Tiny Crustacean Reaps Hefty Health Benefits Extract from Shrimp-like Creature Proven Superior to Fish Oil
The benefits of fish oil - from reducing heart disease risk and hypertension, improving rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other autoimmune diseases, and treating mental health problems, to aiding in cancer prevention and treatment - have been widely recognized for several years. But recent scientific research has shed light on an intriguing marine extract with a unique biomolecular composition that may surpass the typical profile of most fish oils. Clinical research has shown this unusual concentrate to be safe and effective, and even superior to fish oil, in treating a variety of conditions such as high blood lipid levels, inflammation, arthritis, PMS and more.
Krill - the Staff of Life of Whales
What is the source of this novel decoction? Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), a tiny shrimp-like crustacean comprising the most abundant biomass on earth and the main food source for whales and other sea life (in fact, the blue whale purportedly consumes up to 8,000 pounds of krill each day during feeding season!). The manufacturer, Neptune Technologies and Bioressources, has patented a cold vacuum extraction process that maintains the original nutrients intact, protected from exposure to heat, light, and oxygen (1) and markets their product as Neptune Krill Oil (NKO™). [Note: The Krill Oil softgels carried by IAS are the identical product.] Since the tiny organisms live in the pristine waters of the Antarctic Ocean, at the bottom of the food chain with a very short lifespan of one to two years, NKO™ is naturally free of heavy metals, dioxins and pesticides.
Unique Powerhouse of Synergistic Ingredients
What makes the extract from krill so unique is its biochemical composition, rich in phospholipids, omega-3 fatty acids (mainly EPA and DHA) and antioxidants.
Omega-3’s are a subset of the family of essential fatty acids (EFA’s), long- chain polyunsaturated acids derived from marine and vegetable sources. EFA’s are classified as “essential” because they cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from the diet. Important omega-3’s are the parent compound, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and its metabolites, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Cold water oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel are an excellent source of EPA and DHA, but, as we will soon discover, NKO™ provides a more highly absorbable form of the omega-3’s.
Phospholipids are a class of fat soluble compounds which are essential components of cell membranes. A major phospholipid found in NKO™ is phosphatidylcholine, which serves as a source of choline, a raw material for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. One aspect of Neptune Krill Oil’s remarkable biochemical profile is the formation of chemical bonds (through ester linkages) between its phospholipid groups and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. This association highly facilitates the passage of fatty acid molecules through the intestinal wall and substantially increases their bioavailability. (2-4) Fish oils, on the other hand, lack this phospholipid complex and instead EFA’s are chemically bound to triglycerides. (2) Research has shown that EFA’s linked to phospholipids are more effective in raising fatty acid concentrations than EFA’s bound to triglycerides; (4) this superior bioavailability is most likely due to the enhanced intestinal absorption mechanism. (4)
In addition to its highly bioavailable omega-3 content, NKO™ also packs a potent antioxidant punch consisting of vitamins A and E, astaxanthin, and what is described in the literature as a “novel” flavonoid. Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring carotenoid pigment molecularly similar (though superior to) beta-carotene. A powerful antioxidant, it fights lipid peroxidation and oxidative damage of LDL-cholesterol, cell membranes, cells, and tissues. (5) Flavonoids are a large family of compounds predominantly synthesized by plants that have diverse biochemical actions. In addition to their antioxidant capacities, they are reported to have antiviral, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties. (6) The flavonoid found in krill is described as “novel” both due to its unusual molecular structure and the fact that it is the first of its class to be extracted from an animal marine source.
We saw earlier that the phospholipids in NKO™ are chemically bonded to EPA and DHA; similarly, the flavonoid and antaxanthin are also esterified to EPA and DHA, which imparts significant stability and antioxidant potency to the oil. (1) According to the manufacturer, NKO™ provides 47 times the antioxidant power of fish oil, and over 300 times the antioxidant capacity of vitamins A and E alone.
NKO™ Clinically Proven to Treat Multiple Conditions
Heart disease and stroke combined is the leading cause of disease and mortality in most Western countries. (2,7) Evidence suggests that elevated total and LDL cholesterol and lowered HDL cholesterol are risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD) and that normalizing blood lipid levels can slow or reverse the progression of the disease. (2, 7) The current recommendation for reducing cardiovascular risk is a daily intake of 1-3 g EPA and DHA or 3-9 g fish oil. (2,7) Researchers sought to determine whether the extract from Antarctic Krill might be a superior agent for normalizing blood lipid values.
A 12-week, double-blind, randomized trial was performed to compare the efficacy of NKO™ versus high EPA/DHA fish oil in the treatment of hyperlipidemia (high blood lipid levels). 120 patients were randomly assigned to one of four groups and received either:
A: 2-3 g NKO™ daily, depending on body mass index (BMI)
B: 1-1.5 g NKO™ daily depending on BMI for 12 weeks with a follow-up dose of 500 mg/day for 90 days
C: 3 g fish oil daily (180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA per gram of oil)
D: a placebo
Fasting blood lipid levels (total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL)) and glucose were analyzed initially and after 30 and 90 days of treatment for all groups and after 180 days for Group B.
The results of the study, summarized in the table below, were truly remarkable. Dosages of 1.0 or 1.5 g NKO™ lowered blood lipid levels more significantly than two to three times the amount of fish oil! For example, 1 or 1.5 g NKO™ lowered total cholesterol two times more; raised HDL ten times more; and lowered LDL seven times more than 3 g of fish oil. An even larger benefit was obtained at the 2 and 3 g doses of NKO™ - LDL was lowered eight times more; triglycerides were reduced nine times more, and HDL raised an impressive 14 times more than an equivalent or larger (3 g) dose of fish oil! Researchers also found that after the 12-week study, a maintenance dose of 500 mg NKO™ was effective for long-term management of blood lipid levels.(2) The investigators concluded that the “unique molecular composition” of NKO™ “with its abundance of phospholipids, omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants may explain the significant effect on blood lipid regulation … and offers a superior approach toward the reduction of risk for cardiovascular disease.” (2)
Hyperlipidemia Study: Percent Change in Blood Lipid Levels and Glucose After 90 Days of Treatment
Total Cholesterol (mg/dL)
1.0 g NKO™
1.5 g NKO™
2 g NKO™
3.0 g NKO™
3.0 g Fish Oil
Quality of Life
According to Neptune Technologies and Bioressources, an unpublished “Quality of Life” study was performed in conjunction with the hyperlipidemia study. NKO™ was compared to fish oil in a number of different physical and mental health categories as measured by the SF-36 questionnaire, a standardized 36-question survey. 120 participants were divided into four groups and received the treatments described above for the hyperlipidemia study. They completed the SF-36 Quality of Life questionnaire at the end of 30, 90 and 180 days and rated such categories as physical function, fatigue, pain, social and emotional function, general health (mental and physical) and physical appearance. Results indicated that NKO™ had a significantly greater effect on quality of life measures even at the 1.0 and 1.5 g doses than twice the amount (3.0 g) of fish oil.
Chronic Inflammation and Arthritis
Researchers postulate that the dramatic decline in the dietary intake of omega-3’s and the escalating consumption of omega-6’s (another group of EFA’s) in the Western world may be at the root of the corresponding rise in inflammation-related illnesses. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in the healthful source evening primrose oil, as well as in less desirable vegetable oils, such as corn and sunflower oils, present in processed foods. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential; however, metabolites of the omega-6 group are significantly more inflammatory than those of omega-3 (1,2,8) A increased level of omega-6 fatty acids in the phospholipids of cell membranes can result in the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes. (1,2) (Prostaglandins are potent hormone-like substances that mediate a variety of physiological functions; leukotrienes, related to prostaglandins, are involved in the inflammatory response.) The good news is that increased omega-3 fatty acid intake promotes the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes (1,2) and results in improvement of the omega 3 to 6 ratio. This favorably enhances cellular functioning (2) and aids in ameliorating inflammatory processes.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) are often used to treat inflammation; however chronic use of these agents can lead to cardiovascular risk, drug toxicity and other adverse events. Clearly, there is a need for safer alternatives. Neptune Krill Oil’s synergistic cocktail of ingredients provides a three-prong approach to the safe and effective management of chronic inflammatory conditions - not only do the omega-3’s trigger the secretion of anti-inflammatory chemicals, but phospholipids protect cell membranes from injury and free radical attack (1), while astaxanthin inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory compounds. (1)
A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study was conducted to evaluate the effect of NKO™ on symptoms of arthritis and on blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker of inflammation. 90 patients with any combination of cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis received either NKO™ (300 mg daily) or placebo for 30 days. Patients with arthritis completed the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities (WOMAC) arthritic pain assessment - a 24-item questionnaire evaluating joint pain, stiffness and level of functional impairment. CRP values and WOMAC scores were measured initially and at days 7, 14 and 30.
The results of treatment were evident within two weeks: in the NKO™ group, serum CRP was reduced by 19% after 7 days compared to an increase of 16% in the placebo group. After 14 days of treatment with NKO™, CRP was further decreased by 30%, compared to an increase of 32% in the placebo group. (This increase in the placebo group was most likely due to the discontinuation of all anti-inflammatory medications one week before and for the duration of the study.) WOMAC questionnaires completed by patients treated with NKO™ showed a significant reduction in pain scores (by 29%), stiffness (by 20%) and functional impairment (by 23%). Patients reported no adverse events for the duration of the study.
Researchers concluded that NKO™ at a modest daily dose of 300 mg is “safe and effective” in reducing inflammation, serum CRP levels and arthritic symptoms within 7 to 14 days and offers “an alternative regimen for the management of chronic inflammatory conditions.” (1)
PMS and Dysmenorrhea
PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) and dysmenorrhea (painful periods) are characterized by an array of cyclic symptoms that usually occur during the latter (luteal) phase of the menstrual cycle. Many causes have been attributed to the symptomology of PMS, the most probable of which is the combined interaction of hormones and other biochemicals which leads to an increased inflammatory response. (3) A healthy balance of EFA’s is critical for hormone regulation and other physiological processes. We have seen that the predominance of omega-6 fatty acids in the Western diet alters the ideal omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and encourages the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes; this cascade of events most likely contributes to PMS. Since omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) trigger the secretion of less potent biochemicals, (1-3) they have been investigated as a treatment for PMS. (9,10)
In a double-blind, randomized clinical trial, researchers compared the efficacy of NKO™ and fish oil in treating PMS and dysmenorrhea. 70 women diagnosed with PMS received two 1-g soft gels of either NKO™ or omega-3 fish oil once a day for one month and then eight days before and two days during menstruation for the following two months. Study subjects completed a self-assessment questionnaire (evaluating such symptoms as breast tenderness, irritability, depression, abdominal pain, bloating, etc.) initially and after 45 and 90 days of treatment. The number of pain-relievers used was also recorded for the three month duration of the study. Compared to the fish oil group, those receiving NKO™ demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in scores of the self-assessment questionnaire after 45 and 90 days of treatment and consumed significantly fewer analgesics.
Results were so promising that the researchers concluded, “Neptune Krill Oil can significantly reduce the physical and emotional symptoms related to PMS and is significantly more effective for the management of dysmenorrhea and emotional premenstrual symptoms than fish oil.” (3) In addition to normalizing fatty acid balance, which checks inflammatory processes, researchers postulated that NKO™ may also exercise a modulating effect on neurotransmitters - phospholipids play an important role in membrane fluidity which in turn may influence emotional symptoms. (3) NKO™ was well tolerated with no adverse events reported. (Over half of the subjects in the fish oil group, however, reported “unpleasant reflux.”) Interestingly, those treated with NKO™ exhibited an increase in alertness, energy and well-being.
NKO™ Superior to Fish Oil in Many Respects
Although fish oil remains a valuable supplement with proven medicinal properties, NKO™ outshines its omega-3-rich forerunner:
• The manufacturing process for NKO™ is a “cold vacuum extraction” that leaves the original nutrients intact; most fish oil extractions use processes that can degrade important components
• Neptune Krill Oil’s antioxidant content provides stability against oxidation; fish oil is weak in antioxidant content and very perishable
• NKO™ is a cocktail of multiple active ingredients with synergistic activity that surpasses the profile of most fish oils
• NKO™ provides increased bioavailability of EFA’s due to their association with phospholipids; a smaller daily dosage is needed compared with fish oil
• Since NKO™ is absorbed in small intestine, not the stomach, it is well tolerated and does not cause “fishy” aftertaste or reflux
• NKO™ is extracted from krill, organisms at the bottom at the food chain which inhabit pristine Antarctic waters, so it is naturally low in toxicity; fish oils, unless molecularly distilled, may contain mercury, dioxins, PCB’s and other contaminants
NKO™ is a truly remarkable product - its potent and unique combination of omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids and antioxidants provide a wide range of therapeutic benefits and make it a valuable addition to any health-promoting supplement regimen.
1. Deutsch L. Evaluation of the effect of Neptune Krill Oil on chronic inflammation and arthritic symptoms. J Am Coll Nutr. 2007 Feb;26(1):39-48.
2. 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 Dec;9(4):420-8.
3. Sampalis F, Bunea R, Pelland MF, Kowalski O, Duguet N, Dupuis S. Evaluation of the effects of Neptune Krill Oil on the management of premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea. Altern Med Rev. 2003 May;8(2):171-9.
4. Werner A, Havinga R, Kuipers F, Verkade HJ. Treatment of EFA deficiency with dietary triglycerides or phospholipids in a murine model of extrahepatic cholestasis. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2004 May;286(5):G822-32.
7. Krauss RM, Eckel RH, Howard B, et al. AHA Dietary Guidelines: revision 2000: A statement for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association. Stroke. 2000;31:2751-2766.
8. Young C, Martin A. Omega-3 fatty acids in mood disorders: an overview. Rev Bras Psiquiatr. 2003 Sep;25(3):184-7.
9. Deutsch B. Menstrual pain in Danish women correlated with low n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1995;49:508-516.
10. Harel Z, Biro FM, Kottenhahn RK, Rosenthal SL. Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of dysmenorrhea in adolescents. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1996; 174:1335-1338.