Often taken as a supplement, krill are a rich source of omega 3 essential fatty acids including DHA and EPA, which have an anti-inflammatory effect and may support eye, brain and heart health – as well as easing the pain of arthritis.
What sets krill oil apart from fish oils, is a high concentration of an ingredient called astaxanthin – a powerful carotenoid antioxidant with a pink-red pigment – and another carotenoid pigment called canthaxanthin. Antioxidants are believed to protect cells in the body from damage from free radicals, atoms formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules.
Dr Sarah Brewer says: ’ Krill oil has a different chemical structure to other fish oils which is believed to make it more readily absorbed . The fatty acids it contains are bound to marine phospholipids which are have an anti-inflammatory effect, potentially useful for people with arthritis. It also contains astaxanthin an antioxidant which is believed to be 300 times more powerful than vitamins E and A.’
What does krill oil do?
Krill oil’s omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA are found in high concentrations in the human brain and the eyes, where, according to some experts they are linked to better development and function.
The high astaxanthin content of krill oil may protect cells from damage by free radicals, which are involved in many diseases, and lower levels of oxidative stress as well as improving blood flow. Some studies have shown that it may protect heart health.
Krill oil also contains marine phospholipids. These are found in cell membranes and are believed to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Krill oil has a different structure to other fish oils: the fatty acids it contains are mostly bound to phospholipids, whereas in fish oil they are mostly incorporated into triglycerides. Phospholipids act as a natural emulsifier to aid in the digestion of omega 3 fatty acids.
Osteoarthritis is caused by cartilage in the joints wearing thin, causing friction between the bones, and stiff, painful, swollen joints. It’s the most common form of arthritis, affecting around one third of people aged over 45 in the UK.
A 2007 study found that taking a 300mg daily dose of krill oil inhibits inflammation and reduced arthritic symptoms within seven to 14 days.
A 2017 study which gave young people two grams of krill oil supplements a day, for six weeks, boosted the patients’ markers for immune function for three hours post-exercise, compared to those given a placebo, suggesting it may aid recovery after exercise.
You may have heard about the recent Greenpeace report on the sustainability of krill. Read Healthspan’s response to sustainable krill fishing here.
Getting krill oil from your diet
Krill aren’t commonly available to eat whole, as they live in the icy waters of the Arctic and Antarctic and are not generally harvested for human consumption. They are mainly used in fish food, bait and pet food.
Many of the nutrients found in krill oil can be found in other foods. DHA and EPA can be found in fish, and astaxanthin is found in Atlantic pink salmon, shrimps, micro algae, yeast and trout. Taking a krill oil supplement may be the most convenient way to benefit from it.
Krill oil can cause flatulence, stomach upsets, diarrhoea and bloating. There is no specific upper daily safe limit. If you are taking blood-thinning medication, caution is advised, so check with your doctor before starting on krill oil supplements.
One or two capsules a day of 500mg krill oil is a standard dose, but you can take up to four capsules a day. Super strength 1,200mg one-a-day capsules are also available; one to two capsules a day can be taken.