Krill oil is an oil made from a species of Antarctic krill called Euphausia superba. The oil extracted from these tiny crustaceans has a deep red color because of its astaxanthin content, a type of carotenoid also found in Pacific krill and Arctic shrimp. Krill oil is a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids, hence its use for the prevention and treatment of heart disease as well as other associated health problems. Moreover, it is a source of antioxidants such as the carotenoid astaxanthin and vitamins A and E.
The reason why krill oil has become so popular is because it provides us with two special types of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids we cannot obtain from plant sources, namely DHA and EPA. While plant Omega-3 is also important for keeping healthy, marine Omega-3 is believed to be the healthiest because it is pivotal for nervous system health and proper brain development, directly influencing thinking, learning, memorizing as well as other cognitive processes.
The purported health benefits of krill oil are mostly a result of its Omega-3 fatty acids content. Omega-3 fatty acids are basically healthy polyunsaturated fats that contribute to the good functioning of our brain, improving memory and learning, ease digestion, lower cholesterol, offer antioxidant protection and contribute to cardiovascular health in general. Krill oil and a variety of fish oils such as cod liver oil are all great sources of the fatty acid.
Marine oils such as krill oil are generally great sources of Omega-3 and provide two distinct types of the fatty acid: EPA and DHA. Some plant sources, on the other hand, contain a type of Omega-3 called ALA (walnuts, flaxseeds and their oils, olive oil and so on). Recent research has shown that while we do need the Omega-3 in plants for keeping healthy, the forms we get from marine sources are actually much more important for our health, especially DHA (see more articles on fish and seafood here).
Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA has been found to be an essential nutrient for the brain, meaning it is crucial for brain health. After all, our brain is made up of fats. And while our body can synthesize it from ALA, tests reveal the resulted amounts to be too little to generate any health benefit. As a result, consuming fish and their derivate essential oils, krill oil or other marine oils is imperative for a good health.
Krill oil capsules owe their health benefits to several key-compounds such as:
1) Polyunsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids.
2) Antioxidants in the form of carotenoids.
3) Vitamin A.
4) Vitamin E.
As for health benefits, here are the top 5 uses for krill oil:
1) High blood cholesterol. According to research, the healthy Omega-3 fatty acids in krill oil help lower high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, as well as triglyceride (a type of blood fat) levels. At the same time, being healthy fats themselves, the Omega-3 fatty acids in the oil contribute to higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the blood. Their action is believed to be more powerful because they are carried into the body in the form of phospholipids, a mechanism which is believed to be superior, hence the preferrence for krill oil over fish oil.
Keeping cholesterol levels under control is pivotal for preventing plaque buildups on artery walls that will eventually lead to atherosclerosis and subsequent cardiovascular problems. Moreover, Omega-3 fatty acids have an antioxidant effect and thus further contribute to maintaining healthy blood vessels.
2) Brain health. It is more or less common knowledge that our brain is made from and functions on fats. As a result, it requires good fats such as Omega-3 from krill oil, fish and derivate oils to keep functioning at maximum capacity. Fish and krill oil are thus used to support concentration, improve memory and learning abilities and preserve brain health, preventing cognitive decline associated with old age. Some specialists even recommend krill oil for mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
3) Fetal brain development. Krill oil is a good option for pregnant woment for two reason. First, it poses little to no risks of heavy metal contamination. hence its safety for use during pregnancy. Secondly, its high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids are highly beneficial for good fetal brain development. Nevertheless, exepcting mothers should consult with their doctors about any supplements they consider taking while pregnant.
4) Skin care and wound healing. The high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids in krill oil may exert an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action on the skin and as a result can help calm eruptions, reduce acne and associated scars as well as contribute to better wound healing. Moreover, being an oil, krill supplements can give our skin and hair a healthy glow. Vitamins A and E also contribute to improving skin and hair aspect and health and act as antioxidants along with the carotenoid astaxanthin.
5) Liver repair. Recent research suggests phosphatidylcholines, a type of phospholipids such as those found in krill oil, may exert a healing effect on liver cells, hence the claim krill oil may encourage liver repair and exert certain hepatoprotective properties.
Krill oil supplements are generally well-tolerated. However, some people report mild side effects such a belching, flatulence, stomach growling or stomach upsets, even localized or extended rashes in some cases.
While krill oil is a good option for anyone fearing a potential heavy metal intoxication from fish sources, you still need to choose your brands carefully so you get what you are paying for and do not expose yourself to any risks. At the same time, there is the problem of the ecological impact of krill harvesting. Although believed to be an abundant species and despite marine farms being set up, krill is currently being caught by the tons to make krill oil, fishing baits or for feeding various animals.
But whales, seals, penguins, squid, some fish species and several other marine species rely heavily on krill for survival. Man’s intervention is depriving them of much needed sustenance which, in turn, may negatively impact fragile ecosystems already under siege by the shrinking ice masses. So, how can we keep healthy and minimize our impact on nature?
The number one question we should be asking ourselves here is: do we really need krill oil? Well, we shouldn’t. As long as we enjoy a balanced and varied diet, include at least 2-3 fish servings in our weekly diet and numerous fresh fruits and vegetables and try to eat mostly home-cooked meals instead of fast food, then the majority of us will not need to supplement with any form of marine oil, leaving the krill for whales, seals and penguins.