Krill oil: Benefits, uses, dosage, side effects and research

Krill oil has recently gained considerable attention due to its rich composition of omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids, and the antioxidant astaxanthin, collectively contributing to its various health benefits.

This article will dive deep into what krill are, how their oil is extracted and produced, and what nutrients it contains. We’ll unravel its key benefits, from cardiovascular health to skin vitality, and compare it to its popular counterpart, fish oil. 

Furthermore, we’ll discuss its practical applications, recommend dosages, and alert you to potential side effects or risks. 

We’ll also look at the scientific studies surrounding krill oil and provide tips for discerning consumers looking to purchase high-quality omega-3 supplements

what is krill?
Photograph: drobotdean/Freepik

Lastly, we’ll address frequently asked questions to help clarify common misconceptions and enhance your understanding.

What is krill?

Krill are small, shrimp-like creatures that belong to the order Euphausiacea. They are found in all the world’s oceans, but the Antarctic krill, scientifically known as Euphausia superba, is most commonly harvested for krill oil production [1]. 

On average, krill measure about 6 centimeters in length and weigh around 1 gram, but despite their small size, they play a crucial role in the marine ecosystem.

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Habitat and life cycle of krill

Krill primarily inhabit the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Antarctic Ocean. The life cycle of krill involves several stages, including egg, nauplius, metanauplius, calyptopis, and furcilia, before adulthood. 

Krill reproduce seasonally, with females capable of laying thousands of eggs in their lifetime. They have varying lifespans depending on their species, but they can live up to 10 years in optimal conditions.

The role of krill in the ecosystem

Krill are an integral part of the marine food chain. They feed on phytoplankton and microzooplankton, converting these microscopic plants and animals into a form of energy that’s readily consumable by various marine species. 

Whales, seals, penguins, squids, and fish rely on krill as a primary food source. Their abundance and nutritional value make krill a key link between the lower (algae, phytoplankton) and higher (whales, seals) trophic levels in the oceanic food web. 

By understanding the role of krill in the ecosystem, we can appreciate the sustainability aspects of harvesting them for oil production.

How is krill oil produced and extracted?

Extracting begins with harvesting krill from the cold Antarctic waters. Once harvested, krill are rapidly processed on board to preserve their nutrient content. 

The krill are then subjected to a cold extraction process, which involves the application of solvents to separate the oil from the krill’s bodies [2]. 

The crude krill oil is refined, and impurities are removed to produce the final product on the shelves.

Quality control and standards in krill oil production

Quality control and adherence to established standards are critical to ensure safety and efficacy in krill oil production. 

It begins with sustainable and responsible harvesting to protect the marine ecosystem and the krill population. 

The extraction process is then carried out under strict protocols to preserve the nutritional value of the oil and prevent contamination. 

The oil undergoes rigorous testing for purity, potency, and safety. It’s important to note that reputable krill oil manufacturers will comply with standards set by regulatory authorities like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), among others. 

These entities monitor and certify supplements, including krill oil, to ensure they meet the requisite quality and safety standards.

What is krill oil made from?

Krill oil is esteemed for its robust nutritional profile, primarily by beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants. 

It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, notably eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) [3]. 

These essential fatty acids are critical in various bodily functions, including brain and heart health.

Phospholipids and astaxanthin

What sets krill oil apart from other marine oils is its unique composition of omega-3 fatty acids bound to phospholipids instead of triglycerides in fish oil. 

Phospholipid-bound omega-3s are known to be more bioavailable, meaning the body can absorb and utilize them more efficiently.

Additionally, it is a natural source of astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant that gives krill oil its distinctive red color. 

Astaxanthin has several potential health benefits, including combatting oxidative stress and inflammation, and it also serves as a natural preservative, enhancing the stability and shelf-life of krill oil.

Combining omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids, and astaxanthin gives krill oil unique properties and wide-ranging health benefits.

Key benefits of krill oil

1. Improves cardiovascular health

Krill oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, benefits cardiovascular health [4]. It can help lower LDL or bad cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing HDL or good cholesterol. This contributes to a healthier lipid profile, reducing the risk of heart disease.

2. Enhances brain health

Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, play a vital role in brain health. It’s a major structural component of the brain and is necessary for the proper functioning of neurons. 

Regular intake of krill oil could enhance cognitive function, memory, and mood, possibly delaying the onset of age-related cognitive decline [5].

3. Supports joint health

Krill oil’s omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that help manage symptoms of arthritis and other inflammatory joint conditions. It may reduce joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, improving overall joint health and mobility [6].

Supports joint health
Photograph: towfiqu98/Envato

4. Protects eye health

Krill oil can benefit eye health due to omega-3 fatty acids and astaxanthin. DHA is a vital component of the retina, and its adequate intake is important for maintaining optimal eye health. 

Astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant, may protect the eyes against oxidative stress and diseases like age-related macular degeneration [7].

5. Boosts skin health

The antioxidants and omega-3 from krill oil can contribute to healthier skin. They may reduce inflammation, fight oxidative damage, and promote skin hydration, potentially improving skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema and delaying skin aging [8].

6. Strengthens immune system

The potent antioxidant astaxanthin in krill oil can strengthen the immune system by neutralizing harmful free radicals that can cause cellular damage [9]. It helps to bolster the body’s defenses, promoting overall health and well-being.

7. Contributes to longevity

One of the most compelling benefits of krill oil is its potential contribution to longevity. By supporting heart and brain health, reducing inflammation, maintaining healthy joints and skin, and boosting the immune system, it can help promote overall wellness and potentially extend lifespan [10]. 

The presence of powerful antioxidants, such as astaxanthin, protects against oxidative stress associated with aging and many chronic diseases. Thus, regular consumption could be a key component in a lifestyle aimed at achieving a long and healthy life.

Is krill oil better than fish oil?

Both krill and fish oil are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). However, the form in which these fatty acids are present differs between the two. 

Nutrient comparison

In krill oil, the omega-3s are bound to phospholipids, while in fish oil, they’re attached to triglycerides. This difference in structure influences the absorption and utilization of these fatty acids in the body.

Furthermore, krill oil contains astaxanthin, absent in standard fish oil. Astaxanthin enhances the stability of krill oil and may contribute to additional health benefits.

Bioavailability

Studies indicate that krill oil’s omega-3 fatty acids have better bioavailability than fish oil, thanks to their phospholipid form.

This means the body may absorb and use the omega-3s in krill oil more efficiently. However, more research is needed to understand this difference’s implications on health outcomes fully.

Ecological impact

Sustainability is essential when comparing krill and fish oil. While overfishing is a concern in some areas, regulations and certifications aim to ensure that krill and fish are harvested responsibly. 

Nevertheless, the ecological impact of harvesting these marine resources should be considered when choosing between the two.

Practical uses for krill oil

As a dietary supplement

The most common use of krill oil is as a dietary supplement. Because of its rich omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant content, many people take it to support their overall health.

From promoting heart and brain health to enhancing skin vitality and boosting the immune system, krill oil supplements offer various health benefits.

As a cosmetic ingredient

Krill oil has also entered the cosmetic industry due to its potential skin benefits. 

The omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants it contains can help hydrate the skin, reduce inflammation, and fight oxidative damage. 

Therefore, it’s incorporated into skincare products like creams and serums.

As an anti-inflammatory product

Krill oil’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a potential adjunctive therapy for managing inflammation, such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. It may help alleviate symptoms such as joint pain and stiffness and contribute to overall joint health.

As a nutraceutical

A nutraceutical is a product derived from food sources with extra health benefits and the basic nutritional value found in foods. 

Krill oil fits this category, given its unique composition and wide-ranging health benefits. It can manage certain health conditions, like high cholesterol levels, or supplement diets deficient in essential fatty acids.

Regardless of the application, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before beginning any new supplement regimen, including krill oil.

What is the appropriate krill oil dosage per day

As with any supplement, dosage depends on various factors, including age, overall health status, and the specific health concern being addressed. 

Generally, a typical dosage recommendation for adults ranges from 250 to 500 mg daily [11]. For certain health conditions, healthcare providers might recommend specific dosages. 

For example, a higher dosage of 1000 to 2000 mg daily may be suggested to manage high cholesterol levels. 

Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized dosage advice.

What is the appropriate krill oil dosage per day
Photograph: gargantiopa/Envato

Considerations for children and pregnant women

For children and pregnant or breastfeeding women, it’s imperative to consult with a healthcare professional before starting supplementation. 

While omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain development and function, the appropriate dosage and safety of krill oil for these groups must be carefully evaluated.

Remember, following the directions provided by the supplement manufacturer and your healthcare provider is crucial. 

Taking too much of any supplement can lead to adverse effects. Furthermore, krill oil supplements vary in their concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. So, it’s essential to read supplement labels carefully.

The total amount of krill oil per capsule does not represent the amount of omega-3s. Look for the amount of EPA and DHA; these omega-3 fatty acids are often listed separately.

What are the potential side effects and risks of krill oil

While krill oil is generally well-tolerated, some individuals may experience mild side effects like nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, or a fishy aftertaste or odor. 

These side effects are usually temporary and resolve as your body adjusts to the supplement.

Additionally, people with a shellfish allergy should exercise caution when using it, as krill are a type of shellfish and may cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals [12]. 

Symptoms range from mild (like skin rash or itching) to severe (like difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis).

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Interaction with medications

Krill oil may interact with certain medications, particularly those that affect blood clotting. This is because omega-3 fatty acids can slow blood clotting, potentially increasing the risk of bleeding when taken with anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs. 

If you’re taking such medications, discussing using this supplement with your healthcare provider is essential.

Potential environmental impact

While krill oil has various health benefits, there are concerns about the ecological impact of krill harvesting. 

Overfishing could disrupt the balance of the marine ecosystem. If you take this supplement, choose products from sustainable harvesting companies.

Safety in special populations

The safety of krill oil in pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and individuals with certain health conditions has not been thoroughly studied. 

It’s worth noting that while krill oil can contribute to health and wellness, it should not replace a balanced diet, regular exercise, and other healthy lifestyle habits. 

Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

Scientific studies on krill oil

Studies on cardiovascular health

Numerous studies have suggested the potential benefits of krill oil for cardiovascular health. Research has shown that krill oil helps lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels while raising HDL cholesterol, contributing to a healthier lipid profile.

Research on brain health

Krill oil’s positive impact on brain health is another area of interest for researchers. Studies have indicated that the DHA found in krill oil plays a significant role in supporting cognitive function, improving memory, and potentially reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

Findings on joint health

Research has suggested that the omega-3 fatty acids in krill oil help reduce inflammation associated with arthritis and other joint-related conditions, reducing pain and improving mobility.

Investigations into eye health

A growing body of evidence suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids and astaxanthin in krill oil may benefit eye health by reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration and other eye conditions.

Studies on skin health and immunity

Research on krill oil’s potential benefits for skin health and immune function is still early, but preliminary findings are promising. 

The omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants in krill oil may help reduce inflammation, combat oxidative stress, and promote overall skin health and immunity.

Research on longevity

While research on krill oil and longevity is still in its infancy, some studies suggest that the omega-3 fatty acids, astaxanthin, and other components of krill oil promote overall health and well-being, potentially contributing to a longer lifespan. However, more research is needed in this area.

As with any supplement, while scientific studies may suggest potential benefits, individual experiences may vary, and it’s important to discuss with a healthcare professional before taking krill oil supplements.

What to look for when shopping for krill oil?

1. Check the label

It’s essential to read the product label carefully when shopping for krill oil. Look for the total krill oil and specific amounts of EPA and DHA, the key omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Look for quality assurance

Opt for products tested and verified by a third party for quality and purity. This ensures the product contains what it claims and is free from contaminants.

3. Understand the source

Try to understand the source of the krill used in the product. Krill harvested from clean, unpolluted waters are less likely to be contaminated with heavy metals and other pollutants.

4. Look into sustainable harvesting practices

Consider the environmental impact of krill oil production. Choose products from companies that follow sustainable krill harvesting practices and are certified by organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council.

5. Avoid unrealistic claims

Beware of products that make unrealistic or unproven health claims. While krill oil can offer several health benefits, it’s not a magic cure-all. Any product that promises miraculous results should be viewed with skepticism.

6. Price vs. quality

While choosing the cheapest option may be tempting, remember that price can often reflect quality. Cheap supplements may use low-quality krill oil or contain fillers and additives. 

However, the most expensive product isn’t necessarily the best either. Research, compare, and choose wisely.

Before starting a supplement, consulting with a healthcare professional is always a good idea. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific health needs and conditions.

Closing thoughts

Krill oil is a nutrient-rich supplement derived from small marine creatures called krill. It holds many potential benefits when it is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, primarily EPA and DHA, and the potent antioxidant astaxanthin. 

From supporting heart and brain health to promoting joint mobility, eye health, and skin vitality and potentially contributing to longevity, the health benefits of krill oil are wide-ranging.

While it is generally safe for most people, specific individuals, like those with shellfish allergies or those on blood-thinning medications, should exercise caution.

Remember, supplements like krill oil are not a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle but can complement them to promote overall health and well-being. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

FAQs

Is krill oil high in mercury?

No, krill oil is not typically high in mercury. Krill are tiny, shrimp-like creatures lower on the food chain and, therefore, less likely to accumulate high toxins like mercury. 

Does krill oil help lower cholesterol?

Yes, research suggests that it can help lower cholesterol levels. It contains omega-3 fatty acids, primarily eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have been shown to lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels and increase HDL or good cholesterol levels. 

Is krill oil same as fish oil?

While krill and fish oils contain the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, they differ. Fish oil is derived from fish, usually oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, while krill oil is derived from krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures.

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[1] https://www.antarctica.gov.au/about-antarctica/animals/krill/ 
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9073929/ 
[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33336946/ 
[4] https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/krill-oil/guide/ 
[5] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/krill-oil-can-it-protect-the-brain-from-age-related-degeneration 
[6] https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/krill-oil/guide/
[7] https://www.optometrytimes.com/view/go-beyond-fish-oil-astaxanthin-krill-oil 
[8] https://www.feelgreat365.com/blogs/healthy-living/the-secret-to-healthy-skin-hair-krill-oil 
[9] https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/krill-oil/guide/ 
[10] https://www.akerbiomarine.com/news/new-research-krill-oil-can-slow-down-aging-and-help-improve-life-quality 
[11] https://www.korikrilloil.com/learn/krill-oil-recommended-dosage
[12] https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/krill-oil/guide/

Photograph: drobotdean/Freepik
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