Krill Oil as a Source of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
It is well known that oily fish provide one of the best sources of balanced omega-3, however there is evidence that consuming krill oil extract can provide additional benefits as well as being a more potent source of omega-3.
A huge body of research has confirmed the importance of omega-3 in the diet. Omega-3 is an essential unsaturated fatty acid, which is abundant in certain plants and oily fish. It cannot be synthesized by the body but is necessary for many bodily processes and it is thought that the ideal ratio between it and omega-6, another essential fatty acid, is 1:1. In the USA however the average person consumes omega-6 and omega-3 in a ratio of 30:1, putting their heart and brain health at risk.
Which omega-3 supplement should you choose?
There are many omega-3 supplements available to conveniently supplement the diet to bring the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 closer to the ideal 1:1. Plant sources, such as extracts of flax and hemp seeds, fulfill – on paper at least – the body’s daily requirements. However, they do not perform as well within the body as omega-3 extracted from animals because of their ratio of ALA (alpha linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Plants contain mostly ALA, whilst animals such as oily fish contain much higher levels of EPA and DHA. ALA is converted very inefficiently to the more useful EPA and DHA within the body. For most Americans this conversion is made yet more inefficient by their elevated insulin levels; for these reason consuming omega-3 supplements with greater proportions of EPA and DHA gives maximum benefit to the body.
The function of omega-3 in the body
Omega 3 plays a role in almost every function in the body and offers many health benefits also. It is a major constituent of cell membranes (called the ‘phospholipid bilayer) and is heavily involved in modulating cell signaling, which is the way that cells talk to each other. The phospholipid cell membrane controls many aspects of the internal workings of the body such as hormone levels, inflammatory processes, the expression level of genes and many other feedback processes. By allowing these signaling molecules to enter and exit cells, omega-3 essential fatty acids are absolutely crucial to a healthy body.
Why krill oil?
A recent study in the scientific journal Lipids showed that krill oil can be 48 times more potent than fish oils as well as being more resistant to perishing and diminishing in antioxidant levels. This perishing leads to increased free radical levels, which can harm the body by causing cell damage and premature ageing. A krill oil supplement also contains a much higher level of antioxidants than regular fish oils, and also contains astaxanthin which is considered to be one of the most potent naturally occurring antioxidants. It is also abundant in phospholipids in the form that is present in the body’s cell membranes, so it can be absorbed readily into the body and brain giving fast effecting benefits. As well as this, phospholipids are a major constituent of HDL (high density lipoprotein), known as the good cholesterol.
From an ecological perspective, harvesting krill is a much more sustainable practice than fishing. Most oily fish populations are already depleted due to over-fishing, as well as being generally higher in proportions of heavy metals such as mercury and these can pose serious damage to the body. Krill are found in largest number in remote parts of the oceans and such are not exposed to the same levels of heavy metals. They are also lower in the food chain so do not accumulate the levels of heavy metals that larger fish do. So, a Krill oil supplement seems to be good for you and the environment.
Health benefits of krill oil
Cardiovascular health and diabetes prevention
The widespread deficiency of omega-3 in the Western diet is thought to contribute to 96,000 deaths annually by leading to a sharp increase in risk of certain diseases. The benefits of krill oil supplements are thought to be greater than normal fish oil as studies have shown, because they are more effective at reducing fat deposits around the body and regulating hormone levels. Krill contain the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA) which is not present in fish oil and is thought to interact with the endocannabiod system which is involved in many processes in the brain such as appetite, pain sensitivity, memory function and mood. In this way it is thought to provide a greater benefit than normal fish oil when reducing the buildup of fat around the heart and liver (around 20% more of a reduction).
Heart disease, obesity and type II diabetes are big problems in the Western world today. An increasing body of research has shown the benefit of omega-3 in reducing fatty deposits around the heart in on the liver which contribute to incidences of stroke, heart attacks and other problems. The reduction in liver fat, as well as heavily reducing the risk of elevated insulin and type II diabetes, makes for a more efficient metabolism, meaning that toxins are broken down and removed from the body quicker.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are critical for proper brain function from infant development through to old age. During brain development the brain is forming new connections and memories and nerve cells are growing, a process that is heavily reliant on cell signaling. In addition, nerve cells are surrounded by a fatty sheath that is rich in omega 3 and is essential for transmitting electrical signals across the brain – therefore ensuring that infants have adequate levels of omega-3 in their diet can impact the rest of their lives considerably. Throughout life the brain continues to develop and therefore making sure that the body has all of the omega-3 it needs in adulthood is also very important. In old age, the brain is at risk of many diseases such as Alzheimer’s which is the most common form of dementia. Studies have shown that omega-3 (specifically DHA) leads to improved memory function in old age – the equivalent of being three years younger – which in turn reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Another risk of Alzheimer’s disease is due to decreased levels of neuroprotectins, which are derived from DHA. This substance is thought to benefit brain health and nerve cell signaling. The benefits of DHA are also conferred to the genes, in that it is thought to improve DNA copying; it is errors in this DNA copying that can increase in old age, leading to increased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and many forms of cancer.
Omega-3 has been shown to benefit a variety of mental illnesses including depression and schizophrenia. By improving cognitive function and memory, it is likely to delay the onset of schizophrenia. It is also thought to be linked to mood, as a study in depressed women showed reduced levels of omega-3 in the blood. This study showed that omega-3 is an effective treatment of depression. Many other conditions are known to be affected positively by omega-3, including autism and dyslexia.
Inflammation of tissues of the body is sometimes a necessary part of the healing process, but it can become damaging when it reaches chronic levels as it does in diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have shown that oil from krill is abundant in resolvins and protectins, which are thought to regulate the inflammatory process, to limit the amount of damage that is caused to joints and tissues. It was found that taking krill oil lead to a reduction in inflammation, as well as a reduction in the associated symptoms of pain, stiffness and functionality.
Telomere shortening is something that results in errors in cell copying and hence the advancing of the ageing process. Telomeres are present on chromosomes, where DNA is stored and are thought to become shorter with each cell division. Studies following patients with stable coronary heart disease have shown that telomere length changes least with high blood levels of DHA and EPA. As well as this telomeres are very susceptible to free radical damage. The high levels of DHA and EPA present in krill, as well as their strong anti inflammatory effect, mean that they have a real and potent anti ageing effect if taken regularly. This research, as well as having implications for healthy people looking to protect their body inside and out from the effects of ageing, free radicals, mental illness and inflammatory diseases, provides a safe yet effective supplementary treatment for many serious ailments. For optimum health, many people choose to take a krill oil supplement, and a high potency fish oil supplement.