Astaxanthin Bioactivity Is Determined by Stereoisomer Composition and Extraction Method

Nutrients. 2022 Apr 6;14(7):1522. doi: 10.3390/nu14071522.


Astaxanthin (ASX) is a natural product and one of the most powerful antioxidants known. It has significant effects on the metabolism of many animals, increasing fecundity, egg yolk volume, growth rates, immune responses, and disease resistance. A large part of the bioactivity of ASX is due to its targeting of mitochondria, where it inserts itself into cell membranes. Here, ASX stabilizes membranes and acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting mitochondria from damage by reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are ubiquitous by-products of energy metabolism that must be tightly regulated by cells, lest they bind to and inactivate proteins, DNA and RNA, lipids, and signaling molecules. Most animals cannot synthesize ASX, so they need to acquire it in their diet. ASX is easily thermally denatured during extraction, and its high hydrophobicity limits its bioavailability. Our focus in this review is to contrast the bioactivity of different ASX stereoisomers and how extraction methods can denature ASX, compromising its bioavailability and bioactivity. We discuss the commercial sources of astaxanthin, structure of stereoisomers, relative bioavailability and bioactivity of ASX stereoisomers, mechanisms of ASX bioactivity, evolution of carotenoids, and why mitochondrial targeting makes ASX such an effective antioxidant.

Keywords: astaxanthin; bioactivity; bioavailability; metabolic effects; micronutrient; mitochondrial targeting; stereoisomers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants* / pharmacology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Stereoisomerism
  • Xanthophylls* / chemistry
  • Xanthophylls* / pharmacology


  • Antioxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Xanthophylls
  • astaxanthine