In recent years krill oil supplements have come to rival fish oils in terms of popularity and sales. It is not surprising as good quality pure krill oil supplements have arguably many more natural nutritional attributes when compared to fish oils.
And with the February National Heart Month from the British Heart Foundation upon us krill is an appropriate topic as the EPA and DHA content of krill means that they support the normal function of the heart (subject to a daily intake of 250mg of EPA and DHA).
Indeed there is so much of interest to say in respect of krill oil that the following provides an overview and at the end there is further information in our krill health practitioner leaflet.
The Benefits of Krill Oil
The various health benefits of krill oil are derived from their unique and naturally rich content of the Omega 3 fatty acids ‘EPA and DHA’ (more on this later), plus astaxanthin a powerful antioxidant and choline an essential neurotransmitter.
Indeed the Omega 3 and Choline content of krill means that it has the following valid health claims (subject to a daily intake of 250mg of EPA and DHA):
- Contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function
- The maintenance of normal vision
- The maintenance of normal cardiac function
- The maintenance of normal blood pressure
- The maintenance of normal (fasting) blood concentrations of triglycerides
- Choline contributes to the maintenance of normal liver function
There is wealth of additional further indicating that krill oil nutrients may help manage cholesterol and provide anti-inflammatory properties. In addition the Omega 3 fatty acids in krill, unlike fish oils, are more efficiently absorbed by our body as they are carried to our body cells in a ‘phospholipid’ form (see below).
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids EPA & DHA
The primary food source of Omega 3 is fish and especially oily fish such as mackerel and sardines. Unfortunately the substantial fall in our consumption of fish over recent decades has led to a dramatic lowering of good omega 3 fatty acid levels in our body. This has conversely seen a substantial rise in sales of Omega 3 supplements comprising fish oils and krill oils.
The health benefits of oily fish can be mainly attributed to its fatty acid content. There are 2 types of fatty acid: Omega 3 and Omega 6. When we ingest Omega 3 our body breaks the fatty acids down to 2 other fatty acids – ‘EPA’ (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and ‘DHA’ (Docosahexaenoic acid).
These are the components our body uses for many essential activities such as the maintenance of cardiac function, eye health, cell membrane integrity, skin health, joint mobility, and normal liver function. That is why they are now added to baby foods and formulas, and why the Government recommends we eat fish at least twice a week, one of which should be oily fish (recommendations vary for pregnant women).
What are Antarctic Krill?
Krill oil is sourced from Antarctic krill (Euphausiasuperba), a small, shrimp-like crustacean that exists in large swarms. It attains an individual maximum size of 2 inches and feeds mainly on phytoplankton or sea ice algae. Krill is the staple food of many mammals, fish and sea birds in the Southern Oceans.
Krill & Phospholipids
Unlike fish oils the Omega 3 fatty acids in krill are more efficiently absorbed by our body as they are carried to our body cells in a ‘phospholipid’ form. Phospholipids are an important class of ‘lipids’ in our body that support construction of cell membranes.
Krill Omega 3 fatty acids are bound to phospholipids where it is considered that they are more efficiently absorbed via the small intestines with the phospholipid complex readily absorbed into the cell membranes. Other sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are bound to triglycerides, which are insoluble and require bile salts for their emulsification and absorption via the lymphatic system.
It is important to note that reputable suppliers of krill oil supplements will harvest within the strict guidelines of CCAMLR (the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) which was established to conserve marine life in the Southern Ocean. (For further details please read our pdf below).
Krill oil is a natural source of the red carotenoid astaxanthin, which is derived from the micro-algae food source of the Antarctic krill. Astaxanthin is responsible for the red colour of krill and other crustaceans such as lobster, shrimp and salmon.
Some krill oil supplements seem to market themselves specifically as ‘red krill’ as if their product contains unusual and unique attributes as compared to other krill oils. All Krill oils are red; this means they have a good level of astaxanthin.
What is important to check when comparing krill oil supplements is that they contain the naturally metabolised form of astaxanthin extracted from the krill. Be aware that some Krill supplements on the market contain synthetic astaxanthin made from petrochemicals (which is being marketed as ‘Nature Identical’). You are advised to also compare the levels of nutrients, including astaxanthin, per mg, as these will vary between suppliers.
Astaxanthin and Choline
Krill phospholipids contain choline, an essential nutrient, and neurotransmitter precursor important to brain and muscle tissue. Choline is not found in fish triglycerides. Phosphatidyl choline participates in fatty acid transport in the blood and across membranes.
Choline intake is important, starting in early life during foetal development. Dietary intake of Choline may be low in many people. Major food sources are liver, eggs and wheatgerm.
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid molecule found in krill oil with powerful antioxidant activity. It is profoundly protective to the endothelium of all blood vessels and also to the tissue of the retina. Researchers have identified a number of other health benefits from the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of astaxanthin.
Krill & Fish Oil Supplements
When it comes to krill or fish oil supplements you should look for a product that provides high levels of the all important Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, and that is pure, and pollution free.
It is important to check the levels of EPA and DHA in a supplement between different suppliers. The krill or fish oils will come in a liquid or capsule form yet only a proportion of each mg will contain EPA and DHA – and this will differ between products. So don’t focus, for example, on the amount of liquid in a krill capsule but the amount of beneficial EPA and DHA.
Fish oil supplements are either made from fish livers, body fish, or a combination of both. The fish liver oils are much richer in vitamin A (and vitamin D) however pollution in fish is concentrated in the liver so you need to ensure the product is pollutant free. Some population groups should avoid excessive vitamin A intake especially pregnant women.
Eating plenty of fish or taking Omega 3 supplements will not cause one to put on weight. For example 2 grams of Omega 3 would only contain 18 calories and almost all Omega 3 ingested is used for essential body processes.
Vegetarian and Vegan Omega 3
For vegetarians and vegans who do not eat fish a good supplement option for rich Omega 3 is flaxseed oil. For flaxseed oil supplements you will again look for a pure oil rich in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), organic so it is free from herbicides, and cold-pressed, which means that it is unprocessed and that the fatty acid content will remain unharmed in the extraction.
With their rich natural content of Omega 3 ‘EPA and DHA’ plus a unique combination of natural astaxanthin, choline and phospholipid action it is little surprise that krill oil supplements are increasing in awareness and popularity.
Krill Oil (and fish oil) is not suitable for those who are allergic to shellfish, fish or fish-related products.
Those on warfarin, heparin or other anticoagulant medication should consult their doctor before taking krill oil.
If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.
You can also download the PDF document with the following link (sorry – it may not work for every browser): Cytoplan Krill Leaflet.pdf