Krill oil is an Omega-3 Fatty Acid (n-3FA) rich oil harvested from a very small marine crustacean. Krill are small shrimp like animals ranging from about ½ to 2 inches in length and are one of the most abundant animals in the ocean. Krill is at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain and are eaten by a host of other animals from fish to squid to seals and whales. They in turn feed on phytoplankton which occupies the bottom rung of the food chain. The commercial fishing of krill occurs primarily in the northern Pacific Ocean and southern oceans along the coasts of Canada and Japan. In Japan, krill is fished directly for food and is considered by the Japanese a delicacy called okiami. But other commercial uses include use in aquaculture, sport fishing bait and the production of very high quality n-3FA oils.
In addition to it useful source of a high quality, krill oil shows a lower contaminant level of heavy metals and toxins. For this reason n-3FA is becoming popular as a supplement. Another reason is because of a unique antioxidant that it contains. Astaxanthin is a type of antioxidant that occurs in this marine animal that can protect the human body from the damages of free radicals and oxidative load. The characteristic red-pink color attributed to krill and other crustaceans (like shrimp and lobster) comes from the red pigment in astaxanthin, and is due to the type of algae that the krill ingest.
As we know, antioxidants protect our body from harmful highly reactive substances called free-radicals that are implicated in human disease and degenerative disorders. One unique property of astaxanthin not found in many of the other antioxidants is that it crosses the blood-brain barrier, thus protecting the brain, eyes and our central nervous system where other antioxidants cannot.
Krill oil may become a favorite for those supplementing with n-3FAs as it may be preferred over fish oil (derived from a higher food chain ocean animal) that can accumulate higher levels of mercury and other toxins because they live longer. Another reason is because krill oil does not come with the fishy taste often associated with fish oil. Flax oil is a vegetarian form of n-3FA but there are those people who do not possess a critical enzyme that converts the substrate fatty acid to the desired n-3FA. Remember, krill oil also contains a higher amount of astaxanthin than does fish oil. Flax seed oil contains no astaxanthin.
Krill oil in one scientific study of 120 people with elevated LDL-Cholesterol compared with placebo showed a reduction in LDL by 34% and an increase in HDL (good cholesterol) by 43.5%. When fish oil was compared it had less of an effect on LDL and HDL. Krill also was shown to lower Triglycerides.
Those with allergies to seafood should use caution when taking krill oil as there may be reactions. With the use of any n-3FA, one can realize an increase in bleeding time and thus those on blood thinners or those going in for elective surgery should refrain from use. Additionally, people using blood thinners, anti-platelet medication or NSAIDs must use caution and only use high doses of krill oil under physician supervision. Herbs such as garlic, ginkgo biloba and ginseng can also increase bleeding times.