Krill are tiny crustaceans that are almost impossible to see with the human eye, unless they are packed into an undulating ball traveling through the ocean. However, despite their minuscule size, these algae-eating shrimp-like creatures are the next big thing in nutritional supplements.
Article at a Glance
- Like fish oil, krill oil is a natural source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty
- Krill oil shows benefits to heart health, brain function, and joint comfort
- The unique phospholipids in krill oil are water soluble, making krill oil more bioavailable than fish oil
- Krill oil is rich in choline, an essential nutrient for both liver and brain health
- Natural astaxanthin in krill provide a powerful antioxidant
- Given krill’s importance in the natural food chain, it is vital that krill oil is harvested from sustainable and traceable sources
Similar in some ways to ultra-popular fish oil, krill oil is beginning to find its way into the health regimen of an ever-increasing number of people. But what exactly is krill oil? Where does it come from? How is it simultaneously similar to and different from fish oil? How does the naturally occurring astaxanthin and choline in krill aid in overall health? And what benefits can you expect when you add krill oil to your nutritional routine?
Let’s take a dive deep for answers to those and other questions about krill.
Krill Oil: Nutrition Rises From The Ocean
Found in all of the world’s oceans, krill (translated from Norwegian as “small fry of fish”) is one of the planet’s largest biomasses—helping to sustain a diverse array of species in the natural world. Krill exist near the bottom of the food chain, feeding on phytoplankton and zooplankton. The krill convert these food sources into energy and in turn become the main diet for an incredible amount of sea life, including baleen whales, seals, penguins, squid, and fish.
One species in particular, the Southern Ocean’s Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) is especially abundant, with an estimated biomass of 500 million metric tons—making it a super source of energy for other living organisms. And it is this species in particular that finds its way into krill oil nutritional supplements.
What Are The Benefits Of Krill Oil?
Chronic inflammation is the scourge of the human body. Rather than your body’s normal response to invaders, chronic inflammation can contribute to a wide range of conditions like heart disease, obesity, diabetes and more. Much like fish oil, krill oil is a natural source of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic fatty acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic fatty acid), both of which have been shown to display anti-inflammatory properties. In one double-blind study from 2012, researchers found that short-term omega-3 fatty acid supplementation alleviated levels in the blood of markers of inflammation such as interleukin (IL-2) in diabetic patients.
Krill Oil & Heart Health
In the realm of heart health, studies show that omega-3 fatty acid could display a plethora of benefits, including potentially reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering the likelihood of an abnormal heart rhythm, and also providing protection against blood clots and blood vessel inflammation. Krill oil also delivers a positive impact on blood lipid levels by reining in cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
And in one animal study, krill oil displayed the ability to reduce structural and molecular changes in the hearts of rats after a heart attack. In the study, rats supplemented with krill oil showed a reduction in blood markers of inflammation compared to those given fish oil.
Krill Oil & Brain Health
Meanwhile, brain health is also impacted by the omega-3s found in krill oil, with many critical neuroprotective benefits. Both DHA and EPA seem to display their own benefits, with DHA being vital for early brain development and maintenance, while EPA seems to be more closely related to behavior and mood. And as we grow older and our brains naturally slow, omega-3 might become an even more important aspect of our lives. One study in particular suggested that dietary intake of EPA and DHA may in fact be linked to improved cognitive health late in life, while more evidence points to increased cognitive performance across multiple age ranges.
And in the dark world of depression, omega-3s seem to have a particularly positive impact. Some patients with depression experience a shrinking of their hippocampus, the region of the brain that forms new memories. Therefore, strategies for relieving depression are focusing more and more on repairing brain cells in the hippocampus. And now evidence shows that increasing omega-3 intake, specifically DHA, may be an effective approach to treating depression.
Krill Oil & Bone/Joint Health
For generations, the efforts to keep our bones and joints healthy mainly centered around calcium and lots and lots of milk. But while there is a time and place for calcium, evidence now shows that disorders of the bones and joints and largely connected to inflammation. Once again, the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids—and by extension krill oil—make it a major element in the fight for joint comfort.
Meanwhile, one study shows that krill oil could inhibit the progression of arthritis in individuals with knee pain. In fact, krill oil demonstrates an effectiveness in protecting against rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study that was conducted on laboratory mice, concluding that krill oil significantly reduced inflammatory arthritis progression compared to mice that received fish oil and a control group.
Much like fish oil, krill oil is a natural source of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic fatty acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic fatty acid), both of which have been shown to display anti-inflammatoryproperties.
Fish Oil vs. Krill Oil: The Phospholipid Advantage Of Krill Oil
Fish oil has gotten a lot of well-deserved love over the years for its nutritional benefits. Krill oil brings the same healthy gains as fish oil, but with some added advantages that ultimately sees it cover more nutritional territory than its fishy counterpart.
For starters, krill oil’s EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are bound to phospholipids. This gives krill oil a noted fin up on fish oil fatty acids, which are bound to triglycerides. The difference is all about how your body processes the two fats. Even with the churning mechanism of your stomach, triglycerides don’t disperse well and instead float on top of the stomach’s fluids, causing fishy burps. Conversely, phospholipids are water soluble and are easily blended with stomach fluids—so, krill oil is easier to digest and there is no fishy aftertaste.
Moreover, even though fish oil has gram-for-gram more EPA and DHA than krill oil, these phospholipids help carry those fatty acids into the blood more efficiently. This means that you need to ingest less krill oil in order to reap the benefits of EPA and DHA.
Choline & Astaxanthin In Krill Oil
Now, let’s talk about naturally occurring nutrients in krill oil that make it an even more intriguing option over fish oil.
First up is choline, an essential nutrient that important to metabolism and cellular function. Your liver, brain, pancreas, kidneys, and muscles all rely on choline in order to perform at a healthy level. And the importance of choline becomes more crucial into adulthood and old age.
And while choline is found in typical foods like salmon, eggs, beef, and milk, relying on diet alone to get the recommended dosage—550 mg for adults and children over 4—is difficult. A deficiency in choline seems to impact a number of ailments, including liver dysfunction and neurological disorders. In a study of adult subjects deprived of choline, 77 percent of men and 80 percent of postmenopausal women developed liver and muscle damage.
Meanwhile, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition delivered a report that demonstrates that choline deficiency is associated with decreased cognitive function, including memory loss. Research shows that since it is a precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, adequate choline intake throughout life is an important determinant of brain development, cognitive performance in adults, and resistance to a cognitive decline associated with aging and neurodegenerative disease.
In a study of adult subjects deprived of choline, 77 percent of men and 80 percent of postmenopausal women developed liver and muscle damage.
Then there’s the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, which gives krill oil its vibrant red color. Astaxanthin is found in Antarctic krill and naturally preserves the EPA and DHA so your body gets the full impact of those fatty acids. But more than merely a natural pigment, astaxanthin’s antioxidant properties scour the body for free radicals, protecting you from oxidative stress and inflammation, while improving lipid profiles and enhancing blood flow—making it a powerful component of heart, brain and central nervous system health.
Sustainability & Traceability In Krill Harvesting
Since krill is such an important part of the ocean’s ecosystem, harvesting the crustaceans is a delicate process fraught with potentially devastating environmental consequences. It’s the knowledge of these consequences and the desire to be good stewards of our planet that inspires one of the world’s leading krill suppliers to focus on sustainability and the most responsible practices possible in the search for krill.
Aker BioMarine is a biotechnology company that dedicates itself to the sustainable harvest of krill through a fully traceable chain, from ocean to tablet. The company works closely with organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), in an effort to expand on its environmental consciousness and engage in ever-increasing sustainable practices as it trawls the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.
“Before deploying our very first fishing trawl in the Southern Ocean, we began working with WWF-Norway to ensure that our operations would have low impact on the Antarctic ecosystem,” says Runa Haug Khoury, Director of Sustainability at Aker BioMarine. “Our partnership with WWF has evolved, and we are now on a mission to improve both human and planetary health. Ambitious goals are essential to overcoming the global challenges that will impact—and drive—the future of our business: loss of biodiversity, resource scarcity, lifestyle disease threats, and climate change.”
For Aker BioMarine, fundamental to the sustainability of krill as a viable ingredient is the strict management of the Antarctic krill fishery, which allows only 1 percent of the biomass to be harvested annually. This ensures that 99 percent of the biomass stays in the diets of other ocean species. In fact, the total krill biomass in Area 48—the site of Aker BioMarine’s krill fishery—is 60.3 million metric tons (MT). The quota for Area 48 is 620,000 MT, which is less than 1 percent of the total biomass. The total annual catch is around 300,000 MT, which is less than 0.5 percent of the biomass.
“The area where the krill fishery operates—Area 48—is internationally governed,” Haug Khoury says. “This means the quota cannot be altered unless there is a consensus among 25 countries and the European Union and their leading scientists.”
Further ensuring that krill is harvested in a sustainable way, Aker BioMarine developed and implemented Eco-Harvesting?, a technology platform that successfully prevents bycatch of birds, marine mammals, and fish. By having the nets in the waters for long fishing periods, harvesters avoid the risk of bycatch (the accidental harvesting of other fish and marine creatures) that is associated with hauling the net up onboard the vessels and deploying back down into the waters.
This reduces bycatch to near zero, according to Haug Khoury.
“Sustainability has been a foundation of the company’s business model since inception,” she adds. “The vision of the company is to help improve human and planetary health, without compromising the health of the planet.”
And a major motivator to maintaining sustainability is Aker BioMarine’s belief in krill oil as a potentially vital contributor to human health.
“We see that our marketing is based on science and that the projects and partnerships we engage in increase public awareness and knowledge on omega-3s and their health benefits,” notes Haug Khoury. “Additionally, we also seek to create campaigns that can be used to engage end-consumers and reach new segments. This is our way of paying it forward, by sharing our sustainability advantage with our customers and partners.”