The cold, pristine Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica is home to one of our planet’s largest biomasses
– Antarctic krill. Penguins, humpback whales and fish feed on krill, which live near the bottom of the food chain.
Krill is a pure, natural source of health promoting long-chain omega-3s, EPA and DHA, which are among the most studied nutrients in the world. Consumers looking for alternatives to fish oil to boost their omega-3 levels now have a broader range of options. As the second largest commercially available source of long-chain omega-3s, krill oil is taking market share in Europe, the U.S.and Australia.
The first noticeable benefit of krill oil is that generally the pills are smaller compared to other marine sources of omega-3s. The other benefit of krill oil is the absence of reflux because its omega-3s more easily mix with the stomach contents, avoiding fishy burps and other unpleasant digestive issues.
Phospholipids – the carriers of EPA and DHA
For many years there has been an ongoing comparison between krill oil and fish oil. It might come as a surprise that the lipids in krill are actually more similar to the total fats in fish as compared to fish oil.
As an example, krill oil and wild Atlantic salmon both deliver long chain omega-3s in a mixture of triglycerides and phospholipids. Fish oil relies solely on triglycerides to deliver its omega-3s and it doesn’t contain phospholipids, choline or astaxanthin.
Krill’s long chain omega-3s are better recognised by the body because they are attached to phospholipids. Phospholipids are the building blocks of all cell membranes and they function as carriers of EPA and DHA to various parts of the human body, such as the brain, heart, eyes, skin and joints.
Choline: an essential nutrient
In addition to phospholipids, krill oil contains choline, another building block important for liver, heart and cognitive health.
Similar to widespread global omega-3 deficiencies, most of the population is also choline deficient. According to Cholineinfo.org, choline is an essential nutrient that is required for life’s most basic functions, such as normal cell activity, liver function and transporting nutrients throughout the body.
Consumers look for sustainable and traceable products
While health benefits are a major factor in determining which omega-3 options are best, sustainability and traceability are also key elements for consideration. Most omega-3 dietary supplements rely on oils sourced from reduction fisheries where species like krill, herring and anchovies are found. These species sit low on the food web and act as a primary food source for larger fish, birds and marine mammals.
As such, they represent a vital part of the food chain and play a very important role in the overall ecosystem. This is why such great care is taken by the Antarctic krill fishery in constantly monitoring the krill biomass as well as the ecosystem that depends on it for survival. It is also the reason why the fishery earned an “A” rating in 2015 from the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP).
The SFP’s 2015 report called the Antarctic krill fishery one of the most sustainably managed reduction fisheries globally. The stringent, precautionary catch limits for krill are carefully regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Harvesting is restricted to a specific region of the Southern Ocean, Area 48. The annual quota for Antarctic Krill is set at 1 percent of the total biomass, which amounts to 620,000 metric tons, whereas the recognised precautionary level for other fisheries is 10 percent of total biomass. The actual Antarctic krill catch is less than 300,000 tons per year, or 0.5 percent of total biomass. Today’s rate of krill harvesting is not a threat to the Antarctic ecosystem.