Did you know that vision disorders and eye diseases affect a large part of the US population and present an economic burden of a whopping $139 billion annually?
However, what's interesting to note is that almost 80% of all vision impairment may be avoidable, and that eye diseases are actually preventable.
For example, surgery can help restore vision for those who suffer from cataract, and uncorrected refractive error can easily be corrected with glasses.
Taking eye supplements regularly has also shown promise in improving eyesight and reducing the risk of vision loss, mainly due to the therapeutic quantities of antioxidants or carotenoids they contain. Along with other compounds such as zeaxanthin, lutein, forskolin and more, astaxanthin in particular has emerged as a true winner with "supernutrient" powers when it comes to preventative eye care.
In this post we'll focus on the benefits of astaxanthin for eyes, and discuss how this highly potent antioxidant has the potential to go beyond just boosting your vision.
Table of Contents
Are you at risk? Reasons to worry about your vision
Before we dive into the benefits of astaxanthin for eyes, let's discuss why vision problems are a rising concern, and why even with the advancements in modern technology, the prevalence of eye diseases is increasing.
Eye health statistics in the United States
It is estimated that by the year 2030 vision problems will affect millions more Americans than are affected today:
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
2.1 million Americans
3.7 million Americans
2.7 million Americans
4.3 million Americans
7.7 million Americans
11.3 million Americans
24 million Americans
38.7 million Americans
Refractive Error (nearsightedness)
34.1 million Americans
39 million Americans
Refractive Error (farsightedness)
14.1 million Americans
20 million Americans
Top reasons for increasing vision problems
There are a couple of reasons for the increasing concern about vision problems. Firstly, many countries worldwide are experiencing a rising senior citizen population.
The United States is expected to see a major demographic shift in the next few years. Americans ages 65+ are projected to more than double from a population of 46 million to 98 million by 2060.
According to the World Health Organization, vision impairment affects individuals over the age of 50 years. So with significant growth in the aging population, and people in this age bracket most affected by eye problems, it's not surprising that vision problems will increase with time in the US population.
There's also one more contributing factor to vision problems most people are facing today — blue light emitted from digital devices. Studies suggest that blue light exposure "could lead to macular degeneration, which is a serious condition that can cause blindness."
So although eye disorders are usually associated with a more older population, with the increasing use of blue light emitting devices by all age groups, even children, teens, and younger adults are at risk today.
What is astaxanthin and how does it work?
Along with betacarotene, lycopene and lutein, astanxanthin belongs to the carotenoid family, attributed to giving fruits and veggies their bright red, orange and yellow colors.
A naturally occurring antioxidant, astaxanthin is found in aquatic creatures such as salmon, lobster and shrimp, and it is what gives them their natural reddish-pink color.
Antioxidants are essential in maintaining an oxidative balance in the body by combating free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS).
If ROS exceeds antioxidant benefits, oxidative stress results, causing damage to cells, proteins, lipids and even DNA and can lead to diseases such as diabetes, inflammatory disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure and even cancer.
So, how does astaxanthin work and why is it so effective?
Astaxanthin has a special chemical structure and cell membrane, making it highly effective against ROS.
This powerful antioxidant boasts the unique characteristic of traveling across the cellular membrane and trapping ROS inside the membrane itself and along the membrane's surface. It also neutralizes ROS safely without turning into a pro-oxidant itself.
Clinical trials have shown its tremendous health benefits, while also being safe and extremely tolerable.
Did you know that in its ability to trap energy from ROS, natural astaxanthin is....
6000 times more powerful than Vitamin C
100 times more powerful than Vitamin E
3 times more powerful than Lutein
(Image source: Algalif)
Benefits of Astaxanthin for Eyes
When it comes to eye health, several research studies have confirmed that astaxanthin can provide long-term eye care and give your eyes an added layer of protection against cataracts, blurry eyes, eye fatigue, glaucoma and prevent age-related macular degeneration, which is linked to causing blindness.
In the 1940's two young French Scientists Renee Massonet and Rene Grangaud published a doctoral theses on Astaxanthin's protective properties for the eyes.
Surprisingly, this scientific research was completely forgotten until thirty years later when Dr. Mark Tso, MD, an opthomologist and professor at the University of Illinois proved that astaxanthin has the unique ability of crossing the blood-brain-retina-barrier.
This means that astaxanthin can cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain - once there it can pass through the blood-retinal barrier and enter the eyes. Once in the eyes, it can work wonders like no other antioxidant can - giving it "supernutrient" powers, even beating its fellow carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein.
Subsequent studies and clinical research since Dr. Tso's findings have shown that Astaxanthin can potentially:
- Prevent dry eyes and soreness
- Reduce eye strain
- Increase blood flow to eye tissues
- Prevent eye fatigue (asthenopia)
- Increase the ability to view fine detail (visual acuity)
- Decrease blurred vision and improve focus
- Help to perceive depth
Prevent double vision (diplopia)
These incredible astaxanthin benefits help protect the eyes against a host of degenerative and inflammatory eye conditions which we'll discuss in detail below.
1. Astaxanthin For Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Age-related macular degeneration or AMD is one of the leading causes of visual impairment, affecting the retina (light-sensitive area of the eye). Overtime deposits form in the retina that can lead to distortion of vision that can affect the ability to read, recognize faces, drive and do simple tasks.
From the year 2000 to 2010 the number of people with age-related macular degeneration went up by 18%. By the year 2030, it is said that AMD will affect close to 3.7 million Americans, and by 2050, a whopping 5.44 million Americans.
(Image source: National Eye Institute)
Studies show that antioxidants or carotenoids can help suppress AMD.
Research suggests that "after middle age there is a decrease in the production of antioxidants and antioxidant enzymes" and being exposed to artificial light "either causes or exacerbates age-related ocular diseases."
The aim of a 2012 study was to determine if taking nutritional supplements for eyes can actually improve visual function and acuity in AMD.
The macula (the retina's functional center) is responsible for accurate 20/20 vision and for the ability to see the best color. It also contains a high concentration of carotenoids (antioxidants). This along with the proof linking oxidative stress to AMD, with evidence of carotenoids causing antioxidation, led to the premise that an intake of antioxidants can actually help to prevent age-related macular degeneration.
The study which spanned 2 years showed that the group treated with nutrients had higher visual acuity scores and better contrast sensitivity than the non-treated group. The study concluded that "higher antioxidant intakes can prevent AMD."
2. Astaxanthin For Dry Eyes
Do your eyes feel itchy, irritated and look red?
Well, you most likely have dry eyes. Dry eye is caused when the eyes lack moisture and lubrication on the surface. When your eyes don't make enough tears it can cause inflammation, causing your eyes to feel scratchy and watery.
Dry eye syndrome may be caused by oxidative stress due to aging, continuous staring/use of digital devices or use of contact lenses.
Although artificial tears are most commonly prescribed to relieve dry eyes — to control and prevent the ailment from the root, astaxanthin can help.
A randomized, double-blind study concluded that an oral antioxidant supplement containing astaxanthin "may increase tear production and improve tear film stability by reducing tear ROS."
Additional research has shown that an intake of 6mg/day of natural astaxanthin for a month can decrease eye dryness, improve blurred vision and lessen eye fatigue.
3. Astaxanthin For Eye Fatigue and Computer Eye Strain
Asthenopia, more commonly known as eye strain can cause headaches, blurry vision, eye pain and fatigue, and discomfort.
It is a highly predominant condition today mainly due to the use of digital devices. In fact according to The Vision Council, 80% of adult Americans report using digital devices for over 2 hrs daily, with 67% reporting using 2 or more digital devices simultaneously, and 59% reporting experiencing some form of digital eye strain.
As the size of visual display devices (VDT)'s gets smaller, it causes stress to the eyes as the user moves in closer and the eyes need to adjust to the screen's closeness. This causes what is known as accommodative fatigue.
In a 2005 study, researchers studied the effects of astaxanthin's ability to aid the eyes in accommodative recovery (recovering from accommodative fatigue), after using a digital device. Nine healthy volunteers were administered astaxanthin derived from Haematococcus in a capsule form. The study concluded that astaxanthin "had effect on accommodation and worked on accommodative fatigue during the recovery process, which aided in relieving fatigue rapidly."
This study further proves that astaxanthin may be used to prevent eye fatigue caused by digital devices.
4. Astaxanthin For Double Vision
In simple terms, double vision, also known as diplopia, is seeing two images of the same object. It can be caused by various conditions including problems associated with the lens or cornea or more commonly because of improper functioning of eye muscles and nerves or eye fatigue.
Japanese research published in 2002 showed that supplementing with 5mg of natural astaxanthin for a month, sourced from haematococcus pluvialis algae, may help relieve eye strain, blurring vision and double vision (diplopia).
The study revealed that the authors "reported a 46% reduction of eye strain subjects," and concluded that astaxanthin's antioxidant properties may help encourage higher accommodation (the eye's ability to focus) in visual display terminal workers.
5. Astaxanthin For Improving Retinal Capillary Blood Flow
Without proper blood flow in the eyes, the cells of the retina can't get enough oxygen. This can lead to blurry vision or if the condition gets serious, an eye stroke or even blindness.
An interesting study in 2005 evaluated how astaxanthin affected retinal circulation in healthy participants. A group of 36 participants were divided into two — half received 6mg of astaxanthin for 4 weeks per day, and the other half received a placebo.
After the 4 weeks time period it was discovered that retinal capillary blood flow in both eyes of the group of astaxanthin participants "was significantly higher than before supplementation," and that blood flow in the placebo group remained the same.
In a more recent 2012 study, twenty healthy participants were divided equally into a control and placebo group. The control group was given 12mg of astaxanthin capsules while other received placebo capsules. At the end of the 4-week timeframe the study uncovered that astaxanthin does not only help to increase blood flow volume but also helps "elevate the choroidal blood flow velocity without any adverse effects."
These human studies show that astaxanthin can potentially be used to regulate retinal blood flow, for preventative eye care.
6. Astaxanthin For Glaucoma
Glaucoma is high pressure in the eye, which can happen due to fluid buildup. Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve (the nerve that connects the eye to the brain) and is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide. It is most commonly treated with medicated eye drops
A 2014 study suggested that astanxanthin may be effective in the treatment of glaucoma due to its neuroprotective effects in the eye. The study discovered that in rats that received astaxanthin, the retina was less damaged than the placebo group that were not treated with astaxanthin.
7. Astaxanthin For Diabetic Retinopathy
A condition caused by uncontrolled blood sugar levels, diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes complication that causes damage to the retina's blood vessels. Symptoms include blurry vision, dark spots, difficulty recognizing colors, eye floaters and even blindness.
Diabetes induced rats were administered oral astaxanthin to evaluate if the potent antioxidant protected against oxidative damage in the retinal tissues. The study concluded that astaxanthin has "neuroprotective effects" and can "reduce ocular oxidative stress, and inflammation," in diabetes-induced rats.
8. Astaxanthin For Cataract
A cataract is the clouding of your eye's lens and can cause blurry vision and poor night vision. Cataracts develop gradually, but if left untreated can lead to vision loss and blindness.
Over 22 million Americans aged 40+ are affected by cataracts and by the year 2020 that figure is expected to rise to over 30 million.
According to an article published in CBS News, pediatric ophthalmologist at Loyola University Health System in Illinois, Dr. James McDonnell, suggests that along with eating healthy, supplementing with astaxanthin was his "top recommendation" to help to prevent cataracts as "this supernutrient protects eyes from developing cataracts, macular degeneration and blindness."
Interesting research in 2003 that studied the formation of cataracts in Atlantic salmon, showed that a balanced diet along with antioxidant nutrients which included Vitamins E,C and astaxanthin, "may significantly protect Atlantic salmon against development of cataract."
This is promising evidence to show that astaxanthin may be used to prevent or prolong cataract formation in the eyes.
Astaxanthin Benefits Beyond Eye Health
According to 50+ clinical and experimental studies, the benefits of astaxanthin go beyond just eye care. The potent antioxidant is a natural immune system enhancer and excellent for relieving joint pain, arthritic pain, muscle spasms, and supporting brain health and skin health. It's also an amazing energy booster, and may even help to prevent diabetes mellitus, heart disease and even cancer.
9. Astaxanthin For Arthritis and Joint Pain
Affecting 1 in 5 Americans, astaxanthin has shown promise in treating the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory auto-immune condition, and other types of joint pain.
Anti-inflammatory prescription drugs can pose serious side effects, and fortunately natural astaxanthin has shown to be effective in pain reduction and allowing more flexibility of movement for joint pain sufferers.
Research showed that a control group who took 12mg of astaxanthin daily over a placebo group experienced a drop in pain by 35% and an overall satisfaction score of 40% in their ability to perform day to day activities over the placebo group.
An interesting study documented the effects of astaxanthin on dogs and cats with rhematoid arthritis. Dogs were supplemented with 20mg and cats with 10mg of astaxanthin for 4-8 weeks. The results discovered that "astaxanthin drastically reduced lameness and increased physical activity levels in all cases."
These studies demonstrate that astaxanthin may have a future in treating arthritis and other types of joint pain.
10. Astaxanthin For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A condition which cannot be cured but only controlled, carpal tunnel syndrome affects around 2% of the American population, causing pain of the wrist joints. It is highly common in people who sit on computers for long hours and those doing repetitive manual labor.
Human clinical trials have shown that natural astaxanthin can be an excellent alternative to wrist surgery (which does not work very well). Similar to rheumatoid arthritis study above, a control group took 12mg of astaxanthin over 8 weeks and the other group was given a placebo. After the 8 week period pain levels dropped by over 30% and the participants' ability to perform daily activities also improved.
11. Astaxanthin For Heart Health
There are currently 40+ research studies highlighting astaxanthin's benefits to promote cardiovascular health.
High LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) is associated with heart disease. Oxidation of LDL is thought to attribute to atheroscleroris (build up of cholesterol or arterial walls), and therefore supplementing with antioxidants like astaxanthin might help to possibly reduce the risk of plaque build-up.
Human and in vitro testing has demonstrated that daily astaxanthin dosages of 3.6mg for 2 straight weeks can help to protect LDL cholesterol from being oxidized.
Other research also shows that astaxanthin can benefit cardiovascular health by combating inflammation associated with coronary heart conditions.
12. Astaxanthin For Skin
Oxidative damage on the skin can cause it to burn, wrinkle and prematurely age. Environmental factors such as the sun and pollution can all be contributing factors, however free radicals from within the body are majorly to blame.
A diet rich in antioxidants is essential for great skin, however supplementing with natural antioxidants like astaxanthin has also shown to be very promising for radiant, healthy looking skin.
In a 2006 research study, 49 healthy middle-aged women were divide into 2 groups - half were given 4mg natural astaxanthin per day, while the other half were given a placebo. Culminating at 6 weeks, the assessment results were incredible. Over 50% of women supplemented with astaxanthin showed improvements in wrinkles, skin elasticity, dryness and fine lines, with before/after photos confirming results.
In another study, thirty-six healthy men were supplemented with 6mg of natural astaxanthin (from haematococcus pluvialis microalgae) for 6 weeks. The study discovered that the appearance of wrinkles from crow's feet and overall skin elasticity were both improved. The study concluded that "astaxanthin derived from haematococcus pluvialis may improve the skin condition in not only in women but also in men."
Another study also showed astaxanthin's efficacy in protecting against UV-induced deterioration of the skin.
13. Astaxanthin For Immunity
Want to boost your immunity naturally?
A landmark study led by well-known researcher Dr. Boon Chew, an authority on carotenoid research, showed that astaxanthin was able to enhance "immune response in young healthy females," at a very low dose of just 2mg a day.
The study proved that astaxanthin has the ability to stimulate the immune system by increasing the count of antibody producing cells and fighting cytotoxic cell activity.
This study shows that astaxanthin could be an excellent option for anyone wanting to boost their immunity naturally.
14. Astaxanthin For Energy, Recovery and Performance
Feeling constantly tired and low on energy? Astaxanthin can help.
A hefty portion of the research on astaxanthin's benefits is linked to how astaxanthin can be used for promoting energy and performance and sports nutrition in general.
A study sponsored by leading sports drink maker Gatorade®, conducted on a group of highly-trained, competitive cyclists showed exciting results.
One group was given 4mg of natural astaxanthin for 4 weeks while the other was given a placebo. In a 20-km cycling trial conducted before and after the study, the group taking astaxanthin showed a performance improvement of 5%, compared to the placebo group which showed zero improvement. Power output of the astaxanthin group also increased by a whopping 15%.
In another study, researchers documented that supplementing astaxanthin to Wistar rats at 1mg/kg of their body weight over a month and a half delayed their exhaustion time by 29% in a swimming test, proving that astaxanthin can help reduce exercise fatigue.
These results are incredibly astounding for any athlete wanting to naturally improve performance or for anyone wanting to boost their daily energy levels.
15. Astaxanthin For Cancer
Oxidative stress is well-known to be a crucial factor in many illnesses, including cancer. Oxidative stress also leads to the dysfunction of the mitochondria, which makes astaxanthin a promising preventative supplement due to its nature of protecting and benefiting the mitochondria.
A 2009 study showed that even in nanomolar concentrations, astaxanthin improved "mitochondrial function through retaining mitochondria in the reduced state."
Another study demonstrated that astaxanthin had antiproliferative properties meaning it could inhibit malignant cell growth. The study concluded that astaxanthin could have both "short-term growth inhibition and long-term cell death activity on breast cancer cells."
Although more studies need to be done in astaxanthin's efficacy to prevent and treat cancer, the research outlining astaxanthin's antioxidant properties look promising.
16. Astaxanthin For Brain Health
Neurological disorders are widely considered to be one of the most concerning health problems as people age.
What's exciting is that research coming out of Japan has shown that astaxanthin shows incredible potential in supporting brain and nervous system health.
In the study senior participants with age-related forgetfulness were given an astaxanthin capsule of 12mg of haematococcus pluvialis extract per day for 12 weeks. Results showed that participants who ingested astaxanthin improved their cognitive and psychomotor functions, with no adverse side effects.
Another study giving hope to Alzheimer's sufferers, showed that astaxanthin could combat brain aging in rats and reduce oxidative stress by elevating levels of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor, critical for learning and memory).
As a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory with neuroprotective effects, in 2016 astaxanthin was proposed as a possible remedial agent for Parkinson’s Disease.
Used as a preventative supplement to promote brain health, natural astaxanthin seems to be a promising option for people who are stepping into middle age.
How to Buy Astaxanthin Supplements
Although astaxanthin is naturally found in seafood, it's just not possible to consume the quantity needed to make it therapeutic enough to reap the nutrient benefits.
A 2018 intensive research paper entitled, Antioxidant effects of astaxanthin in various diseases-a review, demonstrated the different natural sources of astaxanthin and showed that haematococcus pluvialis microalgae could be the best natural source of this supernutrient.
(Image source: Researchgate.net)
The study also concluded with stating that, "oral supplements of this anti-oxidant are protective against a wide range of diseases," showing that the benefits of astaxanthin supplements go far beyond just eye health.
So what kind of astaxanthin supplement should you choose?
When it comes to choosing the best astaxanthin supplement for your eyes, natural is always better. Produced in a lab by a process of chemical synthesis using petrochemicals, synthetic astaxanthin just does not match up when compared to the safety and effectiveness of natural astaxanthin.
In fact, a 2013 study demonstrated that natural astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae was 50x stronger than synthetic astaxanthin when it came to singlet oxygen quenching and 20x stronger in eliminating free radicals.
To get the most health benefits, research suggests an optimal dosage range between 2mg - 12mg per day.
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Taking care of your vision, no matter what your age, is a serious concern today with millions of Americans being affected by vision problems.
- Taking eye supplements regularly can help improve eyesight and reduce the risk of vision loss
- Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant with supernutrient properties that gives the eyes an added layer of long-term protection
- Compared to other carotenoids astaxanthin boasts the unique properties of crossing the blood-brain-retina-barrier, combating free radicals and neutralizing ROS (reactive oxygen species) safely
- When it comes to preventative eye care, astaxanthin can protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract, eye strain and fatigue, glaucoma and more
- Astaxanthin goes beyond eye care and also helps combat joint pain and arthritis, boost immunity and increase energy
- Due to its neuroprotective properties astaxanthin has shown promising potential in fighting cancer, heart disease and neurological disorders
- Natural astaxanthin is far superior to synthetic for efficacy, with the best source being Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae