Move Over Fish Oil! There's a New Omega-3 in Town, and Its Name is Krill
Written By Nicole Crane, B.S., NTP
For years, heath experts have been touting the benefits of fats from fish, and rightfully so. Fish and other seafood are considered the best source of fats from the Omega 3 family, which includes the fatty acids EPA and DHA. Most people do not get nearly enough Omega 3 fats in their diet, and as a result, miss a significant opportunity to protect their heart, brain and manage inflammation throughout the body. Most people also eat a disproportionate amount of Omega 6 fats, which are already plentiful in our diets. Poor quality diets loaded with processed foods tend to be excessive in Omega 6 fats, like corn, canola and soybean oil, margarine, mayonnaise and shortening. While it was once thought that these vegetable oils were good for the heart, there is strong evidence that too much of these processed industrial vegetable fats can lead to or worsen heart disease.
Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The British Medical Journal recently published a meta-analysis using research from the Sydney Diet Heart Study, a single blinded, parallel group, randomized controlled trial conducted in 1966-1973. The study involved 458 men aged 30-59 who had a recent coronary event like angina (chest pain) or a heart attack, who were divided into two groups - one group was instructed to reduce saturated fat intake to less than 10% of caloric intake, while increasing intake of linoleic acid from safflower oil (an fat rich in Omega 6 and devoid of Omega 3) to 15% of energy intake. These recommendations are in accordance with dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association. The control group received no dietary advice and both groups were followed for 39 months. The omega-6 group had a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease during the over three years the research was conducted, compared with 11% in the control group1. The Omega 6 group also had a higher risk of death from all causes. The researchers stated with great emphasis that there was significant need to rethink the dietary advice to substitute saturated fat for vegetable oils. Omega 6 fats build the molecules that our immune system uses to turn on inflammatory responses and tend to contribute to chronic diseases. They are especially damaging for the cardiovascular system, as inflammation is the root of heart disease.
What is unparalleled for cardiovascular wellness is excellent intake of Omega 3 fats, while reducing Omega 6 fats. Healthy ratios of Omega 6 to Omega 3 are at least 3:1. However, many Americans consume a diet with an Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio closer to 20:1 or even 50:1. One of the best ways to protect your heart (and your brain, eyes, joints, GI tract and the rest of your body) is to take an Omega 3 fatty acid supplement. Until recently, most supplements that provided direct sources of EPA and DHA (the beneficial Omega 3 fats) came from fish oils, commonly sourced from sardine, anchovy and mackerel. While these sources are excellent, there is a new source of EPA and DHA that is superb. It is the Alpha-Omega 3 called krill oil. Krill are tiny shrimp-like crustaceans (sea animals) and despite their small size, are likely the most abundant species of animals on the planet.2 Like fish oil, krill oil contains EPA and DHA.
What is EPA?
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is an important component of the phospholipids which make up all cell membranes and several tissues, especially in the brain. This allows all our cells to communicate with one another, which has widespread positive impacts on our health. It is the precursor of eicosanoids, including the “good” PG3 series of prostaglandins and resolvins. These are the essential immune cells which have positive inflammation modulating effects and act locally within a cell or group of cells. These cells keep micro-damage from becoming chronic inflammation and disease. Resolvins work by inhibiting the production and regulating the movement of inflammatory cells and chemicals to sites of inflammation. Resolvins trigger the end of inflammation, especially acute inflammation, preventing the perpetuation of chronic inflammation, mounting damage and more inflammation, to then help heal the damage. EPA supports cardiovascular wellness, mainly by regulating and turning off inflammation that otherwise, initiates and perpetuates vascular damage and immune involvement. It is inflammation leading to damage on the blood vessel walls that triggers white blood cells and cholesterol, as part of the mending process, to be used like spackle to repair the damage. Uncontrolled inflammation and other factors allow cholesterol and plaque to build up and cause problems. EPA also supports a normal heart rhythm, healthy blood clotting and normal triglyceride levels.3
What is DHA?
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a complex fatty acid, it is usually the end point of Omega 3 fatty acid metabolism. This reflects how important it is for our health. DHA is the precursor of the docosanoids, the precursors that are used to make resolvins and protectins, which are comparable to the EPA and DHA and also have potent inflammation modulating and immuno-regulatory actions. DHA is believed to have specific effects on the function of specific genes that regulate a number of proteins involved in making different fatty acids. DHA has been shown to have beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders of the heart and vascular system, due to regulation of specific signaling proteins in cell membranes and not prostaglandin activity. It is the EPA that controls inflammation through its effect on Prostaglandins which are “froggy-looking” (as far as chemical structures), hormone like blood factors. DHA has many of the same health benefits of EPA, but as EPA tends to improve inflammatory responses directly, DHA tends to improve nerve function and cell to cell communication. This allows DHA to use our genes to regulate inflammatory responses and many more essential aspects of health and vitality. The role that DHA plays in nerve communication supports a healthy heart rhythm and other electrical signaling in the heart.4 The full benefits of EPA and DHA are widespread and cannot be summarized in a single article. Managing inflammation is vital for wellness and disease prevention. Further, the body uses EPA and DHA as building blocks for eyes, nerves, the brain, the skin, and many types of cells, as well as many body systems. EPA and DHA are infinitely helpful and nourishing for the entire body.
These two essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA, support cardiovascular wellness in several fundamental ways, and the research shows how protective they are. Krill seems to be more effective at lowering cholesterol than fish oil. This may be partly the result of decreasing the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver, where fish oil has a very slight potential to increase cholesterol production. A 2004 study in the journal Alternative Medicine Review showed that 120 participants given doses of krill oil from 1000 – 3000mg or 3000mg of fish oil over three months had significantly better results using krill oil. The group taking 1500 mg of krill oil had a 13.7% reduction in total cholesterol levels, including a 35.7% decrease in lousy LDL and a 42.7% increase in healthy HDL, plus a 12% reduction in triglycerides. The group receiving 3000mg of krill oil had an 18% reduction in total cholesterol, a 39% reduction in LDL, a 59% improvement in HDL and triglycerides that were 26.5% lower. This is quite significant, considering the fish oil group experienced a 5.8% reduction in total cholesterol, a 4.5% reduction in LDL, HDL levels just 4.2% higher and a reduction in triglycerides by 3.2%. Krill oil seems to be far and away the superior protector of the heart and cardiovascular system.5
Importance of Krill Oil
There are some critical differences between fish oil and krill oil that make krill stand out as a superstar. The first is structure. Krill oil is a phospholipid (a fat bound to the mineral phosphorus), which is the same structure as our cell membranes. Most fish oils are bound to triglycerides or ethyl-esters, where krill, because it is a phospholipid, contains a much higher percentage of free EPA and DHA. This means that our cells absorb and incorporate krill oil much more efficiently.6 Krill oil is simply much more bioavailable than traditional fish oils, which first require the liver to free the fatty acids from their triglyceride base and then add phosphorus so our cells can utilize it. Krill oil also has a natural protector built right in, in the form of a very powerful carotenoid and antioxidant called astaxanthin. Fish oils and unsaturated fats in general are vulnerable to oxidation and rancidity, but the astaxanthin protects the krill oil. Astaxanthin is one of the most powerful antioxidants that have ever been measured, and it is also what gives krill oil its red color. This amazing antioxidant is one of the most effective neutralizers of free radicals and oxidative damage. It is 550 times more powerful than Vitamin E, and 6,000 times more powerful than Vitamin C.7 Krill oil also provides the naturally occurring B vitamin choline, which becomes acetyl-choline. Acetyl choline is essential for memory and brain function, liver health, nerve communication and muscle function, including healthy heart muscle function. Lacking cholkine in the diet sets the brain and more specifically memory function to deteriorate yet the NHANES Survey indicates that 90% of all Americans do not obtain sufficient Choline from the diet.
Krill oil, because it is sourced from such small marine animals, is naturally safe in relation to mercury and other environmental toxins. It is also much more sustainable and environmentally friendly and because it is so abundant, does not take food away from other sea creatures. Getting your Omega 3 fatty acids from krill oil instead of fish gives you a huge advantage in protecting your heart and the rest of your body. It is also much easier to take, as the capsules are much smaller, it tends to be much easier to digest (no more fishy burps!) and does not have a strong odor. The next time you are looking for a supplement to protect your cardiovascular wellness, look no further than krill oil.
- Bunea, Ruxandra, Khassan El Farrah, and Luisa Deutsch. "Evaluation of the effects of Neptune Krill Oil on the clinical course of hyperlipidemia." Altern Med Rev 9.4 (2004): 420-428.
- Schuchardt, Jan Philipp, et al. "Incorporation of EPA and DHA into plasma phospholipids in response to different omega-3 fatty acid formulations–a comparative bioavailability study of fish oil vs. krill oil." Lipids Health Dis10.145 (2011): 1-7.
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