Spirulina is an effective dietary source of zeaxanthin to humans

Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108(4):611-9. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511005885. Epub 2012 Feb 7.


Zeaxanthin is a predominant xanthophyll in human eyes and may reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Spirulina is an algal food that contains a high concentration of zeaxanthin. In order to determine the zeaxanthin bioavailability of spirulina for dietary supplementation in humans, spirulina was grown in nutrient solution with ²H₂O for carotenoid labelling. Single servings of ²H-labelled spirulina (4.0-5.0 g) containing 2.6-3.7 mg zeaxanthin were consumed by fourteen healthy male volunteers (four Americans and ten Chinese) with 12 g dietary fat. Blood samples were collected over a 45 d period. The serum concentrations of total zeaxanthin were measured using HPLC, and the enrichment of labelled zeaxanthin was determined using LC-atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation-MS (LC-APCI-MS). The results showed that intrinsically labelled spirulina zeaxanthin in the circulation was detected at levels as low as 10 % of the total zeaxanthin for up to 45 d after intake of the algae. A single dose of spirulina can increase mean serum zeaxanthin concentration in humans from 0.06 to 0.15 μmol/l, as shown in our study involving American and Chinese volunteers. The average 15 d area under the serum zeaxanthin response curve to the single dose of spirulina was 293 nmol × d/μmol (range 254-335) in American subjects, and 197 nmol × d/μmol (range 154-285) in Chinese subjects. It is concluded that the relative bioavailability of spirulina zeaxanthin can be studied with high sensitivity and specificity using ²H labelling and LC-APCI-MS methodology. Spirulina can serve as a rich source of dietary zeaxanthin in humans.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Americas
  • China
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Deuterium
  • Diet / ethnology
  • Functional Food / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritive Value
  • Spirulina / metabolism*
  • Xanthophylls / biosynthesis
  • Xanthophylls / blood
  • Xanthophylls / chemistry
  • Xanthophylls / metabolism*
  • Zeaxanthins


  • Xanthophylls
  • Zeaxanthins
  • Deuterium