What Are Krill Oil Supplements and What Are They Used For?

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Krill Oil Supplements made from Endangered Krill Oil SpeciesWe’ve recently had several inquiries about krill oil supplements. Is it safe, what does it contain and where does it come from?

What is a Krill?

Krill are small shrimp-like marine crustaceans, similar in size to a large paperclip, that live in the ocean and feed on algae and plankton. Krill play an important role in overall marine life, as they feed directly on algae and plankton, which is then converted into a form of energy (krill) that can be consumed by other sea life. Probably best known as the food of choice for giant blue whales, seals, squid, and cold water fish also consume a diet rich in krill. In addition to turning algae and plankton into energy, because krill eat carbon-rich food near the ocean surface (and then excrete it in lower, colder waters), some believe they play an important role in removing greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Common uses of Krill:

While Japanese sometimes eat krill, the vast majority of krill is used in aquaculture and livestock feed, for fish bait and pet foods, and the pharmaceutical industry. Using ‘suction’ harvesting, krill is gathered from the ocean. Most commercial fishing of Krill is in Antarctica and off the coast of Japan, and off Canada’s Pacific coast. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (here in the United States) does not allow krill fishing off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, or California as krill serve as the basis of the marine food chain. Scientists believe krill have declined by 80 percent since the 1970s, and the most likely cause is global warming. Because of sustainability concerns, Whole Foods discontinued the sale of krill products last year and recommends that consumers choose fish oil supplements instead.

The science behind using Krill Oil Supplements

While there is an astounding amount of marketing information available online touting the advantages of krill oil, there is limited science-based fact. Neptune Technologies produces virtually all of the krill oil on the market, and they have been conducting research on krill oil, but so far there are very few studies. An amazing number of websites reviewed referenced two small cholesterol studies (one containing 113 subjects and another containing 120, and both with very different outcomes), a study that compared krill oil against fish oil for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramps, and a study (acknowledged as badly designed) for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis were mentioned on umpteen sites.

Krill Oil vs. Fish Oil – What should I use?

Krill oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), carotenoids and phospholipids. Carotenoids are found in many foods, particularly the yellow, orange and dark green vegetables, and fruits. Krill oil proponents claim that krill oil is better absorbed than traditional fish oil supplements because it is in the phospholipids- rather than triglyceride- form. And, because it is better absorbed, the amount EPA and DHA are significantly lower. (One wildly popular brand contains 140 mg EPA/DHA in two capsules, whereas Cooper Complete Advanced Omega-3 contains 1,200 mg EPA/DHA in two softgels.) Opponents say this argument is nonsense as phospholipids are non-essential to the body, and since time began we have been consuming EPA and DHA in the triglyceride form from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.

While krill oil appears to be perfectly safe, the data seems to contain a lot more hype than hard scientific fact. With more than 18,000 studies on EPA and DHA in fish oil form to date, it makes sense to stick with the proven, and less expensive, original.

By Jill Turner.

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