When you hear the term "omega-3," you likely think of fish oil-for good reason, because fish oil is a concentrated source of these essential healthy fats. But oil derived from krill, tiny creatures eaten by whales, penguins, and seals, is gaining popularity as an alternative source of omega-3s.
Krill look somewhat like shrimp. They can be as long as your pinky or about the size of a paperclip, with an almost transparent, reddish appearance. Swarms of krill look like red clouds floating in the sea, and are large and dense enough to be visible from outer space.
Although there are different species of krill in all our oceans, the most common type, Euphausia superba, is found only in the Antarctic, where the ocean is uncontaminated by toxins. And it is this type of krill that's used to make most krill oil supplements.
How Krill Oil Is Different
Both krill and fish oils contain the two key omega-3 fats, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, the two types of oil deliver these fats in different ways.
In fish oil, the omega-3 fats are attached to triglycerides, fats that can be burned for energy or stored as a fuel reserve, in fat cells. (Since the quantity of triglycerides in fish oil supplements is relatively small, they don't contribute a significant amount of fat calories.)
In krill oil, the omega-3s are attached to phospholipids, waxy substances that make up the membrane of each cell in our bodies. The membrane acts like the walls of a house, maintaining the integrity of the cell, controlling what goes in and out, and enabling communication between cells.
Whales can eat up to 4 tons of krill per day.
Without healthy cell membranes, the human body cannot function optimally and is predisposed to all manner of disease. When cell membranes function well, nutrients are more readily absorbed, used to continually replace and repair tissue, and to generate energy.
While both types of oil have health benefits, some animal and human studies indicate that omega-3s may be more efficiently absorbed from krill than fish oil. For example, in a study of 76 men and women, published in Nutrition Research, 2 grams daily of krill oil increased blood levels of the omega-3 fats significantly more than the same amount of fish oil.
Studies show that EPA and DHA benefit the heart, brain, and joints. They reduce inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, anxiety, ADHD, dry eye, asthma, stress, and risk for breast cancer; improve or stabilize mood and reduce aggression; support healthy vision, hearing, and skin health; slow down aging; and help maintain a healthy weight.
According to a research review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, human studies of krill oil found these benefits:
- Healthier cholesterol levels
- Reduced arthritis symptoms
- Relief from PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps
- In children, improved attention span
- Among obese people, improvement in a body chemical that affects fat storage and appetite
- Amog athletes, less oxidative (free radical) damage from exercise
How to Use Krill Oil
To relieve symptoms, studies have generally used 1-3 grams of krill oil daily. For general health maintenance, take 500 mg daily.
Barlean'sWild & Whole Krill Oil is MSC certified and made with Superba Krill.
Bio Nutrition Bio Krill contains 500 mg of krill oil. One softgel is all you need to take daily.
SwisseWild Krill Oilfeatures Neptune Krill Oil, which is sourced from Antarctic krill.
Sustainable Krill Harvesting
Given the growing popularity of krill oil supplements, is it likely that krill stocks could be depleted, endangering whales and other sea life that depend on these tiny creatures for food? In short, no. Krill is harvested in the Antarctic Ocean, where fishing quotas are set by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, established by international convention in 1982. The part of that ocean where fishing is permitted, called Area 48, is 1.2 times as big as the entire United States and Alaska. Area 48 contains over 60 million tons of krill. Annually, fishing is not allowed to exceed 9.35 percent of the total, but the total catch per year is much less- only 0.35 percent. Some product labels specify the GPS coordinates of the location where krill was caught so that it is traceable to its source. In addition, krill oil certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has been responsibly harvested, using fishing techniques that prevent other sea life from being trapped in nets, and this may be noted on product labels. For example, Superba Krill, which is available in different krill oil products, is MSC certified.''
Better Nutrition contributing editor, Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997. She specializes in covering research and expert knowledge that empowers people to lead better lives.