Astaxanthin was first isolated from lobsters in 1938 and first mass-synthesized in the early 1980s. Astaxanthin’s presence spread fast with its application in the animal feed industry, especially aquaculture, starting in the same 1980s. Approximately 95% of the Astaxanthin market share in animal feed continues to be from a synthetic source [1]. Thus, synthetic Astaxanthin continues to be used solely for pigmentation purposes to increase the selling price of high-value aquatic species, namely shrimp and salmon.

Here, limited supply and astronomical production costs are two significant barriers preventing natural Astaxanthin applications in aquaculture. Setting aside supply constraints (since VNF and other Astaxanthin manufacturers continue developing solutions to expand supply), let’s dig into the cost problem!

Comparing the cost of Astaxanthin vs. the final price increase of better-colored fish and shrimp (up to 10-16% in salmon) is just the “tip of the iceberg”.  Take a step back and look at the “big picture”. Natural Astaxanthin supports fish & shrimp in MANY OTHER WAYS beyond its conventional application as a color additive.

Due to its ability to deposit in various major organs, natural Astaxanthin offers impressive advantages, including:

  • Strengthening resistance to diseases and stress
  • Stimulating growth and reproduction
  • Improving the color and quality of finished produce
Figure 1: Astaxanthin deposits in many organs of shrimp and salmon

Let’s explore how natural Astaxanthin works on Shrimp & Fish!


Living in aquatic environments, fish and shrimp are more susceptible to stress than land-based animals. A slight change in water parameters (such as temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, nitrogen levels…) can lead to stress and adverse effects on the immune system, reproduction, and growth. Changing seasons and weather means more frequent and damaging environmental stress.

Fish primarily rely on innate (or non-specific) immunity for disease defense than warm-blooded animals. Shrimp only have innate immunity as they lack adaptive immunity (hence why vaccination is not widespread in shrimp farming!). On top of that, open circulatory systems mean that shrimp are highly susceptible to diseases. Once the disease finds its way to the farming area, it will almost immediately affect the whole school. Infected fish and shrimp will struggle to recover.

Therefore, preventive care is critically important in aquaculture! Adding feed additives with immunostimulant and health support functions is already widely adopted.

Enter: Natural Astaxanthin on a mission!

Considered the ‘King of antioxidants’ (see Chapter 2 and chapter 4 for more details), Astaxanthin can help protect aquatic animals from oxidative stress and increase diseases resistance. Astaxanthin significantly protects crucial organs as it is absorbed, metabolized and accumulated at the hepatopancreas in shrimp or liver in fish. The hepatopancreas and liver are responsible for digestion, metabolism, and detoxification yet are highly susceptible to oxidative stress due to high lipid diets and hard-to-digest protein.

Many trials using Natural Astaxanthin on fish and shrimps have proven Astaxanthin’s success in:

I. Strengthening immunity system [2],

II. Reducing oxidative stress [3],

III. Increasing resistance to environmental stress (Fig. 2)

iV. Increasing survival rate under disease outbreaks (Fig. 2)

Figure 2: Experiment: Astaxanthin increases stress and disease resistance

Microalgae create Astaxanthin under unfavorable conditions as a defense mechanism to survive and grow. Fish and shrimp supplement themselves with antioxidants by eating microalgae in their natural habitats. Thus adding Natural Astaxanthin to fish and shrimp diets recreates a natural and long-established phenomenon –achieving “natural farming”!


The growing global population and depleting natural resources place heavy burdens on the animal husbandry industry, particularly aquaculture. As a result, farming productivity and reproductive performance are more critical than ever. Combined, pursuing these two goals simultaneously on a global scale is extremely tough: Growth & Sustainability.

With the capabilities to support reproduction and growth, Natural Astaxanthin presents a potentially viable solution to these demands. Unfortunately, to date, all of Natural Astaxanthin’s powerful capabilities are yet to be fully explored!

  • SALMON: In a Salmon’s reproduction journey (presented in Chapter 4), Astaxanthin participates in all stages of a salmon’s lifespan – reproduction, growth, maturation – to enable the highest possible fertilization rate of eggs and embryo and larvae development for the new lifecycle.
  • SHRIMP: Although there is much less research about Astaxanthin’s role in a shrimp’s lifecycle (compared to salmon), many experiments demonstrate Astaxanthin’s potential in:
  • Increasing reproduction hormone: Astaxanthin is a precursor of Prostaglandin – an important reproduction hormone in shrimp. Adding Astaxanthin to the diet helps increase the spawning and hatching rate.
  • Stimulating molting: Astaxanthin enhances the production of ecdysteroid (molting hormone) in shrimp, thereby shortening molting frequency and promoting growth performance.
Figure 3: Experiment: Astaxanthin supports reproduction and growth in aquaculture


Improve color: Astaxanthin, primarily synthetic Astaxanthin, has been used in aquaculture as a color additive: to enhance the color of the meat, eggs, and skin of the fish and shrimp. The end goal: to boost commercial values. Although accounting for a small portion of today’s market, Natural Astaxanthin possesses unique competitive advantages: higher biocompatibility (naturally derived), longer color retention, and the ability to yield nature-identical colors. [5]

Once supply and cost are no longer problems (goals VNF is striving for!), the market share of Natural Astaxanthin will rapidly increase.

Figure 4: Competitive advantages of natural Astaxanthin

Improve product quality: Besides boosting color, Astaxanthin’s strong antioxidant capacity helps preserve the color and extend the shelf-life of produce. For example, experiments have demonstrated reduced lipid oxidation in frozen Rainbow Trout fed with Astaxanthin when alive [6].


The rise of intensive fishery farming to increase production quantity makes sustainable health, growth, reproduction, and quality even more important. As a result, multi-functional feed additives are needed more than ever.


With POWERFUL BENEFITS and COMPREHENSIVE SUPPORT THROUGHOUT THE AQUATIC LIFE CYCLE, Natural Astaxanthin is a potent functional feed additive far beyond its traditional reputation as a color additive!

In the next chapter, we’ll take you on the final and ultimate journey of this “Mission Impossible” – sharing the benefits of Astaxanthin in HUMAN BEINGS!


[1] Stachowiak, B., & Szulc, P. (2021). Astaxanthin for the Food Industry. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 26(9), 2666. 

[2] Wang, H., Dai, A., Liu, F., Guan, Y. Effects of dietary Astaxanthin on the immune response, resistance to white spot syndrome virus and transcription of antioxidant enzyme genes in Pacific white shrimp Litopenaeus vannamei. Iranian Journal of Fisheries Sciences, 2015; 14(3): 699-718. doi: 10.22092/ijfs.2018.114476

[3] Yichao, Wang & Wang, Baojie & Liu, Mei & Jiang, Keyong & Wang, Mengqiang & Wang, Lei. (2020). Comparative transcriptome analysis reveals the potential influencing mechanism of dietary Astaxanthin on growth and metabolism in Litopenaeus vannamei. Aquaculture Reports. 16. 100259. 10.1016/j.aqrep.2019.100259.

[4] Maulana, Fajar & Arfah, Harton & Istifarini, Mita & Setiawati, Mia. (2017). Supplementation of Astaxanthin and vitamin E in feed on the development of gonads white shrimp broodstock Litopenaeus vannamei Boone 1931. Jurnal Akuakultur Indonesia. 16. 135. 10.19027/jai.16.2.135-146.

[5] Tran, Q. V., Nguyen T. K. L., Ngo D. N.  (2020). Nghiên cứu ảnh hưởng của việc bổ sung Astaxanthin và β – glucan  được chiết xuất từ sinh khối nấm men Rhodospridium sp. vào thức ăn cho cá dĩa đỏ Symphysodon sp. Tạp chí Khoa học – Công nghệ Thủy sản số 3/2020

[6] Jensen, C., Birk, E., Jokumsen, A. et al. Effect of dietary levels of fat, α-tocopherol and Astaxanthin on colour and lipid oxidation during storage of frozen rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and during chill storage of smoked trout. Z Lebensm Unters Forsch 207, 189–196 (1998).