Krill Oil Definition
Krill are small shrimp-like crustaceans found throughout the oceans of the world that are close to the bottom of the food chain. They are highly prized for their omega-3 fatty-acids. Krill oil is extracted from these tiny shrimp-like crustaceans and sold as krill oil capsules. Most of the krill oil comes from the cold waters of the Antarctic from a species known as Euphausia superba. Krill oil contains three main ingredients which include: omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), omega-3 fatty-acids attached to phospholipids in particular phosphatidylcholine, and astaxanthin which is a powerful antioxidant.
Krill oil omega-3s are unique oils in that that come in phospholipid form such as phosphatidylcholine instead of triglyceride form found in fish oils. Phosphatidylcholine is the most abundant phospholipid in cell membranes. The triglyceride from is actually a storage form of omega-3s and not for immediate use by the body/brain. In fact, the liver has to attach the omegas3’s from fish oil to phophatidylcholine before it can be used. Krll oil contains the omega-3s in phospholipid form so it is easily absorbed through the intestinal wall and can intercalate into cell membranes on its own as it is lipid soluble. In other words, unlike fish oil krill oil has the biologically active form so it has high bioavailability which means your body can use it as is.
Krill also contains a unique and powerful antioxidant known as astaxanthin. Krill feed on algae that produce this bright red pigment which carries one the the most potent antioxidants known. In fact, this red colored antioxidant is what gives other crustaceans such as lobster and shrimp their red to pink color. This antioxidant not only protects krill oil during harvesting, processing and extraction processes from lipid oxidation but protects us from cell membrane damage due to free radical formation when ingested. Astaxanthin is lipid soluble so it self assembles into the plasma membrane spanning the bilipid layer. While in the bilipid layer, astaxanthin scavenges electrons keeping them away from the omega-3s in your membranes. Given that many individuals don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet, Krill oil is extracted and sold as a nutritional supplement to support brain function, cardiovascular health, vision health, joint and muscular function.
Krill oil benefits have an advantage over fish oils in that it contains the bioactive form of omega-3s in the form of phosphatidylcholine which has high bioavailability as well as the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin so important for protecting cell membranes from lipid oxidation. Given that the omega-3s are in a bioactive form means that you can take a lot less krill oil than fish oil to achieve the same effect. Since krill oil has its own built in antioxidant, it stays fresher longer preventing it from becoming rancid. Fish oils quite often become rancid quickly and that’s what causes fishy aftertaste and burps.
How Krill Oil is Produced?
Technologies have advanced in recent years in terms of isolating, purifying and concentrating marine oils and in particular krill oil. Not only have extraction processes changed but also the way krill are harvested and transported to shore. One method used is to gather Krill is by siphoning them under water to prevent trapping other animals. Once siphoned, the Krill go directly into processing equipment right on board ship. To prevent the krill from decomposing they are exposed to a series of procedures that involve separation techniques performed in a nitrogen environment to prevent oxidation of the precious oils. Other fisheries use a trawling method to catch krill and dump them on deck. Enzymes in the krill tend to break down Krill components with this process. These manufacturers don’t use nitrogen and processing krill on board but rather flash freeze the krill and process it when they get back to port. Krill oil is generally extracted using water and ethanol or combinations of alcohols, acetone and ethyl acetate.
Marine oils whether of plant or animal origin as well as land plant oils have a number of ways that they can be isolated. Depending on the quality, purity and usage different isolation techniques are used. Some use molecular distillation, flash distillation, fractionation or CO2 extraction, cold-pressed procedures or chemical extraction.
Molecular distillation produces a high quality pure oil end product. It is used to remove environmental toxins such as mercury, lead, dioxins, PCBs and a number of other contaminants. This form of distillation also removes saturated fat and other components not wanted in the finished product. Molecular distillation is actually a gentle process using very low heat with a relatively short processing time. The process is done under vacumm further reducing the amount of heat used. A variation of molecular distillation is known as flash distillation which uses steam instead of vacuum to accomplish basically the same thing however, this product is not concentrated. The actual heating process doesn’t cause oxidative damage since there is no oxygen present to create free radicals out of the oils. Many of todays marine sources that are caught are quickly flushed with nitrogen to replace oxygen in their tissues and environment. This prevents oxidative lipid breakdown which generates aldehyde byproducts which destroys the quality of the omega-3 fatty acids. Keeping the marine oils radical free produces a product that has a pleasant smell and taste and will be burp free.
Fractionation or CO2 Extraction
Fractionation or CO2 extraction is an extention of molecular or flash distillation. Once the oil is distilled, pressure and heat are used to concentrate DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosopentaenoic acid) from other fatty acids. Not all manufacturers use this process.
Cold-pressed oils are achieved by using a lower-heat technique than other distilallation processes. Higher heat distillations tend to produce more oil from the same amount of starting material however, the higher heat tends to destroy flavor, nutritional value, purity and color of the finished product. Cold-pressed oils cost more to produce but are of better quality and flavor.
Depending on the manufacturer different chemical extractions are used. Chemical solvents such as ethanol, butanol, propanol, various ketones and/or ethyl acetate are used to isolate krill oil. Some manufacturers use water and ethanol only while others use a combination of alcohols, acetone and ethyl acetate. The water and ethanol process is preferred because it leaves out acetone byproducts.
Molecular distillation of marine oils certainly has advantages in that they are very pure, can be highly concentrated and have less fishy odor and taste because of less oxidation. Since molecular distillation is done under vacuum very low temperatures can be used to get the fatty acids to evaporate. In fact, much lower temperatures than fish oil normally boils at. Each omega-3 fatty acid is isolated based on its molecular weight such that EPA evaporates first followed by the larger DHA. Contaminants such as heavy metals and man made toxic molecules stay behind allowing for a purified oil product. Not only that, but you have concentrated the omega-3s and removed other fatty acids you don’t want. Our diets tend to supply us with too many omega-6 fatty acids which upsets the balance of fatty acids. We need far more omega-3 fatty acids which can be molecularly distilled from marine sources. Importantly, molecularly distilled fatty acids should be safe for pregnant and nursing moms to take. The only disadvantage is that is costs more than other extraction methods.
Krill Oil Uses
Krill oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids, choline and astaxanthin which promotes cardiovascular, bone, brain, joint, and muscle health as well as female health. The phospholipids are integral molecular components of every cell membrane in your body and brain and astaxanthin is known as the most powerful antioxidant known today that protects cell membranes from lipid oxidation by scavenging free radicals that can break down the fatty acids that are in cell membranes. This is important for proper cell signaling and bringing materials in and out of the cell. For these reasons, krill oil has become a popular omega-3 supplement
Many people who take fish oil supplements are now switching to krill oil supplements. The krill oil is a much higher quality product simply because it contains phospholipids that have high bioavailability that can be used by the body as is and also because it contains the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin neither which are found in fish oils. Astaxanthin protects the omega-3 fatty acids in krill oil from oxidation preventing it from becoming rancid. This also prevents fishy aftertaste and fish burps that are so common with fish oils because they have become oxidized and therefore rancid.
Krill Oil Benefits
Benefits of krill oil are many but certainly important for cardiovascular and brain. Krill oil lowers blood triglycerides effectively lower bad cholesterol levels in blood. This is important for keeping arteries clear of plaque and improve heart health. Krill oil also stabilizes blood pressure. Krill oil has many benefits in the brain. Since the fatty acids come in phosphatidylcholine form, this phospholipid can incorporate right into neuronal membranes. Phosphatidylcholine is involved in ion channel activity and therefore important for signaling with the release of transmitter. It is also used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that is so important for short-term memory. In other words, krill oil boosts memory function throughout the brain in terms of concentration, focus and recall. It has been reported to improve mood and to boost short-term memory.
The astaxanthin in krill oil has been reported to aid in sun damage and to prevent sunburn. It has also been reported to inhibit cataracts from forming which is a problem we all face as we get up in years. This antioxidant is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that arthritic patients take to lessen stiffness and pain in their joints. Astaxanthin protects all cell membranes but in particular brain cells. Brain cell membranes are constantly active and bombarded by free radicals. This powerful antioxidant keeps neuronal cell membranes in great shape keeping the mind sharp. And, yes, astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain-barrier. Not only does it pass the blood-brain-barrier but incorporates itself right into the neuronal plasma membrane vertically. It attracts (scavenges) free electrons in solution keeping them away from the phospholipids in the membrane.
Krill Oil Side Effects
As with any supplement or pharmaceutical, side effects may occur with some individuals. The general questions you need to ask yourself about any supplement include: does this supplement interact with other drugs or supplements you might be taking, are you pregnant or breast-feeding, are you allergic to any of the ingredients and/or do you have any tissue or organ dysfunction.
Given that we are dealing with krill oil, this means this supplement is coming from shell fish. Shell fish include oysters, clams, abalone, scallops, crabs, lobster, shrimp, krill (related to shrimp) to mention a few. The list goes on but if it has a hard shell (mollusc) or exoskeleton (crustacean) you need to stay away from it. The signs and symptoms can appear instantaneously or suddenly show up several hours later. Symptoms to look for include: rash/hives on the skin, gastrointestinal upset, swelling of the lips, tongue, throat and/or face and possible wheezing or coughing.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding can be a difficult time. No matter what you want to take, you need to consult with your healthcare provider first. In terms of krill oil, very little is known so best to avoid taking this supplement unless your physician says it’s okay. Are you taking other drugs or supplements? Marine oils are known to act as blood thinners. If you are taking other blood thinners such as Coumadin (Warfarin), aspirin, prescription NSAIDS, Ginkgo biloba, Vinpocetine, Bacopa or other related botanicals, talk with your doctor before you take krill oil. Excessive amounts of blood thinners can cause bruising and internal bleeding. If you are planning on having surgery done and are taking krill oil or other blood thinners, you will need to stop taking the supplements two weeks before.
It is well noted in the literature that krill oil side effects are few. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given krill oil GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status.. All of the krill oil ingredients including phospholipids, omega-3s (EPA and DPA), choline and astaxanthin are GRAS components and in fact krill oil is used as a component of medical foods and as a food ingredient.
Krill Oil Dosage
The appropriate dose of krill oil depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.
One clinical trial on krill oil was conducted by Neptune Technology and BioResources . Neptune Krill Oil (NKO) was tested and was awarded the best nutritional supplement in 2010. In order to have an idea of proper doses it is best to follow the amounts that were used in that clinical trial. NKO was clinically proven to boost heart, joint, brain and women’s health.
The Food and Drug Administration has not established a daily recommended allowance for omega-3s. Some clinical trials have patients taking 8,000mg a day with no side effects and some individuals take as little as 500mg a day and experience benefits. Ultimately, it depends on how concentrate the omega-3 and phospholipids are. Some manufacturers suggest 1000 mg daily for the average sized person and up to 2,000mg daily for larger individuals to see optimal benefits. Do not compare this to fish oil dosages because krill oil has greater absorption in the gut and better bioavailability. So, in essence, 1000mg of krill oil will outperform 2,000mg of fish oil.