April 14, 2021

Zeaxanthin vs. Astaxanthin: What's the Difference?

Many exotic ingredients are popping up more and more as people seek ways to find nutritional balance in natural ways. The latest to be added to the list is zeaxanthin and astaxanthin. Both are plant-based cartoneids, contain high levels of antioxidants, and provide a wide variety of health benefits. However, when it comes to comparing zeaxanthin vs. astaxanthin, what’s the difference?

When comparing the two, it’s important to provide an overview of each one to get a better understanding of how and why these ingredients are used. We’re sharing information about both of these powerful ingredients and the difference in benefits they both provide. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of which dietary supplement is right for you.

Color Variations and Origin Differences 

Zeaxanthin is known for its distinctive yellow color, commonly found in plants and vegetables, such as corn, cantaloupe, and carrots. Despite this unique coloring, zeaxanthin is actually the most common xanthophyll (yellow pigment) found in dark green leafy vegetables, including kale, spinach, and broccoli.1 

It’s one of the most commonly found carotenoids in nature and is synthesized in plants and some microorganisms. Many get their consumption by following a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables. 

So, what is astaxanthin and how does it differ? Natural astaxanthin has been referred to as the “king of the carotenoids” due to its powerful source of antioxidants.2 It has a red-orange pigment responsible for giving salmon its beautiful color. GEM sustainability sources astaxanthin from the Himalayas, where the natural environment and climate is ideal for growing Haematococcus pluvialis, the microalga containing astaxanthin. Although algae is where it’s the most highly concentrated, it’s also found in fish like salmon, trout, and various shellfish. 

Benefits of Zeaxanthin 

One of the biggest differences between zeaxanthin vs. astaxanthin is zeaxanthin, along with lutein, are the only carotenoids that accumulate in the retina. As a result, it’s largely beneficial to eye health by protecting the eyes from inflammation and free radicals.3 

A zeaxanthin supplement also serves as a natural block against absorbing too much light energy, both from the sun’s UV rays and from blue light that emits off of electronic devices. A zeaxanthin supplement may help with a variety of eye-related conditions and diseases, including: 

    • Eye strain and aging
    • Uveitis
    • Macular degeneration
    • Cataracts
    • Diabetic retinopathy4

Eye Strain and Pain

Due to the heavy reliance of electronics in the modern world, eye fatigue and its associated pain is prevalent among all age groups. From daily smartphone use to playing video games on the computer, the usage of digital screens is much more common than we’d like to admit. As a result, progressive eye strain leads to side effects, such as headaches, dry eyes, eye fatigue, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder strain.

Fordham University researchers talk about the positive effects of zeaxanthin. It names two of the main means of protection it provides the eyes. First, it helps filter out blue light that emits from these electronic screens. And secondly, it protects eye tissues against singlet oxygen damage.3 Their research also presented evidence that this carotenoid helps lower the risk for irreversible blindness. 

Uveitis

Uveitis is the general term for eye inflammation that affects different parts of the eye.5 Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston explore the effects of several antioxidants as a way to reduce inflammation in the eye. Their data shows carotenoids, in particular, protect against free radicals and help regulate oxidative stress-induced inflammation. 

Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration often occurs in older adults and can eventually lead to loss of vision. Researchers from Peking University in Beijing, China found evidence that conclude an increased dietary intake of zeaxanthin and lutein may protect against late macular degeneration.5 

A separate study conducted by Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences also presents data that shows diets rich in these carotenoids may protect against intermediate macular degeneration in healthy women younger than 75.  

Cataracts

Cataracts are another common eye condition that typically occurs later in life. A study conducted by the University of Melbourne, Australia found an inverse association between a high dietary intake of lutein-zeaxanthin and the prevalence of cataracts. Additional research shows people who consume diets rich in vegetables with zeaxanthin may help prevent cataract formation and/or slow their growth. 

Diabetic Retinopathy

Retinopathy is a disease of the eye that results in vision loss and impairment. A study from the Kresge Eye Institute in Detroit, MI discusses excessive oxidative damage as a cause of diabetic retinopathy. With supplementation of zeaxanthin, results showed it significantly inhibited damage and elevated vascular endothelial cell growth factor to potentially inhibit the development of retinopathy in diabetic patients.6

Benefits of Natural Astaxanthin

While zeaxanthin has proven to be mainly beneficial for eye health, astaxanthin takes on a larger scope of health benefits. It, too, has been shown to protect the eyes, while also contributing to heart health, skin care, joint protection, cancer treatment, and immune responses.

Heart Health

Astaxanthin is known for its anti-inflammatory properties while also supporting heart health. Australian researchers share evidence that this dietary supplement helped to decrease blood clots and plaque buildup, in addition to reducing fatty acid and blood pressure. Additional research from the National institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo shows evidence that astaxanthin could contribute to the prevention of atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque that often leads to serious heart conditions such as angina and myocardial infarction. This research points out that astaxanthin can also be a great natural supplement that helps prevent cardiovascular disease.

Skin Care

Algae is well-known for its skincare benefits when used as a topical solution. However, the benefits of dietary astaxanthin aids skin health from the inside out. Astaxanthin, when taken as a chewable, has been known to reduce age spots, wrinkles, and fine lines by suppressing the aging effects from the sun and preventing water loss that results in dry and rough skin tone and texture. 

Joint Protection 

As with the increase in eye strain, joint soreness and inflammation is all too common now as well. The constant motion of texting, scrolling, and typing throughout the day can cause tension and stiffness in the hands and forearms. 

An astaxanthin dietary supplement has also been shown to reduce pain and joint degradation associated with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis. Due to its activity of suppressing oxidative stress and alleviating inflammation, research shows it could be effective in diminishing the effects of joint pain. 

Cancer Treatment

Foods rich in antioxidants are part of what make for healthy diets and can help in the prevention of certain cancers. A study conducted by researchers in Hong Kong showed astaxanthin to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells after an incubation period of 48 hours and may even result in cancerous cell death after six days.  

Regulates Immune Responses

Another healthy proponent of taking astaxanthin is its ability to help regulate immune responses. A collaborative research study between Inha University in Korea, La Haye Labs, Inc. in Redmond, and Washington State University has shown that taking astaxanthin daily (at two or eight mg) for eight weeks helped alleviate inflammation and oxidative damage in its subjects, while decreasing a DNA damage marker within the first four weeks.7


Though it’s safe to say both zeaxanthin and astaxanthin offer a number of different health benefits, those of astaxanthin are more plentiful. Generally speaking, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and algae help to increase the amount of carotenoids absorbed by the body to help sustain overall good health. 

Gaining Value from Natural-Based Nutrition 

As much as they are different, there’s also value in how zeaxanthin and astaxanthin are the same. In addition to being carotenoids that are produced by plants, both zeaxanthin and astaxanthin contain helpful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants support a balanced, nutritional diet that protect against free radicals and oxidative stress. 

Free radicals are found in the environment, through air pollution, certain toxins and chemicals, a carb-heavy diet, and other sources that can lead to cell damage. Oxidative stress is the activity that results from the buildup of these free radicals in the body. It’s been known to play a significant role in diseases, including diabetes, cancer, eye diseases, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

6 The urge for people to eat a diet plentiful in fruits and vegetables has been recommended by doctors and medical experts for centuries as a line of defense against these negative occurrences. 

However, not all people are able to get their recommended daily intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants through diet alone. And, the increased number of supplementation to meet these daily values have led many to experience pill fatigue. Fortunately, GEM provides a natural, allergen-free solution that allows people to benefit from the effects of nutritious, non-synthetic ingredients in the form of a chewable food.

What we consume has a direct effect on how we look, feel, and function. Taking advantage of the sustainable ingredients available helps us better maintain healthy nutrition and balance within the body. The foods we eat don’t always give us all we need for our bodies to thrive. If you are looking to improve cognitive function, prevent oxidative damage, and protect your eye health, our antioxidant supplementation can help. With GEM, you can get the nutrients you need with ingredients you understand in just a single bite.


Sources:

 

1) https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Zeaxanthin

2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705341/

3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4698938/

4) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16936087/

5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3084581/

6) https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth

7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2845588/

This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and contains trusted sources.

Our goal at GEM is to give readers up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics. GEM content is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and articles undergo an extensive review process.

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