The value of astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment, in the treatment of oxidative injury is assessed. Astaxanthin protects the mitochondria of vitamin E-deficient rats from damage by Fe2(+)-catalyzed lipid peroxidation both in vivo and in vitro. The inhibitory effect of astaxanthin on mitochondrial lipid peroxidation is stronger than that of alpha-tocopherol. Thin layer chromatographic analysis shows that the change in phospholipid components of erythrocytes from vitamin E-deficient rats induced by Fe2+ and Fe3(+)-xanthine/xanthine oxidase system was significantly suppressed by astaxanthin. Carrageenan-induced inflammation of the paw is also significantly inhibited by administration of astaxanthin. These data indicate that astaxanthin functions as a potent antioxidant both in vivo and in vitro.