As the benefits of astaxanthin are becoming more widely known, many dietary supplement manufacturers are turning to it as an important nutritional ingredient. What are some of the considerations for manufacturers in finding the right supply partners for the ingredient? Charles Faulkner spoke with Dr. Tryggvi Stefánsson, science manager at Algalif to get his perspectives and some straightforward tips for sourcing quality astaxanthin.
CF: What are the key nutritional benefits of astaxanthin?
TS: Astaxanthin stands out as a valuable natural antioxidant for nutraceuticals due to its superb nutritional advantage. Astaxanthin is 6,000 times more powerful than vitamin C, 100 times more powerful than Vitamin E, and five times more powerful than beta-carotene in its ability to trap energy from singlet oxygen.  Therefore, you need a higher dosage of these other antioxidants to have an effect. For vitamin C, for example, you could expect to find 1000mg per serving and 20-40mg for lutein, etc. In addition, the numerous health benefits of astaxanthin are supported by extensive research, including over 50 human clinical studies and more than 1400 peer-reviewed scientific papers. . There is also sufficient qualitative and quantitative scientific evidence, including human and animal data, to support the safety of astaxanthin from microalgae. [3-7]
CF: What are some finished product applications that astaxanthin is well suited for?
TS: Because of its multiple health benefits, astaxanthin can be used in a variety of formulations addressing different health concerns such as brain health, eye health, healthy aging, cardiovascular health, muscle endurance/recovery, and skin health. Consequently, the potential target market for astaxanthin products is wide, ranging from younger consumers that are interested in improving athletic performance to senior consumers that are concerned with age-related health challenges. From a production standpoint, soft gel encapsulation is an effective way to protect the biological activity of astaxanthin in supplements as it protects astaxanthin from thermal or oxidative damage during manufacturing, transportation and storage.
CF: What are the sources of astaxanthin?
TS: Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that occurs naturally in aquatic animals such as lobsters and salmon (contributing to their pinkish-red color) and in many fruits and vegetables. Although it can be produced synthetically from petrochemicals, the natural version is far superior
in terms of efficacy and safety. As an ingredient for dietary supplements, the best source of astaxanthin is the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis due to its high astaxanthin concentration. Using an optimized production process, more than 60,000 mg of pure natural astaxanthin can be obtained from one kilo of algal biomass. 
CF: What are the methods used in the harvesting and production of algae-based astaxanthin?
TS: Microalgae cultivation is a technical and highly-skilled process, and it is essential for buyers of astaxanthin to know where the ingredient has been produced and under what conditions. Haematococcus pluvialis can be cultivated in open-pond or photobioreactor systems. Although open- ponds are cheaper to build, they have been associated with contamination issues and excessive space and water requirements. Indoor, enclosed photobioreactor cultivation systems, on the other hand, have been shown to enable optimal growth of the microalgae, continuous cultivation, and high yields of pure astaxanthin, increasing the culture reliability and overall productivity. Moreover, photobioreactor cultivation systems help to protect the culture from external contamination.
CF: What certifications should manufacturers look for?
TS: Natural astaxanthin has GRAS status in the United States. It is important that the astaxanthin is produced in a cGMP compliant facility. The market is demanding additional tests and validations of ingredient quality and purity, including non-GMO project verified, Halal, Kosher, gluten-free, allergen-free, free of heavy metals and solvents.
CF: Are there environmental considerations in sourcing astaxanthin?
TS: Algae is more sustainable than conventional crops because it requires little input to be kept alive. However, algae cultivation, depending on the setup, can require substantial amounts of water and energy. Therefore, conservation techniques should be in place such as production methods that allow for minimal water evaporation and specialized lighting systems to reduce energy consumption. In fact, because energy is essential for microalgae cultivation, electricity requirements can cause environmental burdens if manufacturers rely on non- renewable energy resources. Consequently, responsible astaxanthin suppliers using artificial light should ensure that their cultivation facilities are powered by renewable energy. Although sunlight can be used to cultivate Haematococcus pluvialis, the inability to grow or stress the algae during the night reduces productivity significantly.
CF: What other things should be taken into account regarding ingredient purity?
TS: As the primary input for microalgae cultivation, the importance of water purity cannot be overstated. Due to the high biosorption capabilities of microalgae, any trace amount of heavy metals or other contaminants present in the water will accumulate and magnify in microalgae cultures. Due to human activities, heavy metal concentrations in water exceed maximum permitted levels in many parts of the world. Therefore, responsible astaxanthin manufacturers have access to clean water sources and ensure that their products are strictly and routinely monitored for heavy metals and other contaminants.
The natural products industry moves towards greater transparency regarding manufacturing practices, sustainability, and country of origin, closely followed by well- informed consumers who also actively look for transparency to help them make their purchase decisions. Reliable, responsible astaxanthin suppliers take quality, purity, and sustainability seriously. This combination is highly relevant in today’s market as both manufacturers and consumers demand more information about how and where raw materials are sourced.
For further information see: Algalif
- Nishida Y, Yamashita E, Miki W (2007) Quenching Activities of Common Hydrophilic and Lipophilic Antioxidants against Singlet Oxygen Using Chemiluminescence Detection System. Carotenoid Science 11:16-20.
- PubMed (2006) Search performed on 2016-11-17.
- Algalif (2018), Company data.
- FDA (2000). Technical Report (Aquaresearch Inc.) Haematococcus Pluvialis and Astaxanthin Safety For Human Consumption.
- Spiller GA, Dewell A (2003) Safety of an astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis algal extract: a randomized clinical trial. J. Med. Food 6:51-56.
- Stewart JS, Lignell A, Pettersson A, Elfving E, et al. (2008) Safety assessment of astaxanthin-rich microalgae biomass: Acute and subchronic toxicity studies in rats. Food Chem Toxicol 46:3030-6.
- Okada Y, Ishikura M, Maoka T (2009) Bioavailability of astaxanthin in Haematococcus algal extract: the effects of timing of diet and smoking habits. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 73:1928-32.