic acids in order
to protect them from bacterial decomposition and ease pigment
recovery (Torrisen et al., 1981; Chen and Meyers, 1983; Gillou
et al., 1995). During this treatment, calcium salts are partially
dissolved at the low pH (4–5) due to acid addition; this results
in AX increase in the solid fraction and a higher digestibility
(Torrisen et al., 1981). Alternatively, the pigments have also
been extracted with the use of vegetable or ﬁsh oils (Chen and
Meyers, 1982a, 1982b; Meyers and Chen, 1985; Omara-Alwala
et al., 1985; Coral et al., 1997) which can be incorporated di-
rectly as feed ingredients. Similarly, the concurrent recovery of
proteins and pigments in a stable complex form (carotenopro-
tein) has also been demonstrated to be feasible and to provide
an excellent source of pigments and aminoacids (Simpson and
Haard, 1985; Manu-Tawiah and Haard, 1987; Simpson et al.,
1992). The carotenoprotein complexes from crustacea provide
a bluish-brown coloring. When these compounds are denatured
by heat, AX is exposed and develops the typical reddish-orange
color expected by consumers.
AX IN AQUACULTURE
Salmonid and crustacean coloring is perceived as a key qual-
ity attribute by consumers. The reddish-orange color charac-
teristic of such organisms originate in the carotenoids obtained
from their feeds which are deposited in their skin, muscle, ex-
oskeleton, and gonads either in their original chemical form
or in a modiﬁed state depending on the species (Meyers and
Chen, 1982). The predominant carotenoid in most crustacea and
salmonids is AX (Yamada et al., 1990; Shahidi and Synowiecki,
1991; Gentles and Haard, 1991). For instance, from the total
carotenoids in crustacean exoskeleton, AX comprises 84–99%,
while in the internal organs it represents 70–96% (Tanaka et al.,
1976). In the aquatic environment, the microalgae biosynthesize
AX which are consumed by zooplankton, insects, or crustacea,
and later it is ingested by ﬁsh, thereby getting the natural col-
oration (Lorenz, 1998a). Farmed ﬁsh and crustacea do not have
access to natural sources of AX, hence the total AX intake must
be derived from their feed.
The use of AX and/or canthaxantin (Figure 1) as pigment-
ing agents in aquaculture species has been well documented
through many scientiﬁc publications for more than two decades
(Meyers and Chen, 1982; Torrisen, 1989; Yamada et al., 1990;
No and Storebakken, 1991; Putnam, 1991; Storebakken and No,
1992; Smith et al., 1992; Choubert and Heinrich, 1993; Coral
et al., 1998; Lorenz, 1998a; Gouveia et al., 2002; Bowen et al.,
2002). Currently, the synthetic form of both pigments repre-
sents the most important source for ﬁsh and crustacean farming
operations. AX is available under the commercial brand name
Carophyll PinkTM and canthaxanthin as Carophyll Red.TM Both
of these trademarks are owned by Hoffman-LaRoche. In spite
of the fact that canthaxanthin provides a fairly good pigmen-
tation, AX is widely preferred over it due to the higher color
intensity attained with similar concentrations (Storebakken and
No, 1992). Additionally, AX is deposited in muscles more efﬁ-
ciently probably due to a better absorption in the digestive tract
(Torrisen, 1989). It has also been reported that when a combina-
tion of both carotenoids is used, a better pigmentation is obtained
than when using either pigment separately (Torrisen, 1989; Bell
et al., 1998). However, in a more recent study of Buttle et al.
190 I. HIGUERA-CIAPARA ET AL.
(2001) found that the absortion of these two pigments is species
dependent. These authors found that canthaxantin is more read-
ily deposited in the Atlantic salmon muscle (Salmo salar). Some
researchers have geared their interest in studying the role of the
optical and symmetry isomerism of AX on the absorption and
distribution of these on the various tissues of salmonids. These
studies have shown that the apparent coefﬁcient of digestibil-
ity of the geometric cis isomers is lower than that of all trans
ones, therefore they are not utilized to the same extent for muscle
pigmentation. Moreover, cis isomers tend to preferentially accu-
mulate in the liver, while trans ones do so on muscle and plasma
(Bjerkeng et al., 1997; Bjerkeng, 2000). Also, studies undertaken
on rainbow trout have shown that the distribution of R/S optical
isomers found in faeces, blood, liver, and muscle resembled that
of the overall content of the supplied diet (Osterlie et al., 1999).
In spite of the fact that AX is widely used with the sole purpose
of attaining a given pigmentation, it has many other important
functions in ﬁsh related mainly to reproduction: acceleration of
sexual maturity, increasing fertilization and egg survival, and
a better embryo development (Putnam, 1991). It has also been
demonstrated that AX improves liver function, it increases the
defense potential against oxidative stress (Nakano et al., 1995)
and has a signiﬁcant inﬂuence on biodefense mechanisms (Amar
et al., 2001). Similarly, several other physiological and nutri-
tional studies have been performed in crustaceans, mainly on
shrimp, which have suggested that AX increases tolerance to
stress, improves the immune response, acts as an intracellular
protectant, and has a substantial effect on larvae growth and
survival (Gabaudan, 1996; Darachai et al., 1999). Chien et al.,
(2003) proposed that AX is a “semi-essential” nutrient for tiger
shrimp (Penaeus monodon) because the presence of this com-
pound can be critical to the animal when it is physiologically
stressed due to environmental changes.
According to the above information, the use of AX in the
aquaculture industry is important not only from the standpoint
of pigmentation to increase consumer acceptance but also as
a necessary nutrient for adequate growth and reproduction of
commercially valuable species.
AX AS AN ANTIOXIDANT
Normal aerobic metabolism in organisms generates oxidative
molecules, that is, free radicals (molecules with unpaired elec-
trons) such as hydroxyls and peroxides, as well as reactive oxy-
gen species (singlets) which are needed to sustain life processes.
However, excess quantities of such compounds are dangerous
due to their very high reactivity because they may react with var-
ious cellular components such as proteins, lipids, carbohydrates,
and DNA (Di Mascio et al., 1991). This situation may cause ox-
idative damage through a chain reaction with devastating effects
causing protein and lipid oxidation and DNA damage in vivo.
This constant free radical attack against an organism is known
as oxidative stress (Maher, 2000). Such damage has been associ-
ated with different diseases such as macular degeneration due to
the aging process, retinopathy, carcinogenesis, arteriosclerosis,
and Alzheimer disease, among other ailments (Maher, 2000). In
order to control and reduce oxidation, the human body generates
its own enzymatic antioxidants such as super oxide dismutase,
catalase, and peroxidase, as well as other molecules with antiox-
idant activity. However, in many cases, these compounds are not
enough to provide suitable protection against oxidative stress.
Many studies have shown that oxidation can also be inhibited
by consuming proper quantities of antioxidants like vitamin E
(Burton et al., 1982).
An antioxidant is a molecule which has the ability to remove
free radicals from a system either by reacting with them to pro-
duce other innocuous compounds or disrupting the oxidation
reactions (Britton, 1995). Water soluble dietary antioxidants in-
clude vitamin C, and lipophilic antioxidants include vitamin E
(α-tocopherol) and carotenoids such as β-carotene and AX. β-
carotene has been thoroughly studied, but lately AX has drawn
more and more attention due to its multiple functions and its
great antioxidant potential.
The potential effects of carotenoids on human health have
been associated with their antioxidant properties. Persons who
ingest a higher concentration of carotenoids have a lower risk of
chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cataract de-
velopment, macular degeneration, and some types of cancer
(Ziegler, 1991; Mayne, 1996). Numerous studies have shown the
antioxidant activity of antioxidants by quenching active oxygen
species and free radicals in vitro and in vivo through well known
mechanism (Burton and Ingold, 1984; Terao, 1989; Lee and
Min, 1990; Di Mascio et al., 1991; Miki, 1991; Tsuchiya et al.,
1992; Palozza and Krinsky, 1992; Kobayashi and Sakamoto,
1999; Rengel et al., 2000). However, antioxidants can also act as
prooxidants, that is, substances that can induce oxidative stress.
Recent reviews on the subject have summarized the available
data and experimental evidence on the antioxidant/prooxidant
activity of carotenoids in different lipid systems (Palozza, 1998;
Haila, 1999; Young and Lowe, 2001).
Even when current knowledge of the mechanism by virtue
of which carotenoids act as prooxidants is still controversial, a
general mechanism has been described in which at high oxygen
partial pressure, a carotenoid radical could react with oxygen
to generate a carotenoid-peroxyl radical. This is an autoxida-
tion process and such radical could act as a pro-oxidant by
promoting oxidation of unsaturated lipids (Haila, 1999). Ma-
jor factors involved in carotenoids prooxidant activity include
oxygen partial pressure, carotenoid concentration, as well as
the interaction with other antioxidant species, as reviewed by
Palozza (1998). Thus, it has been demonstrated that the choice
of experimental conditions in in vitro studies can greatly affect
the antioxidant/prooxidant activity of these compounds (Haila,
Information is not available on antioxidant/prooxidant mech-
anisms of carotenoids with structures different from β-carotene.
As far as astaxanthin is concerned, only information accounting
for its antioxidant activity is available. It has been reported that
it has a antioxidant activity, as high as 10 times more than other
THE CHEMISTRY OF ASTAXANTHIN 191
carotenoids such as zeaxanthin, lutein, canthaxantin, and β-
carotene; and 100 times more that α-tocopherol. Thus, AX has
been dubbed a “super vitamin E” (Miki, 1991). This property has
caused great interest and a growing number of publications have
appeared on the subject. Naguib (2000) measured the antioxi-
dant activity of various carotenoids using a novel ﬂuorometric
assay procedure. These authors found that AX has a higher
antioxidant activity than lutein, licopene, αand β-carotene, and
α-tocopherol. In order to explain such high activity they propose
that, depending on the solvent type, astaxanthin exists in an
equilibrium, with the enol form of the ketone, thus the resulting
dihydroxy conjugated polyene system possesses a hydrogen
atom capable of breaking the free radical reaction in a similar
waytothat of α-tocopherol. Goto et al. (2001) reported that AX
is twice more effective than β-carotene to inhibit the production
of peroxides induced by ADP and Fe2+in liposomes. Similarly,
other studies have shown the superior antioxidant activity of
AX in relation to other carotenoids (Terao, 1989; Lee and Min,
1990; Miki, 1991). The natural functions of carotenoids are
determined by their physicochemical properties which depend
on their molecular structure. Carotenoids react rapidly with free
radicals and their reactivity depends on the length of the poliene
system and the terminal rings (Lee and Min, 1990; Britton, 1995;
Miller et al., 1996; Goto et al. 2001). Other authors have reported
different ﬁndings. For instance, Mortensen et al. (1997) have
proposed that the mechanism and rate of free radical scavenging
is dependent on the nature of the free radicals rather than on the
structure of the carotenoids. Thus, caution must be exercised
when studying and comparing the antioxidant activity since
results will be dependent on the experimental conditions set
BENEFITS OF AX AS A HUMAN DIETARY
Manufacturers of natural AX have long tried to penetrate the
aquaculture market niche with very little or no success at all. In
recent years, their attention has shifted towards another growing
industry: the nutraceuticals market (McCoy, 1999). Currently
there is a wide variety of AX products sold in health food stores
in the form of nutritional supplements. Most of these products
are manufactured from algae or yeast extracts. Due to their high
antioxidant properties these supplements have been attributed
with potential properties against many diseases. Thus, research
on the actual beneﬁts of AX as a dietary supplement is very
recent and basically has thus far has been limited to in vitro
assays or pre-clinical trials.
Activity of carotenoids against cancer has been the focus of
much attention due to the association between low levels of
these compounds in the body and cancer prevalence. Several
research groups have studied the effect of AX supplementa-
tion on various cancer types showing that oral administration
of AX inhibits carcinogenesis in mice urinary bladder (Tanaka
et al., 1994), in the oral cavity (Tanaka et al. 1995a) and rat colon
(Tanaka et al., 1995b). This effect has been partially attributed to
suppression of cell proliferation. Furthermore, Jyonouchi et al.,
(2000) found that when mice were inoculated with ﬁbrosarcoma
cells, the dietary administration of AX suppresses tumor growth
and stimulates the immune response against the antigen which
expresses the tumor. AX activity against breast cancer has also
been studied in female mice. Chew et al. (1999) fed mice with
a diet containing 0, 0.1% and 0.4% AX, β-carotene or can-
thaxanthin during three weeks before inoculating the mammary
fat pad with tumor cells. Tumor growth inhibition by AX was
shown to be dependent on the dose and more effective than the
other two carotenoids tested. It has also been suggested that
AX attenuates the liver metastasis induced by stress in mice
thus promoting the immune response though the inhibition of
lipid peroxidation (Kurihara et al., 2002). Kang et al. (2001)
also reported that AX protects the rat liver from damage in-
duced by CCl4through the inhibition of lipid peroxidation and
the stimulation of the cell antioxidant system. Additionally, the
effects of AX and other carotenoids on proliferation of human
breast cancerous cells have also been studied. This study showed
that β-carotene and lycopene are more effective than AX in in-
hibiting the proliferation of MCF-7 cell line in vitro (Li et al.,
Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases
The risk of developing arteriosclerosis in humans correlates
positively with the cholesterol content bound to Low Density
Lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad cholesterol” (Golstein and Brown,
1977). Many studies have documented that high levels of LDL
are related to prevalence of cardiovascular diseases such as
angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, and brain thrombosis
(Maher, 2000). Inhibition of oxidation of LDL has been pos-
tulated as a likely mechanism through which antioxidants could
prevent the development of arteriosclerosis. Several studies have
looked at carotenoids, mainly β-carotene and canthaxanthin, as
inhibitors of LDL oxidation (Carpenter et al., 1997). However
such studies have produced conﬂicting results as some authors
have suggested otherwise (Gaziano et al. 1995). With respect
to AX, there has been very little research focused toward their
ability to prevent coronary disease. Iwamoto et al. (2000) per-
formed in vivo and ex vivo studies and their results suggest that
AX inhibits the oxidation of LDL which presumably contributes
to arteriosclerosis prevention. Miki et al. (1998) proposed the
manufacture of a drink containing AX whose antioxidant action
on LDL would be useful for the prevention of arteriosclerosis,
ischemic heart disease or ischemic encephalopathy. While it is
feasible that oxidation of LDL may be decreased by antioxidant
consumption, more research is needed to establish the true effect
on coronary heart disease (Jialal and Fuller, 1995).
192 I. HIGUERA-CIAPARA ET AL.
AX Effect Against Helicobacter Pylori Infections
H. pylori is considered an important factor inducing acute
gastritis, peptic ulcers, and stomach cancer in humans. The an-
tibacterial action of AX has been shown in mice infected with
this bacterium. When mice are fed with an AX rich diet, the
gastric mucous inﬂammation is reduced as well as the load and
colonization by the bacterium (Bennedsen et al., 1999; Wang
et al., 2000). Thus, the development of products for therapeu-
tic and prophylactic treatment of the mucous membrane of the
gastrointestinal system caused by H. pylori has been proposed
(Wadstron and Alejung, 2001). The mechanism of AX action to
produce this effect is not known but it is suspected that its antiox-
idant properties play an important role in the protection of the
hydrophobic lining of the mucous membrane making coloniza-
tion by H. pylori much more difﬁcult (Wadstron and Alejung,
2001). The use of AX could represent a new and attractive strat-
egy for the treatment of H. pylori infections.
AX as a Booster and Modulator of the Immunological System
The group led by Jyonouchi et al. has performed the large
majority of investigations regarding the potential activity of AX
as a booster and modulator of the immunological system. AX
increases the production of T-helper cell antibody and increases
the number of antibody secretory cells from primed spleen cells
(Jyonouchi et al., 1996). These authors also studied the effect
of AX in the production of immunoglobulins in vitro by human
blood cells and found that it increases the production of IgA, IgG,
and IgM in response to T-dependent stimuli (Jyonouchi et al.,
1995). Other studies performed in vivo using mice have shown
the immunomodulating action of AX and other carotenoids for
humoral responses to T-dependent antigens, and suggested that
the supplementation with carotenoids may be useful to restore
immune responses (Jyonouchi et al., 1994). In agreement with
the above results, various foods and drinks with added AX have
been prepared to increase the immune response mediated by T-
lymphocytes and NK cells, to alleviate or prevent the decrease of
immunological functions caused by stress (Asami et al., 2001).
Due to its immunomodulating action, AX has also been utilized
as a medication for the treatment of autoimmune diseases such
as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease
(Lignell and Bottiger, 2001).
Ultraviolet radiation is a signiﬁcant risk factor for skin can-
cer due to the activation of a chain reaction which generates
peroxides and other free radicals from lipids. These molecules
damage the cell structures like DNA thus increasing the risk for
cancer development. As we discussed previously, AX is a potent
antioxidant which stimulates and modulates de immune system.
These effects are capable of preventing or delaying sunburns.
The ability of AX extracted from algae to protect against DNA
damage by UV radiation has been shown in studies with cul-
tured rat kidney ﬁbroblasts (O’Connor and O’Brien, 1998) and
human skin cells (Lyons and O’Brien, 2002). Various AX sup-
plements consisting of injectable solutions, capsules, or topical
creams have been manufactured for sunburn prevention from
UV exposure (Lorenz, 2002).
Additional beneﬁcial effects attributed to AX include anti-
inﬂammatory activity (Uchiumi, 1990; Nakajima, 1995), anti-
cataract prevention activity (Guyen et al., 1998), as a treatment
against rheumatoid arthritis and also carpal tunnel syndrome
(Lignell and Bottiger, 2001; Cyanotech, 2002).
The large majority of the studies to support the multiple po-
tential beneﬁts of AX have been performed with animal models.
Afew clinical trials have been performed with voluntary pa-
tients by the manufacturing companies. For instance, Cyanotech
(2002) has performed extensive work on the preventative effects
of AX on the development of rheumatoid arthritis and carpal
tunnel syndrome. Safety studies of algae derived AX have also
been performed with volunteers who were given a low dose
(228 mg of algal meal equivalent to 3.85 mg AX) or a high dose
(1140 mg of algal meal equivalent to 19.25 mg AX) during 29
consecutive days. According to the clinical tests performed on
the patients, they did not present any disease or intoxication at
these consumption levels. However, the recommended dose is 5
mg AX per day (250 mg of algal meal) (Mera Pharmaceuticals,
AX BENEFITS IN MAMMALS AND CHICKENS
Several studies have been done using AX esters in mammals
to prove its effectiveness in the treatment of muscle diseases, for
example, equine exertional rhabdomyolysis (Lignell, 2001) or
to increase the production of breeding and production mammals
(porcine, bovine, and ovine) (Lignell and Inborr, 2000). The ad-
ministration of AX to layer hen diet increases fertility, improves
the overall health status of these animals, and decreases chicken
mortality. Egg production and the yellow coloration of yolks is
also increased, while salmonella infections reduced dramatically
probably due to a stronger membrane formation (Lignell et al.,
1998). It also provides greater pigmentation to chicken meat, a
desirable attribute to some consumers (Akiba et al., 2001).
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dietary synthetic carotenoids on bio-defense mechanisms in rainbow trout,
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