Dr. Sandra El Hajj - MSc, N-MD, DHSc
With the advancement of science came also the incorporation of the industrialized world. Companies became interested in manufacturing supplements and pills, aiming at helping people achieve a certain health goal. While many of these products are considered to be a “hoax” and hence present minimal benefits to the health, others are quite efficient. From multivitamins to one ingredient supplements, they are everywhere around us. What has been under the radar, recently, is thekrill oil supplement. What is krill oil? The following article will explain everything about this new super pill and what it does to your health.
Krill is a shrimp-like crustacean that lives in the coldest water of the ocean. This small sea creature, weighing less than one ounce and measuring about 2.4 inches long, is considered to be the cornerstone of the Antarctic food chain. Living in clusters, studies expect the Southern Ocean to contain up to six billion tons of krill(1).
Krill oil is the simple oil that is extracted from the krill. This type of oil began catching researchers’ attention in the 1980s due to its possibly valuable nutrients. Being an animal of the deep waters made krill oil superior to any other fish oil as it is less likely to be contaminated by heavy metals. It has been identified to contain very high levels of naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids.
While people hear about its importance, few know what it is.Omega-3 fatty acids are fats that you do not produce in your body, you obtain them from the food you eat. They belong to the family of essential fatty acids and have countless health benefits. The three most potent types of omega-3 are ALA, EPA and DHA.
Only a few foods contain omega-3 fatty acids, namely fish oils, chia seeds, flaxseed oil and walnuts. If you do not have these options in your daily diet, then you need to take its supplement to benefit from its powerful functions. Among these are potent anti-inflammatory agents.
Krill oil offers many health benefits to the human body; but, before we discuss that further, let’s discuss what makes this specific type of oil superior to all others.
When you refer to bioavailability, you are normally referring to the quantity of a certain substance that will be available to the circulatory system to spread to the body’s organs. When you take fish or krill oil, its EPA and DHA need to be turned into lipoproteins for the body to be able to absorb them.
Fish oils are normally packaged with triglycerides. So, for the body to benefit from its EPA and DHA, its digestive system will have to break down the triglyceride parts. The result will be the elimination of more than 80 percent of the long-chain fatty acids as waste. This leaves only 20 percent of the oil ready to be absorbed by the body. On the other hand, krill oil comes in a phospholipid package, which is more efficient as less DHA and EPA are eliminated as waste.
A study published by the Journal of Lipids in Health and Disease in 2011 explains that the bioavailability of krill oil is linked to its chemical form. Being bound to phospholipids makes it easily broken down into an absorbable form. Also, krill oil supplements were shown to have free amounts of EPA and DHA, accounting for 20 percent of free fatty acids. These are absorbable without further processing by the body. Regular fish oils, on the other hand, did not contain any free fatty acids(1).
Being high in phospholipids means that krill oil’s EPA and DHA contain a major component that is found in all cell membranes. This phospholipid is one of the main constituents of good cholesterol and can efficiently cross the barrier of the brain-blood pathway, making it a booster for cognitive functions(2).
Krill oil is superior to other types of fish oils as it has potent metabolic effects. A study published by the Journal of Randomized Controlled Trials, investigated the effect of krill and other types of fish oil on lipid levels in the blood, as well as measured levels of inflammation and oxidative stress. The study wanted to correlate these functions to the levels of EPA and DHA in plasma. Results showed no specific significance when it came to lipid levels in the blood. Both sources of omega-3 fatty acids showed improvements, but what krill oil offered better than fish oil is the ability to do its work at much lower doses(3). In other words, you need less krill oil to take advantage of its benefits.
While some elements possess chemicals with powerful properties, the true benefit is linked to how the body absorbs these elements. That’s when krill oil differentiates itself from the remaining fish oils. While the latter needs to attach to phosphatidylcholine, krill oil contains it in its structure(4). Phosphatidylcholine is a chemical naturally found in the body and in every cell. The body uses phosphatidylcholine to help avoid many impairments such as memory loss, ulcerative colitis, depressive disorders and others.
What has been circulating about the health benefits of krill oil is surely impressive. While word of mouth information can be morale-boosting, it is evidence-based research that you need to be focusing on. These are eight main research-based health benefits of krill oil.
Fish and krill oils are high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA. What differentiates krill oil is its ability to be stored as phospholipids, making it easier for the body to use it. Commonly used oils contain triacylglycerols, while krill oil contains a more diverse lipid profile. You can find phospholipids, triacylglycerol, diacylglycerols, monoacylglycerols and free fatty acids among others in krill oil(5). Fatty acids that are found in krill oil are EPA and DHA and are found in forms that can be easily absorbed into the bloodstream. This can help raise omega-3 fatty acid levels in the blood.
Among the many benefits of krill oil are its anti-inflammatory ones. Studies show that krill, due to its omega-3 fatty acid content, is a potent anti-inflammatory. This property is accentuated due to its astaxanthin content, which is both anti-inflammatory and a potent antioxidant. Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that is ten times more potent than any other carotenoid. It is found in the dark red color of the krill(6).
Many studies explored the mode of action of krill oil on inflammation. A study published by the European Journal of Nutrition explained that krill oil can promote lipid catabolism. When the body synthesizes or degrades lipid cells by breaking down or storing fat, it is referred to as lipid catabolism. It can help lower the levels of triacylglycerols and cholesterol in the plasma as well as stimulate the oxidation of fatty acids in the mitochondria and improves the overall carnitine turnover(7). Another study, published by the Journal of Digestive and Liver Disease, showed that by improving the integrity of intestinal barriers as well as restoring epithelial cells during inflammation, krill oil can control bacterial adhesion and invasion to epithelial cells. This indicates the effect of this kind of marine oil in reducing intestinal inflammation (8).
Another study observed the effect of krill oil supplementation on 90 people who have chronic inflammation. By giving patients 300 g of krill oil on a daily basis, results showed a 30 percent decrease in inflammation markers (9). All these studies prove the beneficial potentials of krill as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Being an anti-inflammatory agent, krill oil has the ability to lower inflammation and thus improve arthritis and joint pains. A study published by the Journal of American College of Nutrition shows that krill oil can reduce the symptoms of arthritis in as little as seven to fourteen days. The study divided participants into two groups. One group received krill oil supplements while the other got a placebo (no krill oil). The findings were a reduction of C-reactive proteins (an inflammatory agent) by 19.3 percent for those who took the krill oil supplements(9).
Another study observed 50 participants who were suffering from mild knee pain. Taking krill oil, over a period of 30 days, significantly reduced pain levels and participants were able to sleep and stand up. Participants also noticed an improvement in their range of motion(10). Krill oil can reduce stiffness and functional impairment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Krill oil, due to its omega-3 fatty acids, can help maintain a healthy heart. Many studies, pooled together, explain that krill oil can lower your triglycerides level as well as maintain a healthy range of your blood fat. An Italian study published in 2016 compared the effect of both krill oil and purified omega-3 fatty acids on patients who are hyper-triglyceridemic. They conducted a randomized clinical trial where participants were divided into two groups. Each was given a different treatment and four weeks after, triglycerides levels were measured. Results indicated that participants who took krill oil yielded results similar to those obtained when taking a four-fold higher dose of purified omega-3 fatty acid. Krill oil was also effective in lowering subjects’ C-reactive protein levels(11). Krill oil can also help raise your good cholesterol levels (HDL). An analysis aimed at comparing krill oil to olive oil in terms of effects on the heart’s health. We all know the superiority of olive oil in maintaining a good heart. The analysis showed that krill oil improves the function of the blood vessels lining and insulin resistance scores.
Being responsible for managing pain and decreasing inflammation, krill oil can help ease period pain (dysmenorrhea) while reducing the symptoms preceding menstruation. It can help decrease the use of pain medication. A study published by the Journal of Alternative Medicine Review following 70 patients found that krill oil significantly reduced dysmenorrhea and emotional instabilities accompanying menstruation(11).
Many studies explored the benefits of krill oil on depression. One specific study published by the Journal of Alternative Medicine Review explained that omega-3 oil can enhance the quality of life and prevent premature deaths. It helps generate neuroprotective metabolites. This randomized study linked both EPA and DHA to beneficial effects on ADHD, autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia and aggression. On another note, studies found both fatty acids to be beneficial for major depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia(12).
Krill oil has been recently introduced as a great supplement that can reduce the fat accumulation in our body while boosting the metabolic rate. The fucoxanthin can down-regulate lipogenic enzymes that are located in adipose tissues, decreasing fatty acid oxidation activity. With these two roles, krill oil can help keep your weight within normal healthy ranges(13).
Boosting the immune system is one major role that krill oil plays. Due to its antioxidant content, this fatty acid can help keep your body’s defensive mechanisms on guard while hunting free radicals and neutralizing them. When you boost your immune function, you become less prone to contracting infections and developing chronic diseases(14).
We live in an ever-changing world where curative medicine plays a major role in health care. Redirecting your attention towards preventive medicine is one effective way to stay healthy and well, and this starts with making the right life choices. Krill oil is one of the most beneficial supplements to consider incorporating into your day. With its accentuated health benefits, this kind of oil is superior to any other fish oil. Due to how it presents itself in the body, as a phospholipid, it is easily absorbed. From boosting the immune system to being a powerful anti-inflammatory, krill oil supplements are promising in the world of wellness.