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Krill Oil Provides Nutrient Building Blocks with Breakthrough Bioactivity

Omega-3 is now a household term. Omega-3s are lipid nutrients because they don’t mix easily with water. Most of the omega-3s DHA (DocosaHexaenoic Acid) and EPA (EicosaPentaenoic Acid) are prepared from fish and are triglycerides, a storage form of fatty acids—literally fat. But another form of omega-3s has broader and more potent benefits than fish omega-3s—the vital lipids of krill.

Krill are shrimp-like ocean creatures (Crustaceans) that survive and reproduce under the most challenging ocean conditions. They are believed to be the largest single species biomass on the planet, which is a measure of their biological success. Krill thrive even in the frigid Antarctic seas, mainly because they carry ample supplies of the long-chain omega-3s DHA and EPA. But they also carry other lipids vital to life—vital lipids.

In the living krill, these vital lipids are organized into cell membranes. These dynamic molecular matrices manage virtually all important life processes. Krill cell membranes are fundamentally similar to human cell membranes. When consumed as supplements, the krill vital lipids help build human cell membranes. Fish oil triglycerides first must be processed by enzymes. This uses precious life energy and could account for krill’s clinical superiority over fish oil.

The krill vital lipid material is also very clean. Krill feed exclusively on algae, the primary producers in the marine food chain, so there is little chance for them to “bio-concentrate” toxins as do many fish. The best krill is Euphausia superba from the Antarctic, harvested by ecologically sustainable methods (“eco-harvesting”).


The krill lipid complex has a thick, oily consistency and is sometimes compared to fish oil as an omega-3 dietary supplement. But authentic krill lipids are not oils in the usual sense—they are actually a nutrient matrix of phospholipids (pronounced fos-fo-lip-ids) with omega-3s and other fatty acids and with astaxanthin, a rare and potent antioxidant. Biochemical cooperation between the phospholipids, DHA, EPA and astaxanthin accounts for krill’s breakthrough benefits in clinical trials.

Astaxanthin gives the krill matrix its red color and shelf life stability. Fish oils lack astaxanthin and are far more vulnerable to rancid breakdown. Fish oils also completely lack the phospholipids, whose “self-emulsifying” characteristics make them highly absorbable after oral consumption. Being preformed membrane molecules, the phospholipids self-insert into our cell membranes, carrying omega-3s with them.


In a large proportion of women, premenstrual problems affect life quality by negatively affecting mood and other mental states and by generating pain and other physical problems. Krill complex was compared against fish oil for the relief of premenstrual complaints. In a double-blind trial, women of childbearing age were randomly assigned to take either krill complex or fish oil, and filled in detailed questionnaires which kept track of 10 well recognized menstrual complaints, and their use of pain pills.

After 45 days the women taking krill complex had statistically significant improvements in all 10 complaints, including irritability, depression, breast tenderness, joint pain, weight gain, abdominal pain, swelling, bloating, stress, and “feelings of being overwhelmed.” Those taking fish oil reported improvements in just weight gain and abdominal pain. From day 45 to day 90 all the krill benefits were sustained while for the fish oil group only relief of swelling was added.

The women receiving krill complex also lowered their ibuprofen or acetaminophen use significantly more than those on fish oil. They also avoided the unpleasant reflux regurgitation experienced by two-thirds of those who got the fish oil.


High total and LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides, are proven risk factors for cardiovascular disease and are also linked to premature memory decline. In a randomized clinical trial, 120 men and women with these blood lipid problems received either krill complex, fish oil or a placebo for 90 days. Krill significantly lowered total and LDL cholesterol and elevated HDL cholesterol, and at higher intakes also significantly lowered triglycerides and fasting blood glucose. The krill benefits were far superior to fish oil. Krill’s impressive cardiovascular benefits further extended to lowering another major cardiovascular risk factor, CRP (C-reactive protein).


In another double-blind trial, 90 subjects with severe joint complaints and/or cardiovascular problems were randomized to receive either krill complex (300 mg per day) or a placebo. They were allowed to use only acetaminophen for pain. At day seven, krill had significantly improved joint pain (by 29 percent), joint stiffness (by 20 percent), and functional impairment (by 30 percent). CRP was already significantly lowered.

By day 30, those on krill had dramatically lower CRP (by 31 percent). Their joint pain was 38 percent lower, stiffness was 39 percent improved, and function was 36 percent improved, versus no improvement in the placebo group. Those receiving krill also had significantly lower acetaminophen intake, by 32 percent versus just 6 percent by those on placebo.

Blood CRP reflects inflammatory activity occurring virtually anywhere in the body. In parallel with abnormal blood lipid levels, elevated CRP is a strong predictor of future risk for cardiovascular or brain “adverse events.” Blood lipids predict only about half of cardiovascular risk, and CRP predicts most of the other half. CRP testing is affordable and is a useful complement to blood lipid assessment.


Human cells have a membrane system organized fundamentally like krill. The membrane’s foundation or matrix is built by phospholipids with their attached fatty acids. DHA and EPA give the membrane fluidity, to allow its catalytic proteins to dynamically change shape and make contact within the membrane. Astaxanthin is a potent membrane stabilizer and immune system regulator.

For humans as for krill, the omega-3 phospholipids are the best cell membrane fluidizers. PhosphatidylCholine (PC) is the most common carrier of DHA and EPA, and krill complex is an excellent dietary source of this “omega-3 PC.” Membranes drive normal human metabolism, which determines our health. The higher the omega-3 phospholipid content of the membrane, the higher its metabolic activity.

Operating exclusively via cell membranes, DHA and EPA have multifunctional “supernutrient” effects. They are practically vitamins, since the body is extremely limited at making them from precursor nutrients. Their importance for early vision and brain development is well documented. For adults, a 2006 meta-analysis by the American Psychiatric Association linked DHA + EPA nutritional status with healthy mood management.

Omega-3 PC as it comes from krill has been found to efficiently deliver omega-3s to the brain. Memory formation, attention, and other higher brain functions are also extensively tied in with DHA and EPA status. Studies indicate the better an individual’s DHA + EPA status, the lower their risks for a variety of cognitive problems. DHA and EPA also positively influence function in many different cells, by regulating protein production and activation at the gene level.


A visionary international cooperation begun in 1982 continues to ensure that Antarctic krill harvesting remains sustainable. In that year the CCAMLR, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, was founded as a multinational organization to exclusively set and regulate “precautionary” catch quotas for the krill and other Antarctic fisheries. In the decades since, eco-harvesting techniques were developed that optimize krill fishing yield without damage to krill that are not netted (“escape mortality”). “By-catch” (harm to other species) is virtually nonexistent.

Developed in close cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund, and endorsed by the Marine Stewardship Council, these advanced techniques also combat illegal fishing and facilitate scientific documentation of the krill fishery. Every ship is tracked by GPS, catches are strictly monitored, and current catch levels are far below the set quotas.

Krill vital lipids are challenging to produce, so it is best to purchase only from reputable suppliers. The best processing for the consumer uses a nontoxic solvent (ethanol) and produces material with highly potent vital lipids and free of environmental chemical contamination. For maintenance intakes, upwards of 300 mg/day will often suffice. For premenstrual problems or to generally improve mood, 700 mg/day is a good start and can be increased to 1000 mg/day after three weeks for added benefit.

For CRP management, support for healthy cholesterol homeostasis, and other cardiovascular benefits, intakes of 1000 mg/day and higher are appropriate. To further enhance cardiovascular or brain health, krill can be additionally enhanced with DHA or EPA from other sources. Reputable krill supplements are excellently tolerated up to 2,000 mg/day. This material is not vegetarian and may not be suitable for individuals with seafood allergies.

The krill vital lipids are unique cell membrane building blocks. They literally feed our cell membranes, which are fundamental to our life processes. Krill vital lipids offer remarkable nutritional support for the brain, circulation, immune system, joints, heart, and liver, and for total health and well-being.

Scientific References—Partial List

  1. Hewitt RP, Watkins JL, Naganobu M, others. “Setting a precautionary catch limit for Antarctic krill.” Oceanography 2002;15:26–33.
  2. Kidd PM. “Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids.” Altern Med Rev 2007;12:207–7.
  3. Sampalis F, Bunea R, Pelland MF, others. “Evaluation of the effects of Neptune Krill OilTM on the management of premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea.” Altern Med Rev 2003;8:171–9.
  4. Bunea R, El Farrah K, Deutsch L. “Evaluation of the effects of Neptune krill oil on the clinical course of hyperlipidemia.” Altern Med Rev 2004;9:420–8.
  5. Deutsch L. “Evaluation of the effects of Neptune krill oil on chronic inflammation and arthritic symptoms.” J Am Coll Nutr 2007;26:39–48.
  6. Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration, Kaptoge S, Di Angelantonio E, others. “C-reactive protein concentration and risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and mortality: an individual participant meta-analysis.” Lancet 2010;375(9709):132–140.
  7. Ridker PM, Rifai N, Rose L, others. “Comparison of C-reactive protein and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in the prediction of first cardiovascular events.” N Engl J Med 2002;347:1557–65.
  8. Hulbert A. “Membrane fatty acids as pacemakers of animal metabolism.” Lipids 2007;42:811–9.
  9. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Omega-3 fatty acids and reduced risk of coronary heart disease.” 2004; Docket No 2003Q-0401.

Doctor Parris Kidd

Dr. Kidd has been a contributing editor and science advisor to Total Health magazine since 1996. His columns include interviews with Dr. Andrew Weil, cancer treatment pioneers Drs. Nick Gonzalez and Linda Isaacs, Dr. Dharma Khalsa, Dr. Barrie Tan, and environmentalist Erin Brockovich. Other columns such as Why You Should Take Vitamins became instant classics. Dr. Parris Kidd’s website provides detailed information on his professional reviews, seminars, books and other career accomplishments.