There is a lot of noise on the Internet about the difference between these two sources of omega-3s, not very much of it well informed.
Both krill oil and fish oil are good for you. They both contain EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fats that have proven benefits for all sorts of health conditions, everything from arthritis to depression and cardio.
Let’s look first at krill oil. Pure krill oil naturally contains both phospholipids and astaxanthin (a powerful antioxidant). Phospholipids are the stuff from which your cell walls are made. Simply put, that means your cells recognize incoming phospholipids as friendly, and not foreign to them. Therefore they readily absorb into your cells.
Phospholipids in krill oil
The phospholipids found in krill oil are the stuff of which our cell walls are made. Phospholipids are also rapidly absorbed into our bodies. Fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are a component of phospholipids, and bound to the phospholipids, they are fed into a complex signaling system known as the eicosanoid system, which regulates a vast array of our body's functions. Phospholipids also are involved in storing excess energy in fats.
Phospholipids actually are made up of two fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which are bound through a phosphate link to the essential nutrient choline. Choline is very important for your brain. You might have heard of phosphatidylcholine, which a lot of testing has shown can enhance mental sharpness.
Astaxanthin in krill oil
The astaxanthin in krill oil comes from algae. Krill eat the algae that grows on the ice in the Antarctic (not the Arctic, as some people seem to believe!), you ingest the krill oil and … voila! … you’ve got a wonderful anti-oxidant in your body. Remember, anti-oxidants enter your blood and scavenge for those pesky DNA-damaging free radicals. These are formed when a molecule in your cells lose an electron because you’ve been exposed to pollution, radiation, herbicides, smoking and other stresses. If you eat too many calories, too, it can trigger free-radical activity.
Free radicals are unstable and they try to get stable again by stealing their needed electron from another compound. Then the compound from which the electron is stolen can become another free radical, and we’re off to the races like an aging horse – speaking of which, the older you get the more this happens.
So how does krill oil compare to fish oil?
Many of the fats we ingest from food, vegetable oils and fish are in the form of triglycerides. Tri means "three," and triglycerides have three fatty acids bound to a simple backbone. Triglycerides are a source of energy for our bodies, containing twice much energy as carbohydrates or proteins.
However, triglycerides cannot pass through cell membranes freely. Special enzymes on the walls of blood vessels called lipoprotein lipases must break down triglycerides into free fatty acids and glycerol. And if you have too many triglycerides in the body, you can get atherosclerosis (vascular disease), heart disease, and stroke.
So fish oil contains EPA, DHA and triglycerides, which must be broken down by the liver into its components before it can be absorbed into the body. Pure krill oil contains EPA, DHA, choline, phospholipids, astaxanthin, and no triglycerides.
More omega-3s in fish oil?
But doesn’t fish oil have more EPA and DHA (omega-3s) than krill oil? Well, yeah, but you have to remember that because the EPA and DHA in krill oil are bonded to phospholipids, it gets absorbed into the body more efficiently. Neptune Bioressources, makers of NKO krill oil, have recently done research that demonstrated how more efficient krill oil was at delivering the goods than Lovaza, a prescription drug (really, just highly refined fish oil).
We are likely to hear much more about this in the near future, because as of this writing there are numerous clinical studies underway testing the bioavailability and efficacy of krill oil and phospholipids for such conditions as cardio, arthritis, depression, and more.
Is krill oil more expensive?
If you are measuring by how much omega-3 per dose is listed on the bottle label, krill oil is going to seem more expensive. A recent report compared a number of fish oil and krill oil brands, and found that to obtain 100mg of EPA and DHA in a capsule, fish oil cost ran between 1-15 cents. Krill oil could cost up to 30 cents for the same amount.
However, now that you know that krill oil has a lot of benefits and may be absorbed more efficiently than fish oil, you may get a different picture. As for being costlier because it is harder to catch, this is likely to change. Why? Because as the species of oily fish used to produce oil for human consumption are become rarer, and as the demand for fish oil rises, prices for fish oil are going to go up.
Presently, krill oil is relatively new to the market and more difficult to harvest and refine into supplements, so the price is relatively high. As the krill harvests become larger and the harvesting becomes more advanced, the price of krill oil will fall, bringing it more into line with fish oil.
So, in conclusion, both krill oil and fish oil are wonderful sources of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. You can’t go wrong taking either. However, it would appear that krill oil is a rising star, and is crowding its way into the firmament of supplement heaven.