Marine animals produce astaxanthin which is a carotenoid and antioxidant. In this study we determined the in vitro and ex vivo effects of astaxanthin on LDL oxidation. The oxidation of LDL was measured in a 1 ml reaction system consisting of increasing concentrations of astaxanthin (12.5, 25.0, 50.0 microg/ml), 400 microM V-70 (2, 2'-azobis(4-methoxy-2, 4-dimethylvaleronitrile)), and LDL (70 microg/ml protein). Astaxanthin dose, dependently significantly prolonged the oxidation lag time (31.5, 45.4, 65.0 min) compared with the control (19.9 min). For the ex vivo study 24 volunteers (mean age 28.2 [SD 7.8] years) consumed astaxanthin at doses of 1.8, 3.6,14.4 and 21.6 mg per day for 14 days. No other changes were made in the diet. Fasting venous blood samples were taken at days 0, +14. LDL lag time was longer (5.0, 26.2, 42.3 and 30.7% respectively) compared with day 0 after consuming astaxanthin at doses of 1.8, 3.6,14.4 and 21.6 mg for 14 days compared with day 0, but there was no difference in oxidation of LDL between day 0 (lag time 59.9+/-7.2 min) and day 14 (57.2+/-6.0 min) in the control group. Our results provide evidence that consumption of marine animals producing astaxanthin inhibits LDL oxidation and possibly therefore contributes to the prevention of atherosclerosis.