Krill Oil Health Benefits, Controversy

2010-05-22 15:48

Krill oil, the omega-3 rich substance that is derived from shrimp-like crustaceans that populate the oceans, is a popular nutritional supplement because of its numerous health benefits. But the oil is also the source of some controversy, most recently brought to light by Whole Foods.

Krill Oil Health Advantages
Krill oil, like fish oil, contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), two omega-3 fatty acids that have been the subject of scores of research studies. Both DHA and EPA have been shown to reduce triglyceride levels, reduce inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, improve bone strength, reduce blood pressure, ease symptoms of PMS, relieve depressive symptoms, lower the risk of stroke, heart disease, and atherosclerosis, and inhibit the growth of colon cancer.

In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study of 90 people who had arthritis and/or cardiovascular disease, researchers discovered that study participants who took 300 mg of krill oil for one to two weeks had significantly less inflammation and improved symptoms of arthritis. In another study, 1,000 to 1,500 mg of krill oil daily significantly lowered cholesterol, triglyceride, and other lipid levels.

Women with PMS and dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) experienced relief when taking krill oil as part of a University of Montreal double-blind, randomized study. After three months’ treatment using either krill oil or fish oil, the women who had been taking krill oil said they needed to take significantly fewer pain killers than women who took fish oil, and they also reported significantly better emotional symptoms when compared with women in the fish oil group.

An advantage of krill oil supplements over fish oils is that because krill are at the bottom of the food chain, they do not accumulate and concentrate mercury like fish do. There have been concerns about the presence of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants in fish oils. Krill oil also has a different structure than fish oils, which makes it more easily absorbed by the body.

Krill Oil Controversy
The controversy revolving around krill oil supplements has to do with the fact that krill are culled from the oceans, where they are the mainstay of the diet of fish, penguins, seals, and whales. Recently, Whole Foods pulled krill oil supplements from its store shelves because, as noted in the statement the company has posted in its stores for customers to read, “Krill are an important source of food for marine animals including penguins, seals, and whales in the Antarctic. Declines of some predator populations in the areas where the krill fishery operates suggest that fishery management needs to better understand how to evaluate the prey requirements of other marine species in order to set sustainable catch levels for krill.”

Whole Foods further notes that it has chosen to discontinue selling krill oil supplements as it continues to monitor research on the matter. The company asks customers to consider alternatives to krill oil, including astaxanthin and fish oil.

The executive director of Global Organisation for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED), Adam Ismael, noted in a recent Fish Info & Services (FIS) article that the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), effectively monitors krill fishing in the Antarctic. “CCAMLR actually just implemented new measures in November for the krill fishery, which further protects predator species that feed on krill, as well as protecting the krill fishery itself.”

According to the FIS article, the krill industry insists they have only nine vessels that are licensed to fish for krill in the Antarctic and that they all follow CCAMLR guidelines.

In a New York Times article from May 25, 2008, entitled “Overfishing of krill threatens ocean ecosystem,” Denzil Miller, executive secretary of CCAMLR, noted that the idea of their guidelines is to spread out the catch once it reaches a certain size, especially in the south Atlantic where most of the krill fishing occurs. If they fail to do this, he said, the consequences could be disastrous, as krill catches were already increasing quickly.

Krill oil offers health benefits, as do fish oils and astaxanthin. When consumers consider which natural supplements to take, part of the decision should be based on whether the product is being brought to market in a responsible, sustainable fashion. For some consumers, krill oil supplements may be a product about which they need to think twice.

SOURCES:
Bunea R et al. Alternative Medicine Review 2004 Dec; 9(4): 420-28
Deutsch L. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2007 Feb; 26(1): 39-48
Fish Info & Services
New York Times, May 25, 2008
Sampalis F et al. Alternative Medicine Review 2003 May; 8(2): 171-79

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