Oxidative stress induced by hyperglycemia possibly causes the dysfunction of pancreatic beta-cells and various forms of tissue damage in patients with diabetes mellitus. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid of marine microalgae, is reported as a strong anti-oxidant inhibiting lipid peroxidation and scavenging reactive oxygen species. The aim of the present study was to examine whether astaxanthin can elicit beneficial effects on the progressive destruction of pancreatic beta-cells in db/db mice--a well-known obese model of type 2 diabetes. We used diabetic C57BL/KsJ-db/db mice and db/m for the control. Astaxanthin treatment was started at 6 weeks of age and its effects were evaluated at 10, 14, and 18 weeks of age by non-fasting blood glucose levels, intraperitoneal glucose tolerance test including insulin secretion, and beta-cell histology. The non-fasting blood glucose level in db/db mice was significantly higher than that of db/m mice, and the higher level of blood glucose in db/db mice was significantly decreased after treatment with astaxanthin. The ability of islet cells to secrete insulin, as determined by the intraperitoneal glucose tolerance test, was preserved in the astaxanthin-treated group. Histology of the pancreas revealed no significant differences in the beta-cell mass between astaxanthin-treated and -untreated db/db mice. In conclusion, these results indicate that astaxanthin can exert beneficial effects in diabetes, with preservation of beta-cell function. This finding suggests that anti-oxidants may be potentially useful for reducing glucose toxicity.