By Dr. Mercola
I was one of the first to promote krill as an exceptional source of animal based omega-3 dietary fats. Many have, and some still criticize me for recommending this over fish oil, for the lack of studies to back it up, but the bulk of the new emerging studies are confirming that krill is the better option.
It merely took time for the science to document what was obvious clinically, that krill had the identical fats as fish oil but was a far higher quality source due to astaxanthin protecting the perishable fats, and the phospholipids that massively increase the absorption of the fats.
Please remember that omega-3 fats are essential to the health of your heart and brain, among other body systems. What you may not be aware of is the ever-widening array of diseases for which krill may have a positive impact. New research is emerging all the time revealing benefits that broaden the scope of what this powerful natural source of fat can do for you.
The research regarding omega-3 fats and krill has really exploded over the past two years, and it’s getting downright hard to keep up. This article will focus on the research specific to krill, but realize that there’s a massive body of research out there on omega-3 fats in general that I will only touch on, which has direct applicability to krill. By the end of this article, it should be obvious why I’m such a fan. Before we begin to talk about the health benefits of krill oil, allow me to refresh your memory about why you need omega-3 fats in the first place.
Plant-Based and Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats
Most people today are deficient in omega-3 fats and consume far too many damaged omega-6 fats, which are found in vegetable oils and processed foods. The ideal ratio is 1:1, but the average American’s ratio is more like 20:1, or even 50:1 in favor of omega-6. Because of this severe imbalance, I recommend you supplement your diet with a source of high-quality omega-3 fats, while simultaneously reducing your omega-6 intake to bring this ratio into balance.
There are both plant and animal sources for omega-3 fats, and there are differences between them. All have different ratios of three important omega-3 fatty acids—ALA, EPA and DHA. DHA is the most important for your brain. EPA is also required by your brain, but in smaller amounts.
Plant-based omega-3 sources like flax, hemp and chia seeds are high in ALA, but low in EPA and DHA. Although ALA is an essential nutrient, the key point to remember is that the conversion of ALA to the far more essential EPA and DHA is typically quite inhibited by impaired delta 6 desaturase, an enzyme necessary for you to convert the ALA into the longer chain EPA and DHA.
Elevated insulin levels impair this enzyme, and more than 80 percent of the U.S. population has elevated insulin levels. So from that perspective alone, it is important to include animal-based sources of omega-3 fats in your diet.
How Omega-3 Fats Influence Gene Expression and Overall Health
Omega 3 fats affect cellular health and DNA chiefly by how they influence your cell membranes. It is these cell membranes that are critical in switching your genes on and off, because cell membranes contain receptors that respond to hormones and other agents, and these are affected by the fatty acids on their surface. Your cell membranes contain EPA, DHA and phospholipids, and all help to shuttle molecules into and out of your cells.
So, having adequate fatty acids in your system is crucial to keeping your cell membranes working properly. Both fish oil and krill oil contain omega-3 fats. However, krill oil is superior to fish oil for the following five reasons:
- Krill oil may be 48 times more potent than fish oil. This means you need far less of it than fish oil, as confirmed by this 2011 study published in the journal Lipids.
- Krill oil contains phospholipids, so the omega-3 fats are already in the form that your body can use. This bioavailability means krill oil is absorbed very quickly and crosses your blood-brain barrier, so is able to reach important brain structures.
- Fish oil is quite perishable and subject to oxidation, and oxidation leads to the formation of free radicals. Consuming free radicals further increases your need for antioxidants. Fish oil is weak in antioxidant content, whereas krill oil is rich in antioxidants. Krill oil contains astaxanthin—probably the most potent antioxidant in nature—which is why it is so stable and resistant to oxidation.
- Many, if not most types of fish and fish oil are now contaminated with mercury and other heavy metals, even fish that is thousands of miles away from coal plants and other environment-polluting industries. Antarctic krill is not subject to this contamination.
- Krill is also far more sustainable as a food source than is fish because it’s the largest biomass in the world, making krill harvesting one of the most sustainable practices on the planet.
Fatty acids are water soluble, but they can’t be transported in their free form in your blood—they require “packaging” into lipoprotein vehicles. The omega-3s in krill are already in these perfect packages, so your body doesn’t have to DO anything to them to prepare them for transport in your bloodstream. Also, phospholipids are one of the principle compounds in high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which you want more of.
Omega-3 Deficiency is a Major Factor in Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes
Three studies in 2009 showed that omega-3 fat deficiency might cause or contribute to up to 96,000 premature deaths each year. Compare that to the estimated 40,000 women who die from breast cancer in the U.S. annually, and the implications of omega-3 deficiency become quite clear. Omega-3 fats from krill have been shown to be more effective than fish oil in combating some metabolic symptoms, including elevated fat levels in your heart and liver. Studies show that both fish-sourced and krill-sourced omega-3 fats are effective in reducing fat levels, but krill is MORE effective.
There is now enough research to safely say that krill oil can reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome, obesity and type-2 diabetes.
In one study, krill oil was found to reduce fat levels in the hearts of rats by 42 percent, compared to two percent for fish oil. Similarly, krill was found to reduce fat in the liver by 60 percent, compared to 38 percent for fish oil. The buildup of fat in your liver can lead to insulin sensitivity, metabolic syndrome and eventually full-blown type 2 diabetes. It isn’t clear just how krill oil does this so effectively, but researchers hypothesize the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in krill (LCPUFAs) may reduce activity in your endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a biochemical system in your body that modulates appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory.
And speaking of mood and memory…
Young or Old—Krill Oil Helps Protect Your Brain
Some omega-3 fats—especially DHA—are critical for your nervous system, particularly your brain. DHA is converted into substances called neuroprotectins. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with a shortage of these neuroprotectins. Fats make up the majority of your brain tissue (about two-thirds). Myelin, the protective sheath that covers your neurons, is composed of 30 percent protein and 70 percent fat. These fats are not just important for adults. Omega-3s are also important to infants and children, for proper cognitive development and vision.
A number of interesting omega-3 studies have emerged in the past two years. Here are a few:
- A study published April 2010 found that older adults with higher blood levels of omega-3 fat were 33 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and 38 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with lower omega-3 levels.
- Yurko-Mauro, et al studied the effects of algal DHA on the memory of healthy older adults. After six months of treatment, their performance on memory tests significantly improved. After completion of treatment, participants’ learning and memory skills were equivalent to those of people “three years younger,” researchers said.
- A 2010 study found that DHA-derived neuroprotectins promote good neuro-signalling and overall brain health.
- Another 2010 study found omega-3 fat so effective for treating psychotic disorders that they concluded omega 3s are “a safe alternative to anti-psychotic drugs.” Researchers also stated that omega-3s may delay the onset of schizophrenia.
Low concentrations of EPA and DHA are known to accelerate cognitive decline and increase your risk for mood swings and mood disorders. Those suffering from depression have been found to have lower levels of omega-3 in their blood, compared to nondepressed individuals. A 2010 study involving 46 depressed elderly women concluded that omega-3 supplementation is an effective treatment for depression and can improve quality of life.
According to a report published in 2007 in the Alternative Medicine Review, DHA and EPA in krill oil can lessen a variety of brain and mental disorders, including autism and dyslexia. DHA also protects your cells from gene mutations that can lead to brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and some forms of Alzheimer’s disease, by preventing “misfolding” of certain proteins that occur as a result of those mutations.
Krill Oil is a Potent Anti-Inflammatory
Fatty acids play an important role in inflammation. They produce compounds called resolvins and protectins, which help quell inflammation before it can do too much damage to your tissues. Several studies have been published on the remarkable effectiveness of krill oil in combating inflammation-related disorders, such as arthritis. Three notable ones are:
- A 2007 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition investigated krill oil’s ability to reduce inflammation. Researchers found that 300 mg krill oil per day significantly reduced inflammation, pain, stiffness and functional impairment after just 7 days, and even more profoundly after 14 days.
- A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2005 showed similar findings with respect to reducing inflammation and arthritis symptoms, for both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis sufferers.
- In 2010, a Swiss animal study provided even more confirmation about krill oil’s anti-inflammatory properties. Mice consuming krill oil showed less joint inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis than did the control group.
Krill May Even Slow Down Aging
One of the most exciting recent studies found that increased dietary intake of omega-3 fat is associated with prolonged survival in patients with coronary artery disease. The benefit has to do with actually preventing telomere shortening. The study, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), followed 608 people in California with stable coronary artery disease for five years. At the end of the five years, those with the highest blood levels of DHA and EPA had the smallest change in telomere length.
If you aren’t familiar with telomeres, telomeres may be one of the KEYS to understanding aging. They are found at the tip of each arm of your chromosomes. Throughout your life, your telomeres shorten every time a cell divides. Free radicals can also cleave telomeres, which is thought to accelerate aging. So, we have seen that krill oil can offer benefits for your heart and brain, and maybe even slow your aging process and help reduce your chances of dying from many causes. But there’s more.
The Verdict is in: Krill Oil May Help with Literally DOZENS of Diseases
Overwhelmingly positive results from earlier scientific studies about the health benefits of krill oil have stimulated a flurry of ongoing interest by medical researchers. Krill oil is now one of the hottest topic in omega-3 research, and numerous companies have introduced new krill products over the past year.
The GreenMedInfo.com’s krill research page documents that there are now 25 different diseases that krill may help prevent or reverse. Of course, if you extend the search to include everything related to omega-3 fats, the list of benefits expands even more, since the gifts of krill oil include everything known to be good about omega-3s. The implications are truly profound, and I’m sure you’ll be seeing much more krill research in the future. The following table includes links to a number of studies specific to krill oil, by disease category:
✓ Cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia
✓ Arthritis: Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
✓ Metabolic syndrome, including obesity and fatty liver
✓ Brain disease: Cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, brain aging, learning disorders and ADHD
If you wish to dive into the studies, or look at what the science says about a particular omega-3 fat, try visiting the following pages on the GreenMedInfo site, which contain hundreds of scientific studies:
- Krill page
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids page
- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) page
- DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) page
- ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid) page
A Final Note on Krill Oil Supplements
Please remember that I don’t advocate taking truckloads of supplements. It is far better to receive you nutrients from food. If it weren’t for the polluted waterways of the world I would not recommend omega-3 supplements, but unfortunately that is not the case. As you can see by this article, omega-3 fats are essential for a healthy life so I do recommend most people consider taking a high quality omega-3 oil, like krill oil.
Quality is of the essence when selecting any supplement and krill oil is no exception.
The only kind of krill oil I recommend is from genuine Antarctic krill. Look for a brand that is cold-processed, which preserves its biological benefits. Please make sure that hexane is not used to extract the oil from the krill as some of the most popular krill oils on the market use this dangerous technique. It should also be free of heavy metals, PCBs, dioxins and other contaminants. The krill should also be harvested in compliance with international conservation standards.