People have asked if we have any recommendations about krill oil. It is getting a lot of press lately and it is offered on several health websites. Here’s the scoop.
Krill oil is made from krill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans which flourish in all oceans of the world, especially the Antarctic. Krill oil is a nutritional supplement promoted as a highly bio-available source of omega-3 fatty acids plus antioxidants. Supplement retailers and natural health websites claim that krill oil is better than fish oil as a source of the healthy polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. It is presented as being a lot more effective than fish oil in terms of reducing LDL and raising HDL cholesterol as well as other benefits.
However, remember that casual web surfing is usually heavy on sales and light on science. So, you have to be careful what you read on a website – especially when they are selling a product. A definitive verdict is not in yet, but based on the science, it looks like Krill oil will probably do everything fish oil will do and may have some potential advantages over fish oils. Although krill oil has some pros, there is also a con or two in there, and not much research to speak of. Fish oil has thousands of published studies supporting the proposed benefits.
Krill oil is also expensive, so your budget might make the decision for you. It would be wise to keep cost effectiveness in mind and not to make your decision until you review the scientific evidence first.
A quick krill vs fish comparison:
Should provide all the potential health benefits that fish oil does.
The phospholipid form probably means higher bio-availability.
It contains the carotenoid astaxanthin antioxidant.
Naturally free of or low in contaminants such as mercury.
It might have longer shelf life and more resistant to oxidation.
No fish burps
It is more expensive than fish oil.
Very few peer-reviewed, published clinical trials to back the claims.
There may be some shell-fish, shrimp reactions.
Fish oil actually has much more omega-3’s.
The Longer Version
Krill plays an important role in the marine ecosystem and food chain. Krill feed on antioxidant-rich phytoplankton/microalgae, and in turn whales and other marine animals feed on the krill. It is the largest single group of marine life, being 500-700 million tons worth. Being abundant, it is also heavily harvested and fed upon. However, being especially abundant in the Antarctic and because of its diet, it is very free of heavy metal contaminants, such as mercury.
Of course, you can always get your omega-3s from eating fish. To avoid mercury and other contaminants, go for sardines, herring, Alaskan black cod, and Alaskan sockeye salmon. Sockeye are all wild and, being less carnivorous, are less likely to contain environmental contaminants than other types of salmon.
Antioxidants – the first claim to fame
We often get asked whether krill oil is a better option as a supplement than fish oil or vice versa. Fish oil actually has a higher percentage of EPA and DHA fatty acids. However, krill oil has the advantage of having astaxanthin, an important anti-oxidant. The astaxanthin found in krill oil provides excellent protection against ultravoilet light and UV-induced skin damage. This was one reason krill oil became popular to begin with.
Krill oil contains vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin D and canthaxanthin, which is, like astaxanthin, a potent anti-oxidant. The anti-oxidant potency of krill oil is such that when compared to fish oil in terms of ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorptance Capacity) values it was found to be 48 times more potent than fish oil.
Of course, good fish oil will have vitamin E added to it which also preserves it and add anti-oxidant capacity. A normal decent diet with some fish also provides an adequate intake of phospholipids. Some say fish oil can oxidize and become rancid in the body because it doesn’t contain antioxidants, and therefore krill oil is better for that reason. However, if fish oil pills are taken with a healthy meal, there are usually enough antioxidants in the food to prevent any oxidation of the omega-3 oils. The claimed absorption still remains a plus for krill oil.
(Some technical information):
Krill oil, like fish oil, contains both of the omega-3 fats (EPA) and (DHA) – but hooked together in a different form!
In fish oil these omega-3 fatty acids are found in the triglyceride form.
In krill oil they are hooked up in a double chain phospholipid structure. (The fats in our own cell walls are in the phospholipid form.)
Attached to the EPA leg is a molecule of astaxanthin, an extremely potent anti-oxidant. The phospholipid structure of the EPA and DHA in krill oil makes them much more absorbable. It allows for a much easier entrance into the mitochondria and the cellular nucleus. In addition to EPA and DHA krill oil contains a complex phospholipid profile including phosphatidylcholine, a potent source of reductive-stress-reducing choline, which also acts as a natural emulsifier.
Cholesterol & Arthritis Help – a second & third claim to fame
A few studies have shown that krill oil of 1-3 g. per day is effective in the reduction of glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, and HDL, compared to both fish oil and placebo. A study involving 120 people at McGill University in Canada were given krill oil, fish oil or a placebo. They found that one to three grams of krill oil per day reduced LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 34 percent and boosted HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 43.5 percent compared to placebo. In contrast, the effect of fish oil seen in this study was a 4.6 percent reduction of LDL and an HDL increase of 4.2 percent compared to placebo. A very impressive difference – though confirmation is needed!
At lower and equal doses, krill oil was significantly more effective than fish oil for the reduction of glucose and LDL levels. Krill also lowered triglycerides.
PMS and Arthritis – a third claim to fame
Krill oil has been shown to be effective in treating the pain and inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis and aches and pains in general. One large study showed that krill oil has tremendous benefits in terms of symptom reduction in PMS and dysmenorrhea. Canadian research suggests that krill oil works better than fish oil to reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
A study published in the February 2007 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that a daily dose of 300 mg of krill oil inhibited inflammation and reduced the symptoms of arthritis within seven to 14 days among the 90 patients participating. If you want to try it, I recommend the same starting dose as for fish oil: one to three grams per day. (In all these studies krill oil was tested against fish oil and not simply a placebo.)
Taste – a fourth claim to fame
Due to the rapid absorption of krill oil and the high anti-oxidant content there is virtually never the fishy burping and aftertaste sometimes experienced with fish oil. And there are no other side effects to speak of.
Shellfish – one downside
Krill oil is made from a shellfish. Because of this, there is a possibility that miniscule amounts of shellfish residues could be present in some products. Although there have not been any strong warnings that I have seen, I don’t know for certain whether those with shellfish allergy should take krill oil supplements. More research (not promotions) is needed on this topic. The jury is out right now on if and to what degree there is a problem for those people allergic to shrimp. Until the jury is in, I would be careful in taking krill oil if I had a shrimp allergy.
Price – a second downside
Krill oil is a little more pricey than fish oil. Be careful trusting web sites that claim one form of krill oil from one company is better than another form. There are many web sites that claim their krill oil is the best, and as you probably know by now, this is a common occurrence in the vitamin industry.
Virtually all krill oil is produced by Neptune Technologies and shipped to the various supplement manufacturers. So any krill oil you get will have come from the same place and be the same dosage. The only unknown is how long it has been sitting around in a warehouse somewhere, which is the same unknown with fish oil. At least with krill oil, thanks to the high anti-oxidant content, the shelf life is much longer.
We also need to see more research to determine if krill oil supplements offer any advantages over fish oil supplements. Until head to head comparisons are done with krill oil supplements versus fish oil supplements, it would be premature to claim that krill oil is better than fish oil, or vice versa. However, until more research is done, our choice is to take both! We take 1 g. of wild fish oil and 1 g. of krill oil daily, sometimes more.
Where to get Antarctic krill oil?
We repeat, virtually all krill oil is produced by Neptune Technologies and shipped to the various supplement manufacturers.
Our Jan. 2010 preference for the best buy krill oil available (and we don’t get a kickback from it) is:
Krill Oil: Vitacost’s NSI KriaXanthin™ Antarctic Krill Oil, # NSI 3005444.
Fish Oil: Vitacost’s Fish Oil, Item #: NSI 3003204
NSI KriaXanthin NSI Fish Oil
Softgels 300 300
Servings 150 150
Oil 1000 mg 2000 mg
EPA 50 mg 360 mg
DHA 20 mg 240 mg
Astaxanthin 1.5 mg –
Vitamin E 1 IU 20 IU
Vitamin A 300 IU –
Price $39.99 $8.49