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Something Smells Fishy – Antarctic Krill or Fish Oil?

With the rise of krill oil as a supplement it has become confusing to know whether to choose krill oil or to stick to fish oil.

This article looks at both helping you choose the right product for your needs.


Krill Oil

Antarctic krill are small, red-coloured crustaceans that exist in huge masses in the Antarctic waters that feed on microscopic algae.

Krill are an essential part of the ecosystem and act as a food source for whales, seals and penguins, therefore it is important that krill oil is obtained from an environmentally sustainable source. Krill is rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids, phospholipids, astaxanthin, vitamin A and E.

In December 2014, United States Pharmacopeia-National Formulary (USP-NF) introduced a new monograph for krill oil which has been adopted by Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) as the standard for krill oil used in Australia.

Krill oil is not suitable for patients with a shellfish allergy.


Components of Krill Oil


The EPA and DHA fatty acid profile of krill resembles that of fish oil, but with only 63% of the EPA/DHA content of fish oil, suggesting greater absorption. The DHA content of krill oil is similar to that of oily fish, but the EPA content is higher. The EPA/DHA fatty acids in krill are 1.6 times more absorbable than the EPA/DHA in fish oil.


Phospholipids are structural components of human cell membranes. They are water-soluble, have better bioavailability and are more efficiently incorporated into cell membranes than triglyceride or free fatty acid forms of omega-3. Phospholipids are NOT found in fish oil.

The health benefits of krill oil are thought to be a result of its phospholipids being bound to, and carrying, high omega-3 (EPA and DHA) content. Most of the fatty acids in fish are incorporated into triglycerides, whereas 30-60% of the fatty acids in krill are incorporated into phospholipids. This had led researchers to hypothesise that phospholipids help to improve the bioavailability of EPA and DHA by improving the transport of these fatty acids through the intestinal wall.


The antioxidant activity of krill oil is attributed to its astaxanthin content; a powerful antioxidant. This component is NOT found in fish oil.

Clinical studies confirm that astaxanthin has significant effects on lipid peroxidation, in inflammation, obesity-induced oxidative stress, functional dyspepsia and male infertility. It is reported to improve lipid metabolism, reducing triglyceride and total cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol.


Where Krill Oil may be Useful

Astaxanthin and anti-ageing

Studies have measured oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of krill. ORAC, which shows the ability of a substance to block free radicals indicate that krill oil is 48 times more effective than fish oil and 34 times more effective than coenzyme Q10. This antioxidant activity of krill oil is believed to be due to its astaxanthin content.

Astaxanthin has additionally  been shown to improve the signs of skin ageing by improving skin wrinkle (“crow’s feet”), age spots, elasticity, texture and moisture content.


Cholesterol and Heart Health

Recent research suggests krill oil may be more effective at lowering cholesterol than fish oil.

Supplementing with krill oil has shown to be effective at managing cholesterol; reducing total cholesterol, LDLs and triglycerides while increasing levels of HDLs.

Studies show that 1-3g of krill oil was useful in reducing high blood lipids, with 500mg krill oil being enough to regulate long-term blood lipids.

At the end of the 90 days, those taking krill oil were shown to have reduced LDLs by 32-39% and triglycerides by 11-26.5%, while having increased HDLs by 44-59%.2,3


Metabolic Syndrome and Weight Management

It appears that an increased intake of omega-3 krill oil can help support weight loss by improving metabolic disorders.

A diet high in krill oil provides changes in membrane fatty acid composition,  blood sugar, reverses fatty liver, fat-cell enlargement and inflammation of white adipose tissue.



One of the many benefit of omega-3 found in clinical trials is its anti-inflammatory action in the body. Krill oil has been found to exhibit positive effects on the joints in arthritis, reducing pain by 30% and stiffness by 20% within 7-14 days.


PMS and Dysmenorrhea

Krill oil has been shown to reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome such as bloating, weight gain, abdominal pain, depression, irritability and feeling overwhelmed.

Krill oil also reduces dysmenorrhoea and the use of analgesics in menstruating women.


Brain Health

DHA is an important component of the brain and necessary for brain cells to communicate. Studies show krill oil improves focus and concentration in those with ADHD and may offer anti-inflammatory assistance in stroke.

The amount of omega-3 in the brain tends to decrease with age, decreasing membrane fluidity and cell communication, therefore impairing memory.

Krill oil, and its phospholipids and fatty acids, play an important role in elderly brain function as well as during pregnancy and infancy where DHA is essential for neurological development.`


Fish Oil

Fish oil would have to be one of the most studied supplements in the natural health industry. It is a substance that has far reaching therapeutic for almost any one.

Key Areas That Fish Oil is Useful

Joint Pain and Inflammation

Studies show that the EPA/DHA component of fish oil significantly reduced  joint pain intensity, joint swelling, morning stiffness and the number of painful and/or tender joints at a dose of 2.7 grams per day.

EPA and DHA exert anti-inflammatory and pain relieving actions via suppressing a number inflammatory markers.

Maintenance of Triglycerides

Omega-3 has been reported to improving heart health via reducing inflammation, blood pressure, plaque accumulation and cholesterol.

A study reported a significant difference in triglyceride levels by 32% in the group taking 2.6 g of EPA and DHA. The study indicated that there was a direct correlation between increased dosage and improved results. Fish oil also can maintain triglycerides within the normal range.

Mood and Cognition

A study showed that after 35 days of supplementation of fish with 2.4 grams of EPA and DHA was associated with an improvement in brain functions associated with attention, particularly those involving the cortical processing.

There was also a significant improvement in mood states including anger, anxiety, fatigue and confusion.

Fish oil has been shown to improve the outcomes of a number of conditions which Emed has explored in some depth.


Further Reading


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