Eye Astin with pure natural Astaxanthin available in store or mail-order:
- supports healthy vision; supports normal eye function; with natural BioAstin
60 softgel caps $49 with post
Astaxanthin is Superior to Lutein for Eye Health
Bob Capelli and Gerald R. Cysewski, PhD
© Copyright 2009 Cyanotech Corporation
All rights reserved
Other carotenoids have begun to attain a certain level of fame for having
beneficial properties for the eyes. There is no doubt that lutein and zeaxanthin are
wonderful products to support and protect the eyes, and there is credible evidence that
they can help prevent age related macular degeneration and other degenerative
conditions. But due to Natural Astaxanthin’s superior antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
properties and its ability to cross the blood-brain and blood-retinal barriers, indications
are that it is superior to all other nutraceuticals for eye and brain health. This includes the
current most popular eye health nutrient—lutein.
Scientists believe that something may cause people’s internal antioxidant defense
system to malfunction or wear out as we age. Our bodies may lose the ability to produce
high levels of the antioxidants that are normally produced internally such as superoxide
dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. Also, our bodies are now subjected to
unprecedented levels of oxidation caused by environmental factors such as pollution,
contaminants, processed food and the high levels of stress in modern life. All of these
lead to an assault on our vital organs as we age, particularly our brains and eyes.
The eye, in particular is now subjected to much higher levels of oxidation than
our ancestors’ experienced. The depletion of the ozone layer is causing more intense
sunlight than ever before, which directly affects the eyes and skin. Excessive exposure to
sunlight and to the highly oxygenated environment cause free radicals to be generated in
the eye. A condition called “ischemia” which is a type of blockage that deprives the eye
of nutrition and oxygen is a common cause of increased oxidation in the eye. Another
cause of increased oxidation in the eye happens when the ischemic blockages are
removed. The reoxygenation of the tissue after blockage is called “reperfusion,” and the
end result is another attack on the eye’s normal oxidative balance. Even normal
enzymatic processes cause increased generation of free radicals and singlet oxygen such
as hydrogen peroxide, superoxide and hydroxyl in the eyes.
Free radicals and singlet oxygen oxidize the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the
retina which leads to functional impairment of the retinal cell membranes, causing
temporary and permanent damage to the retinal cells. Once the retina is damaged, it
cannot be replaced. Antioxidants that can reach the inner eye by crossing the blood-brain
and blood-retinal barriers are essential because they protect the eye from these damaging
Astaxanthin Crosses the Blood-Brain and Blood-Retinal Barriers
The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are normally found in the eyes.
Astaxanthin is not. Some groundbreaking work was done by Dr. Mark Tso of the
University of Illinois on Astaxanthin’s benefits for the eyes. Dr. Tso was the first person
who proved that Astaxanthin could cross the blood-brain and blood-retinal barriers. He
took laboratory rats and tested their eyes for Astaxanthin. As expected, he did not find
any present. Then he fed the rats Astaxanthin and retested, this time finding Astaxanthin
present in the retina. He proved that Astaxanthin could cross first the blood-brain barrier
and get into the brain, and then once in the brain it could reach the retina and the macula
by crossing through the blood-retinal barrier.
Through an extensive series of tests, Dr. Tso went on to prove that Astaxanthin
has many protective properties once it reaches the eyes. Among the many benefits that
Dr. Tso found include Astaxanthin’s ability to protect the eye from:
Photoreceptor cell damage
Ganglion cell damage
We will investigate below Astaxanthin’s anti-inflammatory properties which are a very
diverse group of pathways that combat inflammation. Similar to the multiple antiinflammatory
pathways of Astaxanthin, Astaxanthin protects the eyes through various
pathways rather than through just one (Tso, et al, 1996). Single pathway antiinflammatories
sold as prescription and over-the-counter drugs have dangerous side
effects, while Astaxanthin with its multiple pathway “shotgun” approach has no side
effects. Similarly, it very well may be proven that Astaxanthin is the safest and most
natural product that can be used to promote eye health, and to combat eye disease which
can result in impaired vision or blindness.
Astaxanthin is a Superior Antioxidant to Lutein
It is well documented that free radicals in the eyes, along with inflammation, are
leading causes of ocular diseases. An antioxidant that can pass through the blood-retinal
barrier like Astaxanthin is thus a huge benefit for eye health. Many good antioxidants
including other carotenoids such as lycopene and beta carotene cannot pass through the
blood-brain and blood-retinal barriers; both lutein and Astaxanthin can. But a
fundamental reason why Astaxanthin is superior for eye health than lutein is the fact that
it is a much more potent antioxidant. This has been documented in many studies. In fact,
Astaxanthin has been shown in several in-vitro experiments to be the strongest natural
antioxidant known to science.
Early research by Wataru Miki, PhD comparing the antioxidant activity of
Astaxanthin to other carotenoids found Astaxanthin to be far superior. “Astaxanthin, one
of the dominant carotenoids in marine animals, showed both a strong quenching effect
against singlet oxygen, and a strong scavenging effect against free radicals…The
activities of Astaxanthin are approximately 10 times stronger than other carotenoids that
were tested, namely zeaxanthin, lutein, tunaxanthin, canthaxanthin and beta carotene, and
100 times greater than alpha tocopherol” (Miki, 1991).
Dr. Miki later teamed up with two other researchers to further test Astaxanthin’s
antioxidant activity against lutein and other carotenoids. They found Astaxanthin to be
far superior to all other carotenoids and an amazing 550 times stronger than Vitamin E in
singlet oxygen quenching. In this experiment, Astaxanthin yielded antioxidant strength
almost three times greater than lutein (Shimdzu et al, 1996).
A very interesting experiment in Europe tested the antioxidant activity of
Astaxanthin, lutein and beta carotene to protect against UVA induced oxidative stress.
This is particularly meaningful to our discussion here, because the eyes are subject to a
constant barrage of UV-induced oxidation caused by exposure to sunlight. This UV light
is damaging to the eyes, and can result in serious eye disorders. The researchers
concluded that “Astaxanthin exhibited superior protective properties” to both lutein and
beta carotene (O’Connor and O’Brien, 1997).
Another researcher who has extensive experience testing the antioxidant activities
of carotenoids and other nutrients, Yousry Naguib, PhD, found Astaxanthin to have
superior antioxidant activity to lutein and other carotenoids as well. Dr. Naguib
summarized his work and the research of several others in a paper titled: “Pioneering
Astaxanthin” in 2001. Referencing his own research, Dr. Naguib stated: “We compared
the relative antioxidant strength of Astaxanthin to fellow carotenoids alpha carotene, beta
carotene, lutein and lycopene…In different assays, Astaxanthin showed the highest
antioxidant activity toward peroxyl radicals—a variety of damaging free radicals…one of
our trials showed Astaxanthin at 1.3 on our rating scale and lutein and lycopene at 0.4.
(Naguib, 2001). In this particular experiment, Astaxanthin was over 3 times stronger
than lutein in quenching peroxyl radicals. Dr. Naguib cites several cases of the research
of others wherein Astaxanthin was a significantly more powerful antioxidant than lutein
and other carotenoids. The rankings vary from study-to-study according to the type of
antioxidants tested and the type of tests, but in all cases Astaxanthin came out on top,
well ahead of lutein. One ranking result was Astaxanthin > Canthaxanthin > Beta
Carotene > Zeaxanthin > Lutein > Vitamin E (Dimascio, et al, 1990). It is interesting to
note that in this particular experiment, lutein fell below all other carotenoids.
A recent group of researchers led by R. Preston Mason at the prestigious Harvard
Medical School showed a very serious advantage for Astaxanthin over lutein as well as
other carotenoids such as zeaxanthin, lycopene and beta carotene. These researchers
found that only Astaxanthin could exert its powerful antioxidant benefits and at the same
time preserve the cell membrane: “Among the five carotenoids studied, only Astaxanthin
essentially preserved the membrane structure, while at the same time demonstrating a
strong antioxidant effect (McNulty, et al, 2006).
To summarize our comparison of the antioxidant activities of Astaxanthin and
lutein, it is well documented that Astaxanthin, depending on the particular study, has an
antioxidant strength approximately 3X – 10X that of lutein. While we did not examine
antioxidant comparisons of Astaxanthin against many other non-carotenoid antioxidants,
we did review two tests against Vitamin E where Astaxanthin was found to have 100X –
550X Vitamin E’s antioxidant strength. There are similar tests of Astaxanthin against
many other natural antioxidants, and in each one, Astaxanthin has shown greater potency.
Thus, Astaxanthin is well documented as the world’s strongest natural antioxidant. This
extreme antioxidant power, combined with Astaxanthin’s proven ability to cross the
blood-brain and subsequently the blood-retinal barrier demonstrates one vital reason why
Astaxanthin is a superior nutrient to lutein for eye health. Coupled with Astaxanthin’s
documented capacity to protect against light-induced oxidation, and its ability protect the
cell membrane while exerting this supreme antioxidant activity, Astaxanthin appears to
be the perfect nutrient for maintaining eye health.
Astaxanthin is a Proven Anti-Inflammatory in the Eyes
Along with oxidation, inflammation is another leading cause of maladies in the
eyes. In order for a nutrient to benefit the eyes, it must be able to first get into the eyes
through oral consumption, and then it must somehow benefit the eyes. In the sections
above, we first demonstrated Astaxanthin’s proven ability to enter the eyes by crossing
the blood retinal barrier; we then went on to demonstrate Astaxanthin’s superiority to
lutein and other nutrients as an antioxidant. In this section, we will discuss Astaxanthin’s
anti-inflammatory activity, and a landmark study proving that Astaxanthin works as an
anti-inflammatory in the eyes themselves.
Due to the multitude of ways in which Astaxanthin combats inflammation, it is a
very special anti-inflammatory indeed. Both in-vitro and in-vivo research has been done
to uncover Astaxanthin’s mechanism of action. This mechanism has been further
demonstrated in several double blind, placebo controlled human clinical trials on various
inflammatory conditions (Capelli and Cysewski, 2007). Astaxanthin’s anti-inflammatory
properties are closely related to its powerful antioxidant activity. Many antioxidants
exhibit an anti-inflammatory effect as well. To a certain extent, because Astaxanthin is
the most powerful natural antioxidant, it is also a very effective anti-inflammatory.
Important research done at Korea’s Kwangdon National University demonstrated
that Astaxanthin works to suppress several different inflammatory mediators. Among
these mediators are tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a), prostaglandin E-2 (PGE-2),
interleukin 1B (IL-1b) and nitric oxide (NO). In experiments done both in-vivo with
mice and also in-vitro, Astaxanthin was shown to suppress TNF-a, PGE-2, IL-1b, NO as
well as the Cox-2 enzyme and nuclear factor kappa-B (Lee, et al, 2003). This research
clearly demonstrates the multiple pathway “shotgun” anti-inflammatory mechanism of
A landmark study in relation to our discussion of eye health was done the same
year, led by a researcher from Japan’s Hokkaido University Graduate School of
Medicine. Here, the researchers found similar results: Astaxanthin was shown in vitro to
decrease the production of NO, PGE-2 and TNF-a. The important distinction here is that
this study also looked at Astaxanthin’s anti-inflammatory effect in the eyes of rats. The
researchers induced uveitis (inflammation of the inner eye including the iris) and found
that Astaxanthin had a “dose dependent ocular anti-inflammatory effect, by the
suppression of NO, PGE-2 and TNF-a production, through directly blocking nitric oxide
synthase enzyme activity” (Ohgami, et al, 2003). Basically, this study proved that
Astaxanthin reduces inflammation of the eye, the root cause of many different vision
ailments, and clearly demonstrated exactly how it does this.
Another study done in Japan was very important in further proving Astaxanthin’s
anti-inflammatory effect in the eye. It measured the effect of Astaxanthin on three
inflammatory markers in the uvea (the middle layer of the eye including the iris).
Inflammation in the uvea was induced, after which nitric oxide, tumor necrosis factor
alpha and prostaglandin E-2 were measured. The rats that had been injected with
Astaxanthin had lower levels of all three inflammatory markers. The researchers
concluded that Astaxanthin is effective in reducing ocular inflammation (Suzuki, et al,
An important distinction between Astaxanthin and other prescription and overthe-
counter anti-inflammatories is the manner in which it works. Most commonly used
anti-inflammatories like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol®), naproxen, and antiinflammatory
drugs such as Celebrex® and Vioxx® work on only one inflammatory
mediators in an intense manner. Contrarily, Astaxanthin works on several inflammatory
mediators in a much gentler manner. “While [anti-inflammatory] drugs usually block a
single target molecule and reduce its activity dramatically, natural anti-inflammatories
gently tweak a broader range of inflammatory compounds. You’ll get greater safety and
efficacy reducing five inflammatory mediators by 30 percent than by reducing one by
100%” (Cole, G, 2005). This is precisely what Astaxanthin does—it reaches the eye and
then reduces a variety of inflammatory mediators.
Additional Eye Benefits of Astaxanthin
Since Dr. Tso’s groundbreaking work demonstrating Astaxanthin’s ability to
cross the blood-brain and blood-retinal barriers, and the various ways he demonstrated
that Astaxanthin can help the eyes, other scientists have found several further benefits for
the eyes from using Natural Astaxanthin. For example, eye fatigue is a serious problem
in many of today’s occupations. Working for long periods at visual display terminals
reportedly induces various visual problems such as eye strain, blurring and diplopia (a
disorder of vision in which two images of a single object are seen because of unequal
action of the eye muscles – also called double vision). In a double blind study performed
in Japan, after four weeks of supplementation with 5 mg of Astaxanthin per day
(extracted from Haematococcus algae meal) the authors reported a 46% reduction in the
number of eye strain subjects. They also found higher accommodation amplitude (the
adjustment in the lens of the eye that allows it to focus) in subjects who used visual
display terminals. The mechanism of action was not understood at that time, but the
study concluded that it’s most likely due to Astaxanthin’s potent antioxidant properties
(Nagaki, et al, 2002).
Two different dosage levels were tested for eye fatigue by a group led by Dr.
Nakamura in 2004. They found positive effects at 4 mg per day, but found a better result
at 12 mg per day (Nakamura, et al, 2004).
Another group of Japanese researchers found similar results in another human
clinical study. This double blind study was done to evaluate Astaxanthin’s effect on eye
fatigue and visual accommodation. Forty subjects were divided into placebo and
treatment groups, with the treatment group receiving 6 mg of Astaxanthin for four weeks.
The results were that three separate visual parameters were found to have statistically
significant benefits from Astaxanthin supplementation. This research established an
optimum daily dose for eye fatigue at 6 mg per day (Nitta, et al, 2005).
Additional studies have validated this work, showing that 6 mg per day of Natural
Astaxanthin supplementation for four weeks can reduce eye soreness, dryness, tiredness
and blurred vision (Shiratori, et al, 2005 and Nagaki, et al, 2006).
Astaxanthin may work in a preventative role for eye fatigue as compared to a
curative one that has already been established. The other studies referenced above all
centered on the use of Astaxanthin to cure eye fatigue. A clinical study was done on
subjects whose eyes were healthy, with no signs of fatigue or strain. Both the treatment
and the placebo groups were subjected to heavy visual stimuli to induce eye fatigue, and
it was found that the treatment group recovered more quickly. This clearly indicates that
Natural Astaxanthin may serve to prevent eye fatigue from occurring in healthy people
(Takahashi and Kajita, 2005).
There are now a total of nine different human clinical studies demonstrating the
ability of Astaxanthin to reduce eye fatigue in subjects who already have it and also to
prevent eye fatigue in subjects not currently afflicted. This is another vital superiority of
Astaxanthin for eye health over lutein. An examination of the literature does not show
any evidence that lutein shares this ocular benefit for eye fatigue with Astaxanthin.
Another unique area of research for eye health concerns blood flow: It is very
important to have sufficient blood flow to the eyes and the retina to maintain optimal eye
health. A human clinical study examined the ability of Astaxanthin to improve retinal
capillary blood flow. Eighteen subjects were given 6 mg per day of Natural Astaxanthin
and another eighteen people were given a placebo. After four weeks it was found that the
treatment group had improved retinal capillary blood flow as compared to the placebo
group (Yasunori, N, 2005).
A very different type of human study on Natural Astaxanthin’s effects on the eyes
has also yielded positive results. This study was done in Japan with subjects comprised
of twenty year old men. The treatment group was given 6 mg of Natural Astaxanthin per
day for four weeks. Different visual parameters were measured, with statistically
significant improvement found in two different parameters for visual acuity (the ability to
see detail). The greatest enhancement was seen in depth perception which improved by
46% in the group supplementing with Natural Astaxanthin (Sawaki, et al, 2002).
One researcher has done in-vivo animal trials on the effects of Astaxanthin on
important areas of eye health. One of his studies took the lens from the eyes of pigs and
tested the ability of Astaxanthin to protect them from induced oxidative damage. This
experiment found that Astaxanthin was capable of protecting the lens proteins from
oxidative damage. In fact, Astaxanthin performed better than the antioxidant glutathione
which is produced by the pig’s own body (Wu, et al, 2006). In another experiment, this
researcher also found Astaxanthin to have potent antioxidant effects in the prevention of
cataracts in rats’ eyes (Wu, et al, 2002).
While there is still a great deal more research that will be done on the effects of
Astaxanthin on eye health, the current studies all point to one clear conclusion:
Astaxanthin has great benefits for the eyes, superior to lutein and other commonly used
nutrients associated with eye health. Astaxanthin’s extreme antioxidant power; its proven
multi-faceted anti-inflammatory effect; and the multitude of human clinical studies, invivo
animal trials and in-vitro experiments on a variety of issues associated with the eyes
all lead to a single conclusion: Natural Astaxanthin is the best choice as a nutrient for
Capelli, B., and Cysewski, G. (2007). “Natural Astaxanthin: King of the Carotenoids.” ISBN 13: 978-0-
Cole, G. (2005). Professor of Medicine and Neurology at University of California at Los Angeles, as
reported to Anne Underwood, Newsweek Magazine, “Special Summer Issue,” August 2005. Pg. 26-28.
Dimascio, et al. (1990). “Carotenoids, tocopherols and thiols as biological singlet molecular oxygen
quenchers.” Biochemistry Society Transactions. 18:1054.
Lee, S., Bai, S., Lee, K., Namkoong, S., Na, H., Ha, K., Han, J., Yim, S., Chang, K., Kwon, Y., Lee, S.,
Kim, Y. (2003). “Astaxanthin Inhibits Nitric Oxide Production and Inflammatory Gene Expression by
Suppressing IkB Kinase-dependent NFR-kB Activation.” Molecules and Cells. 16(1):97-105.
McNulty, et al. (2007). “Differential effects of carotenoids on lipid peroxidation due to membrane
interactions: X-ray diffraction analysis.” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. 1768:167-174.
Miki, W. (1991). “Biological functions and activities of marine carotenoids.” Pure & Applied Chemistry.
Nagaki, et al. (2006). “The supplementation effect of astaxanthin on accommodation and asthenopia.”
Journal of Clinical Therapeutics & Medicines. 22(1):41-54.
Nagaki, Y., Hayasaka, S., Yamada, T., Hayasaka, Y., Sanada, M., Uonomi, T. (2002). “Effects of
Astaxanthin on accommodation, critical flicker fusion, and pattern visual evoked potential in visual
display terminal workers.” Journal of Traditional Medicines. 19(5):170–173.
Naguib, Y. (2001). “Pioneering Astaxanthin.” Nutrition Science News. 6(2):58-62.
Nakamura, et al. (2004). “Changes in Visual Function Following Peroral Astaxanthin.” Japanese Journal of
Clinical Ophthalmology. 58(6):1051-1054.
Nitta, T., Ogami, K., Shiratori, K. (2005). “The effects of Astaxanthin on Accommodation and
Asthenopia—Dose Finding Study in Healthy Volunteers.” Clinical Medicine. 21(5):543-556.
O’Connor, I. and O’Brien, N. (1997). “Modulation of UVA light-induced oxidative stress by B-Carotene,
Lutein and Astaxanthin in cultured fibroblasts.” Journal of Dermatological Science. 16(1998):226-230.
Ohgami, K., Shiratori, K., Kotake, S., Nishida, T., Mizuki, N., Yazawa, K., Ohno, S. (2003). “Effects of
astaxanthin on lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation in vitro and in vivo.” Investigative
Ophthalmology and Visual Science. 44(6):2694-701.
Sawaki, K., Yoshigi, H., Aoki, K., Koikawa, N., Azumane, A., Kaneko, K., Yamaguchi, M. (2002). “Sports
Performance Benefits from Taking Natural Astaxanthin Characterized by Visual Acuity and Muscle
Fatigue Improvements in Humans.” Journal of Clinical Therapeutics & Medicines. 18:(9)73-88.
Shimidzu, N., Goto, M., Miki, W. (1996). “Carotenoids as singlet oxygen quechers in marine organisms.”
Fisheries Science. 62(1):134-137.
Shiratori, K., Ogami, K., Nitta, T. (2005). “The effects of Astaxanthin on Accommodation and
Asthenopia—Efficacy Identification Study in Healthy Volunteers.” Clinical Medicine. 21(6):637-650.
Suzuki, Y., Ohgami, K., Shiratori, K., Jin, X., Ilieva, I., Koyama, Y., Yazawa. K., Yoshida, K., Kase, S.,
Ohno, S. (2006). “Suppressive effects of astaxanthin against rat endotoxin-induced uveitis by inhibiting
the NF-kappaB signaling pathway.” Experimental Eye Research. 82(2):275-81.
Takahashi, J., Kajita. (2005). “Effects of astaxanthin on accommodative recovery.” Journal of Clinical
Therapeutics & Medicines. 21(4):431-436.
Tso, M., Lam, T. (1996) “Method of Retarding and Ameliorating Central Nervous System and Eye
Damage.” U.S. Patent #5527533.
Wu, T., Liao, J., Hou, W., Huang, F., Maher, T., Hu, C. (2006). “Astaxanthin protects against oxidative
stress and calcium-induced porcine lens protein degradation.” Journal Agriculture Food Chemistry. 54,
Wu, T, et al. (2002). “An astaxanthin-containing algal extract attenuates selenite-induced nuclear cataract
formation in rat pups.” Experimental Biology, 2002.
Yasunori, N, et al. (2005). “The effect of astaxanthin on retinal capillary blood flow in normal volunteers.”
J. Clin. Ther. Med. 21(5):537-542.