Astaxanthin has been available as a dietary supplement since the late 1990s, although it was very first isolated from lobster in a laboratory way back in 1938. The natural form is extracted from the algae Haematococcus pluvialis and can also be found in krill oil, as krill dine on the algae that grows on Antarctic sea ice. Astaxanthin also can be produced using the yeast Phaffia rhodozyma, though in a mutated form. A synthetic astaxanthin is available for aquaculture only (a comparison of astaxanthin sources is here).
Two methods of growing natural astaxanthin
Haematococcus pluvialis, from which natural astaxanthin is derived,is not easy to grow. It required a pH neutral environment and requires specialized knowledge and techniques to keep it free of contamination by unwanted algae, fungi and protozoa. Because of this several companies that have attempted growing operations have gone out of business.
Basically, there are two ways to grow astaxanthin – in a closed or open system. Cyanotech of Kona, Hawaii uses both. It begins with Haematococcus growing in closed culture systems, some as large as 40,000 liters. After five to seven days, the algae is transported to giant open culture ponds (500,000 liter) for a reddening cycle – Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae gradually turn from green to red as they accumulate astaxanthin. When the algae is sufficiently infused with astaxanthin, the company harvests, washes and dries the algae, then extracts the dried biomass.
Other suppliers of astaxanthin grow Haematococcus entirely in closed systems, using biodomes, giant tanks or tubes. Exponents of this process argue that this method results in higher concentrations of astaxanthin in the biomass, and that there is no exposure to heavy metal contamination or microbiological contamination. However, Cyanotech contends that closed-culture systems are risky due to their high surface area and the many nooks and crannies in such systems that make them susceptible to contamination.
Major natural astaxanthin suppliers include:
• Cyanotech – produces BioAstin brand
• Fuji Health Services (parent company Fuji Chemical) – produces AstaREAL brand
• Parry Nutraceutical – produces Parry’s Natural Astaxanthin brand (also part owner of Valensa, makers of Zanthin brand)