What are Antioxidants?
Most people are familiar with Vitamin C and the role it plays in strengthening immune function however, few are likely aware of the similar yet more potent antioxidant astaxanthin vitamin. The health benefits of both vitamin C and astaxanthin supplementation are due to their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are compounds which prevent oxidation and are produced naturally by our bodies but can also be found in plant-based whole foods. Our body requires antioxidants in order to prevent the negative side effects following the oxidative process. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals which are a natural byproduct of oxidation. Free radicals have one or more unpaired electrons making them unstable molecules. The danger of free radicals occur when the body experiences chronic oxidative stress and free radicals begin to outnumber antioxidants. 1
Certain environmental and physiological stressors can increase a person’s risk for oxidative stress such as smoking, exposure to pollutants, alcohol intake, unhealthy diet, and obesity. 1 When free radicals accumulate, cascading biological chains ensue leading to increased inflammation and overall greater risk for certain diseases. Premature aging, skin damage, cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and cardiovascular disease are all believed to be linked to oxidative stress. 2
Antioxidants help interrupt these deleterious mechanisms as they donate electrons to neutralize the free radicals, ultimately preventing further damage. Therefore, limiting oxidative stress through the consumption of foods rich in antioxidants is a promising intervention. However, it is important to note that too much antioxidants can have a negative effect. In some studies, what is known as the “antioxidant paradox” shows that excessive intake can actually increase risk of death. 1 Therefore, health professionals recommend avoiding high dosage antioxidant supplements, but instead getting your antioxidants from varied whole food sources. There are a vast number of naturally occurring antioxidants we can add to our diets such as vitamin C along with natural astaxanthin however, it is important to recognize how antioxidants differ, and which is the most beneficial for your health. So, is astaxanthin stronger than vitamin C? In this article, we are going to go over these antioxidants and explain the health benefits of each.
Vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid) is a powerful antioxidant that has been praised for its role in maintaining healthy skin and a strong immune system. Vitamin C is considered an essential vitamin as humans are unable to synthesize it naturally meaning we must consume it from outside sources like food. Research has shown that vitamin C may play a critical role in decreasing risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and supporting a healthy immune system. 3 One of the most vital uses of the nutrient in the body is seen in the synthesis of collagen. Collagen is a fibrous protein needed to form healthy connective tissue along with promoting skin elasticity and wound healing. Vitamin C is required to stabilize collagen mRNA and increase production. 4 Vitamin C has also shown promise in limiting skin damage from ultraviolet (UV) light as well as decreasing skin dryness and wrinkles. 4 This is likely due to the nutrients antioxidant capacities, combating the oxidative stress caused by UV light. The presence of vitamin C in both our upper and lower layers of skin helps explain why topical treatment of the vitamin may delay signs of skin aging and protect against UV exposure. This is likely due to the antioxidant
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of daily vitamin C intake is 90 mg for adult males and 75 mg for adult females. 3 Vitamin C deficiency or scurvy, occurs if daily intake of the vitamin remains below 10 mg/day for a prolonged period of time. Scurvy can cause a multitude of health problems including fatigue, inability to synthesize collagen, joint pain, iron deficiency and more. However, obtaining the RDA of vitamin C is generally easily achieved through eating varied and fortified foods. For example, one red bell pepper or a glass of fortified orange juice both have enough vitamin C to meet the daily requirements. Although vitamin C is an essential nutrient and plays a critical role in our bodies, it seems the vital functions are achieved once the RDA is met and excess consumption is not beneficial. 3 Therefore, further research is needed to determine whether supplemental vitamin C provides any further protective effects.
Astaxanthin is a bright red carotenoid pigment found naturally in marine life such as salmon, shrimp, lobster, and algae providing animals with their distinctive pinkish coloring. Astaxanthin was originally discovered in 1938 by scientist Richard Kuhn who found the molecule provided protective health mechanisms in fish and microalgae. 5 The pigment was found to prevent damage due to oxidative stress in aquatic animals and has therefore gained popularity as a potential neutralizer of harmful free radicals in humans as well. Natural astaxanthin can be consumed in smaller doses from seafood such as salmon and shrimp, but is even more effective if supplemented directly from the source: algae. GEM sources astaxanthin from red algae or Haematococcus pluvialis, keeping the chemical in its most natural, easily absorbed form.
When compared to other antioxidants, astaxanthin has actually been shown to be stronger than more well known antioxidants such as vitamin C, lutein, and beta-carotene. In fact, studies have shown that astaxanthin is almost 6000 times more powerful than the widely renowned vitamin C. 2 Astaxanthin’s exceptional ability to fight free radicals is likely due to its unique chemical structure Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are types of free radicals that cause widespread inflammation throughout the body which can be considered a risk factor for disease. The structure of astaxanthin enables it to be a singlet-oxygen scavenger with no pro-oxidant qualities unlike other antioxidants. 2 Astaxanthin also has the specialized ability to cross the blood-brain barrier making it a strong protective agent against certain neurodegenerative diseases and eye health. Study shows that there is a positive relationship between astaxanthin and eye health, making it a great daily dietary supplement to support your body in a number of different ways. 6 The anti-inflammatory properties of astaxanthin promote its possible use in strengthening immunity, protecting skin, preventing ocular damage, certain cancers and heart disease. Today, many individuals use a dietary supplement with this ingredient for the many skin benefits of astaxanthin.7
Which is Superior?
When comparing vitamin C and astaxanthin’s antioxidant capabilities, an astaxanthin supplement is the clear winner. It is more potent at lower concentrations, with benefits being observed at just 4 mg a day compared to 75-90 mg of vitamin C daily. Vitamin C has also been touted as an extremely powerful immune booster however, overall research suggests vitamin C supplementation has little to no effect on increasing immune response to sicknesses like the common cold. 3 Even further, taking vitamin C after the onset of a cold has shown to have no substantial effect on preventing sickness. 3 Astaxanthin on the other hand, has compelling research both in animal and human studies expressing it’s immune enhancing properties. In one study, an astaxanthin supplement showed to increase immune markers such T and B cell activity, which is hypothesized to be due to astaxanthin’s strong ROS scavenging activity. 8 Increased immune function allows our body to better respond to a multitude of environmental and physiological stressors. Therefore, consuming supportive antioxidants like astaxanthin is one way to boost immunity.
Along with increased immune function, astaxanthin appears to outperform vitamin C in skin protection and enhancement. With prolonged sun exposure, harmful ROS can accumulate in the outer and inner layers of our skin causing DNA damage. These free radicals can induce both collagen and elastin destruction, accelerating skin aging. 7 Both astaxanthin and vitamin C have shown to have photoprotective properties as antioxidants combat the oxidative stress caused by UV-light. However, astaxanthin appears to repair sun damage more efficiently than vitamin C due to its ability to target ROS in the dermis and epidermis layers.2 As discussed above, we know that vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis but astaxanthin may prove to better protect collagen and minimize wrinkles.7 Although more research is needed to further study both astaxanthin and vitamin C’s effects on skin health, astaxanthin appears to be a more effective antioxidant for both topical and oral skin protection.
Overall, when comparing astaxanthin to vitamin C, the carotenoid pigment has exhibited greater antioxidant activity in both in vitro and in vivo studies. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient, helping our body’s carry out vital processes. However, as long as you are consuming the recommended amount of vitamin C daily, astaxanthin presents a more potent dietary supplement for functions such as skin and eye health, immunity, and minimizing oxidative stress.
1 Atli Arnason, “Antioxidants Explained in Simple Terms”, Healthline, accessed 22, March 2021, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/antioxidants-explained
2 “Vitamin C vs. Astaxanthin”, accessed 22, March, 2021, https://www.oskiaskincare.com/blog/vitamin-c-vs-astaxanthin/#:~:text=It%20is%206%2C000%20times%20stronger,production%20but%20also%20sun%20protection
3 National Institutes of Health, “Vitamin C - Fact Sheet…”, accessed 22, March 2021, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/
4 Alexander J. Michels, “Vitamin C and Skin Health”, Oregon State University, September 2011, https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-C
5 Cardax, “History and background”, accessed 22, March 2021, https://cardaxpharma.com/astaxanthin/history-background/
6 Naoki Ito, Shinobu Seki, and Fumitaka Ueda, “The Protective Role of Astaxanthin for UV-Induced Skin Deterioration in Healthy People - A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial”, Nutrients (MPDI, 25 June, 2018), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6073124/
7 Sergio Davinelli, Michael E. Nielsen, and Giovanni Scapagnini, “Astaxanthin in Skin Health, Repair, and Disease: A Comprehensive Review”, Nutrients (MPDI, 22 April, 2018), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5946307/
8 Jean Soon Park et al., “Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans”, Nutrition & Metabolism (BMC, 5 March, 2010), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2845588/