Fact #1: Salmons swim hundreds of miles each year, battling their way through strong currents to reach the right spot in the river to lay eggs.

Fact #2: Flamingos can live up to 70 years old, considered one of the longest lifespans for birds.

Fact #3: Astaxanthin might be the closest thing to being a space astronaut. (Unless you’re Jeff Bezos). No, but seriously, “NASA considers astaxanthin essential for astronaut health”. 
In 2018, NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station tested whether Astaxanthin production could occur in space’s microgravity environment. NASA’s conclusion: Astaxanthin, as a very potent antioxidant, can promote astronaut health in space and generate immense long-term health benefits – “the secrets of life for many decades”. That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind (and shrimp co-products).

In the previous Astaxanthin article, we revealed WHERE Astaxanthin comes from (shrimp, salmon, red microalgae, etc. No, not carrots).

We also wrote, “Being multi-functional, Astaxanthin offers tremendous benefits for almost all living beings”. It’s a pretty bold statement, but we’ve quoted NASA already, so we promise to live up to it. So, if astronauts and flamingos are scoffing it up to live longer, well pour us a glass and call it “Happy Astaxanthin Hour” as we dive into HOW Astaxanthin’s works. 

Function 1: Astaxanthin – A powerhouse PIGMENT

Animals cannot synthesize Astaxanthin by themselves. Astaxanthin must be supplemented through diet. Once digested, Astaxanthin is absorbed through the small intestinal wall into the bloodstream and situatedat different organs. The presented conjugated double bonds of AST absorb light and create that beautiful red color then deposited into egg yolks, skin, flesh, feather, and shells. Hence, salmon go from white to orange and flamingos from dull grey to pink by consuming Astaxanthin. [2]

Free Astaxanthin appears red. But what about crustaceans? The shrimp you ate didn’t start with that red-orange color. This is because Astaxanthin binds with specific proteins (crustacyanin), changing its pigment and ability to absorb light. When these proteins are denatured by heat (say through cooking), the Astaxanthin pigment is freed, resulting in red all around. Merry Christmas and Hallelujah! It turns out blue-grey shrimp at the supermarket is normal, not because they’re feeling a little blue around dinnertime. [2]

Astaxanthin’s coloring ability is now leveraged in livestock and aquaculture production to enhance the sensory quality of egg yolks, salmon meat, and shrimp, thereby boosting commercial value. (The red-orange pigment reflects the product’s quality and better health value). Moreover, Astaxanthin’s pigment application has also expanded to food and cosmetics (lipstick). [3]

Function 2: Astaxanthin as an ANTIOXIDANT fighting Oxidative stress

Astaxanthin is considered to be one of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet. It’s so good NASA had to bring it to space for longer life! An antioxidant’s main job is exactly as it sounds – fighting (anti) oxidative damage (oxidant) – namely FREE RADICALS.

Free radicals are these tiny evil molecules created from everyday metabolic activities in our bodies. Simply put, they are born unstable due to having an unpaired and reactive electron. A free radical’s mission: to steal that missing electron. The body wants to keep these free radicals in check because they end up stealing electrons from healthy cells, thus damaging our DNA, tissues, and cell structures – called an ‘oxidative chain reaction’.

When life gets hard, for example, changes in living conditions, unbalanced diets, diseases and aging, free radicals become over-produced, causing the body ‘oxidative damage.’

Oxidative damage is ‘biological rust’ that impairs the function of our cells and tissues – just as rust impairs an engine. Over time, oxidative damage can contribute to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, skin diseases, more visible signs of aging,…and many more.   

Astaxanthin to the rescue!

As an antioxidant, Astaxanthin can prevent the formation of free radicals and scavenge free radicals – essentially ‘lending a helping hand’ by donating and/or accepting an electron to neutralize the free radical and terminate its oxidative chain reaction. But why exactly is Astaxanthin one of the strongest (reminder: we’re talking about antioxidant properties to reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer)?

Most antioxidants are either hydrophilic (water-soluble) or lipophilic (fat-soluble), meaning their activity is limited to the protection of the aqueous (water) or lipid (fat) part of cells. Astaxanthin’s potency comes from its unique ability to span the cell membrane, protecting both the water-soluble and fat-soluble components. It can also effectively target the cardiac and skeletal muscles and reach the blood-brain barriers to protect the brain. Translation? Natural Astaxanthin is the powerful antioxidant equivalent of a tall person in the body; it can reach just about anything.

The list of benefits from supplementing Astaxanthin is long; thus why we need a 9-part Astaxanthin series. If this were a report card, we’d give Astaxanthin straight A’s. But for now, the next time you admire salmon for its colors, thank the fish for sharing its strength and antioxidant benefits with you… even if it couldn’t escape being dinner.  

Tune in to the next article as we delve deeper into Astaxanthin’s ‘power’ compared to fan favourite antioxidants and pigment enhancers. Here’s a sneak peek: Green tea is sitting there green with envy, wondering what Astaxanthin has that it doesn’t have.  


[1]         discoverwildlife, “Flamingo guide: how to identify each species and where to see.” (accessed Nov. 20, 2021).

[2]         K. C. Lim, F. M. Yusoff, M. Shariff, and M. S. Kamarudin, “Astaxanthin as feed supplement in aquatic animals,” Rev. Aquac., vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 738–773, 2018, doi: 10.1111/raq.12200.

[3]         S. H. A. Raza et al., “Beneficial effects and health benefits of Astaxanthin molecules on animal production: A review,” Res. Vet. Sci., vol. 138, no. May, pp. 69–78, 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.rvsc.2021.05.023.

[4]         S. Fakhri, F. Abbaszadeh, L. Dargahi, and M. Jorjani, “Astaxanthin: A mechanistic review on its biological activities and health benefits,” Pharmacol. Res., vol. 136, no. August, pp. 1–20, 2018, doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2018.08.012.

[5]         M. Sztretye et al., “Astaxanthin: A Potential Mitochondrial-Targeted Antioxidant Treatment in Diseases and with Aging,” Oxid. Med. Cell. Longev., vol. 2019, 2019, doi: 10.1155/2019/3849692.