British Journal of Nutrition

Metabolism and Metabolic Studies

Spirulina is an effective dietary source of zeaxanthin to humans

Bolan Yua1a2, Jie Wanga3, Paolo M. Sutera4, Robert M. Russella2, Michael A. Grusaka5, Yin Wanga6, Zhixu Wanga7, Shian Yina3 and Guangwen Tanga2 c1

a1 Third Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, Guangzhou, People's Republic of China

a2 Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, 711 Washington Street, Boston, MA, USA

a3 National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety, Beijing, People's Republic of China

a4 University Hospital, Zurich and Nestlé Foundation, Lausanne, Switzerland

a5 US Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service, Children's Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA

a6 Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences, Hangzhou, People's Republic of China

a7 Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, People's Republic of China


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.

(Received May 04 2011)

(Revised August 14 2011)

(Accepted October 03 2011)

(Online publication February 07 2012)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr G. Tang, fax +1 617 556 3344, email


Abbreviations: AUC, area under the curve; MeOH, methanol; MTBE, methyl tert-butyl diethyl ether; LC-APCI-MS, LC-atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation-MS