Krill oil is fast becoming the ‘darling‘ of the nutrition world.
But, is all the talk simply hyperbole, or is there something more behind these claims than clever marketing tricks?
Firstly, what is krill oil, and how does it work?
Krill oil comes from shrimp-like crustaceans, found mostly in the Antarctic and North Pacific Oceans.
Essential Fatty Acids
We all know that essential fatty acids are really important, since they cannot be manufactured by the body.
In fact, we recently looked at omega 6 fatty acids, and discussed how the balance is completely off in most diets. This means getting more omega 3 fats into your diet is extremely important to correct that balance.
Just like fish oil, krill oil, contains both eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). The difference between fish and krill oil, though, is how they are joined together.
In fish oil, omega 3 fatty acids are found in the triglyceride form. In krill oil, they are joined in a phospholipid structure.
Because of the phospholipid structure, the omega 3s in krill oil may be more readily absorbed in the body than those in fish oil. And, that means no more fish burps!
Another difference is that astaxanthin (an antioxidant) is attached to the EPA leg of the phospholipid.
Antioxidants are always a good thing in the diet, but one particular benefit of this, is that the shelf life is much longer as a result.
This is significant, because fish oil is perishable, and can be susceptible to going rancid quite quickly. Antioxidants, however, help to make sure krill oil doesn’t oxidize easily.
Interestingly, it is the algae that krill eat, which produces the bright red pigment astaxanthin, and it is this that gives krill its reddish-pink color.
Benefits Of Fish Oil
One of the problems I have with krill oil is the lack of studies in this area.
That said, there are a few we can look at to examine if they are any more beneficial than fish oil.
Krill oil is touted as being anti-flammatory. One study found that;
(C-reactive protein (CRP) is found in the blood. Levels rise in response to inflammation)
Another study noted similar anti-inflammatory effects, as well as a reduction in arthritis symptoms;
The results of the present study clearly indicate that NKO (krill oil) at a daily dose of 300 mg significantly inhibits inflammation and reduces arthritic symptoms within a short treatment period of 7 and 14 days.
2. Blood Lipids
A further study showed that krill oil was effective at lowering triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol, as well as increasing HDL cholesterol;
The results of the present study demonstrate within high levels of confidence that krill oil is effective for the management of hyperlipidemia by significantly reducing total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, and increasing HDL levels. At lower and equal doses, krill oil was significantly more effective than fish oil for the reduction of glucose, triglycerides, and LDL levels.
3. Premenstrual Syndrome
One study found that krill oil could reduce painful menstrual cramps, as well as helping relieve the emotional symptoms of PMS;
Neptune Krill Oil can significantly reduce dysmenorrhea and the emotional symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and is shown to be significantly more effective for the complete management of premenstrual symptoms compared to omega 3 fish oil.
Krill Oil vs Fish Oil
Interestingly, one study found there was no significant difference between krill oil and fish oil, that is, one is not better than the other;
No statistically significant differences in changes in any of the serum lipids or the markers of oxidative stress and inflammation between the study groups were observed. Krill oil and fishoil thus represent comparable dietary sources of n-3 PUFAs, even if the EPA + DHA dose in the krill oil was 62.8% of that in the fish oil.
Is Krill Oil Safe?
In a perfect world, we would all get our omega 3s from fresh fish.
However, in reality most people simply doesn’t get enough into their diets, so a supplement can be very helpful.
But, which one should you choose?
There does appear to be a lack of safety studies on krill oil, and I have to say I am a little dubious about taking it for this reason.
I have had two bottles sitting in my cupboard since February, but have not taken them because I am still breastfeeding, and just don’t want to take the risk.
Having said that, one study found no adverse effects;
4 weeks of krill oil supplementation increased plasma EPA and DHA and was well tolerated, with no indication of adverse effects on safety parameters.
The fact that krill are at the bottom of the food chain means there is less of a concern about unsafe accumulations of mercury, PCBs, heavy metals, or other toxins that some fish oil products contain.
If you have an allergy to seafood, I wouldn’t recommend you take krill oil.
Possible Drug Interactions
Also, if you are taking certain blood thinners, such as aspirin, warfarin, heparin, clopidogrel, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds (ibuprofen) do not use krill oil, unless you have first cleared it with your doctor.
So, is krill oil a good option?
Well, there are certainly some grand claims floating about the internet about how wonderful krill oil is.
However, with the information we have at present, I don’t believe it is superior. And, it is certainly way overpriced in comparison to fish oil.
Now, that’s not to say it isn’t a good source of essential fats… it is. But, why pay more?
How To Get Enough Essential Fats
There are a number of ways you can boost your intake of essential fats:
1. Oily Fish
Most people can get enough DHA and EPA by eating oily fish twice weekly.
So, try to get at least 1 portion of oily fish into your diet each week. Good choices include sardines, mackerel, salmon, and fresh tuna.
You can also get essential fatty acids from grass fed beef, which may be an option for you.
2. Fish Oil Supplements
You may also want to think about taking a supplement.
Go for a fish oil which states both EPA and DHA on the label.
The National Institutes of Health recommend different dosages for different health conditions. For example:
- For high triglycerides: 1-4 grams/day of fish oil.
- For high blood pressure: Either 4 grams of fish oil, or fish oil providing 2.04 grams of EPA and 1.4 grams of DHA per day.
- For reducing the overall risk of death and risk of sudden death in patients with coronary heart disease: Fish oil providing 0.3-6 grams of EPA with 0.6 to 3.7 grams of DHA.
- For rheumatoid arthritis: Fish oil providing 3.8 grams/day of EPA and 2 grams/day DHA.
- For painful menstrual periods: A daily dose of EPA 1080 mg and DHA 720 mg.
- For depression along with conventional antidepressants: Fish oil 9.6 grams/day.
If you are vegetarian, DHA algae may be a suitable option.
If you do decide to take a supplement, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor first, particularly if you are taking other medications. As I’ve already said, krill oil and fish oil can interact with some drugs.
3. Avoiding Fish Oil Odor
If you’ve taken fish oil in the past, you’ll know the characteristic ”fish burps” which are very unpleasant.
The odour of fish oil can be minimized by storing it in the fridge, and taking it quickly once out of the fridge.
In a 2006 review paper, Leslie Cleland set out this technique for taking bottled fish oil:
- Pour 30–50 ml juice (e.g. orange, tomato, apple, etc.) into two small ‘shot’ glasses.
- Layer the desired dose of fish oil onto the juice in one glass – do not stir.
- Swallow the juice and fish oil with a single gulp, avoiding contact with the lips (where the fish oil can be tasted).
- Immediately sip the juice in the other glass slowly through the lips. This will remove any oil from the lips.
- Take the fish oil immediately before a solid meal and without further fluid. This avoids floating of the oil on fluid in the stomach and favours mixing of the fish oil with food and passage from the stomach into the intestine.
If reflux (repeating taste) becomes a problem, then split the dose before morning and evening meals. Alternatively, take the dose then lie on the left side for at least 15 min. In this position the oil floats into the passage from the stomach to the small intestine.
Remember, if you are taking krill oil, you will not need to worry about going through this procedure.
Do you take fish oil or krill oil? Or, have you thought about taking either one?