It’s no secret the majority of the global population is deficient in omega-3s. In fact, a study published in Progress in Lipid Research looked at populations in North America, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa, and found many people have low or very low omega-3 levels.1 For this reason, it’s important for consumers to consider the Omega-3 Index—the amount of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in red blood cell membranes, expressed as a percentage of total fatty acids.
Strong evidence shows maintaining an Omega-3 Index above 8% is related to better general health. For example, a recent study of more than 27,000 individuals found an Omega-3 Index above 8% was associated with a 35% risk reduction of fatal coronary heart disease (CHD) relative to individuals with an Omega-3 Index below 4%.2 In fact, relatively lower levels of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have been associated with an increased risk for experiencing heart disease,3,4 cognitive and structural brain decline,5 eye disease6 and much more. Therefore, obtaining sufficient intake of EPA and DHA through the diet, or by taking a nutritional supplement, may lead to improved health outcomes in humans.
Krill oil, an increasingly popular omega-3 option
More than 10 years ago, the krill oil category was non-existent, but today it is the second largest commercially available source of omega-3s EPA/DHA after fish oil. Krill is becoming a popular alternative in the omega-3 space, driven by science and innovative technologies helping to steer the krill oil industry into new areas.
Krill oil is unique because it provides EPA and DHA mainly in the form of phospholipids, which are structurally different than omega-3 triglycerides found in fish oils. This difference is crucial because it dictates how EPA and DHA are delivered in the body. Since krill’s omega-3s are carried directly into the blood via the phospholipids, they help to raise the Omega-3 Index more efficiently.7 The body immediately recognizes phospholipid omega-3s and incorporates them into the cells before carrying them to the tissues and organs that need them the most. Sources of omega-3s in triglyceride form must be processed in the liver before they can be taken up by the cells and used by the body.
Krill oil also offers choline and astaxanthin, two essential nutrients often overlooked and underrated, but with a multitude of health benefits.
Choline is a macronutrient the body needs for many things such as cell structure, function and signalling, and like omega-3 fatty acids, choline contributes to cardiovascular, liver and cognitive health.8,9 Choline is an organic, water-soluble compound, neither a vitamin nor a mineral, and is often grouped with vitamin B complex due to its similar properties and functions. Only very small amounts of choline can be made in the liver, therefore the majority needs to come from diet, like omega-3s.
In krill oil, choline is mainly present in the form of phosphatidylcholine (PC), which is a structural component of cell membranes. Ninety-five percent of choline in the body is found in phospholipid form as phosphatidylcholine.
Choline is a conditionally essential nutrient,10 which is needed in the synthesis of neurotransmitters (acetylcholine) and phospholipids (PC, lyso-PC, choline plasmalogen and sphingomyelin). Only a small amount of choline can be made by the body itself, meaning the majority of a person’s choline supply needs to be taken in from the diet. Shockingly, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2003-2004 concluded that 90% of the American population has an inadequate intake of choline.11
Studies indicate choline deficiency can increase the risk of developing fatty liver and heart disease as well as interfere with memory.12 Increased choline intake may therefore lead to improved health outcomes for individuals suffering from choline deficiency.
Astaxanthin is an equally important nutrient. Astaxanthin, found naturally in krill oil, helps keep its omega-3s naturally fresh and stable, eliminating the need for added antioxidants or stabilizers. Krill oil is deep red in color, due to the astaxanthin, which carries a multitude of benefits. Astaxanthin offers anti-inflammatory properties with the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, has been associated with protecting lipids and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) from oxidation, and can be beneficial for cardiovascular health because it increases the “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lowers triglyceride levels.13,14 Finally, astaxanthin has the potential to neutralize free radicals, the unstable molecules that can damage cells, and increase the risk for age-related diseases and heart disease.15,16,17
Krill oil has a trifecta effect when it comes to nutrients¾EPA/DHA, choline and astaxanthin are all important for optimal health.
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Andreas Berg Storsve, Ph.D., is the director of R&D at Aker BioMarine. Storsve received his doctorate from the University of Oslo, and is a former Fulbright Scholar at the Athinoula A. Martinos Centre for Biomedical Imageing, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School.