Algal Oil vs. Krill Oil

Recent information provided by Israeli company Qualitas states that its new-to-release (November 2013) EPA-enriched algal Omega-3 source will be the only algal-based polar lipids in the market.

The press release also indicates that Qualitas’ algal oil will be equivalent to krill oil in terms of efficacy and human-consumption benefits.

This is not the case.  Both oils are not comparable.

Phospholipids are very important metabolites and they are important as structural components of the cell surface membranes and the membranes within the cells. Membrane integrity and quality are very closely associated with general health. Phospholipids are closely connected with liver function and nervous system function. Phosphatidyl choline, phosphatidyl inositol, phosphatidyl serine, phosphatidyl ethanolamine and the sphingomyelins are key subgroups of the phospholipids. We focus here upon phosphatidyl choline as being predominant within this important group of lipids.

Phospholipids found in krill oil extracted from Euphausia superba are a unique source of valuable biological compounds for human nutrition as their choline-containing phospholipid classes made them special, specifically phosphatidylcholine and lyso-phosphatidylcholine.  The prevalent phosphatidylcholine class shows up to 69 choline-containing phospholipids, whereof 60 phosphatidylcholine substances, among others seven with probable omega-3 fatty acids in both sn-1 and sn-2.  The phosphatidylcholine concentration was estimated to be 34 ± 5 g/100 g oil (n = 5). These results confirm the complexity of the phospholipid composition of krill oil, and the presence of long chained, heavily unsaturated fatty acids.

Krill oil has been investigated in several preclinical and clinical studies, and there is growing evidence that the molecular form of krill oil omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. tri- glycerides, ethyl-esters, phospholipids) might be of importance for their biological effect as well as distribution of the omega-3 fatty acids in the body.

100g of krill oil normally delivers not less than 30g of Omega-3 fatty acids of which not less than 15g is present as EPA and not less than 9g is present as DHA. This compares with typical or average fish oil that contains some 36g of Omega-3 per 100g.  Krill oil  contain slightly less on a percentage basis of both due to the presence of phospholipids, that add their own extra weight to the product.  Krill oil phospholipids are mostly in the form of phosphatidyl choline (i.e. phospholipids in which the nitrogen base is choline). There are also smaller amounts of phospholipids in which the nitrogen base is ethanolamine (phosphatidyl ethanolamine) or inositol (phosphatidyl inositol). The total phospholipids per 100g of krill oil is not less than 40g.

Among the fatty acids present there is not more than 30g per 100g that are saturated, more than 12g are monounsaturated and more than 32g are polyunsaturated. Of these more than 30g are Omega-3 and typically approximately 2g (1.5g – 2.5g) are Omega-6.

Of the Krill Oil’s other valuable constituents, there is more than 150mg/g of esterfied Astaxanthin, 100 IU/g of trans Retinol (Vitamin A), 0.5 IU/g of alpha-Tocopherol (Vitamin E), 10 IU/g of Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D) and 30mcg/g of Selenium.  All these highly valuable components must be compared one-to-one to conclude if algal Omega-3’s match krill oil biological benefits.  We think that krill oils belong to a different, high-priced, not-contaminated and pure marine-oil category compared to any algal oil.

The only concentrated source of Omega-3 in most people’s diet is fish. It contains the Omega-3 fatty acid EPA. These initials stand for eicosapentaenoic acid.  It is accompanied by DHA, docosahexaenoic acid.

Since either linseed oil or marine fish oil will do the job of delivering Omega-3 in big quantities, we have to ask what decides the preference between them. Only those who are not strictly vegan will have a choice to exercise. Where the choice is available the preference should be to include at least some marine fish oil. The reason is the immediate availability of EPA in the marine oil for application to the task of synthesizing eicosanoid hormones. EPA has a chain of 20 carbon atoms in each molecule. It is the immediate substrate from which the eicosanoid hormones can be formed, since these also have 20 carbon atoms. Hence, conversion to eicosanoids can take place rather directly and with minimum chance of the EPA being hived off into energy producing oxidative pathways that would destroy it. On the other hand the alpha-linolenic acid, which is the Omega-3 acid of linseed oil, has a chain of only 18 carbon atoms in each molecule. Before eicosanoids can be formed from it, this acid must undergo a chain- lengthening process to add two extra carbons and make it into EPA. This chain-lengthening process requires metabolic energy to make it go. There is plenty of opportunity for the alpha linolenic acid to be hived off for energy production. Moreover, in people whose metabolism is compromised – very often the very people who need extra Omega-3 fatty acids – the enzymes needed to carry out chain lengthening may be inhibited by nutritional deficiency and imbalance of various other nutrients. The answer then, is that giving EPA circumvents the chain-lengthening process, which may have come to represent a particular obstacle in people who most need this kind of help. In these circumstances EPA is the most immediately available form of assistance.

DHA has 22 carbons. It is more than long enough for making the eicosanoid hormones and this chain must be shortened before being used for eicosanoid production. DHA also fulfils certain functions of its own especially in the brain and in the eye, so lack of DHA can affect development of these organs. DHA is especially important to the very young and to the elderly. Both these age groups lack the ability to lengthen the chain from 20 to 22 carbons in sufficient amounts.

These factors make EPA and DHA especially valuable forms of Omega-3, recommendable in preference to ALA. Krill oil is now the No. 1 choice for supplying these due to its non-toxic status, its environmentally friendly harvesting and the presence of additional important nutrients.

Why Phospholipids of krill oil are Immediately Bioavailable; Fish Oils do not provide a significant amount of phospholipids. Since krill oil does, this is an immediate benefit to the user. The person who uses fish oil as a source of Omega-3 fatty acids might well purchase lecithin or phosphatidyl choline in addition, to ensure that adequate phospholipids are taken. So this purchase is an extra cost.

The key point is that phospholipids are not all the same. Krill oil phospholipids are of an immensely superior type to those that come from other sources.  This difference of type must surely be a very big factor in determining the superiority of krill oil in terms of its biological performance and therefore its health benefits.

Krill oil phospholipids are ready-made for direct incorporation into cell membranes. This makes them much more bio-available. It really counts in determining whether or not the body can efficiently use the Omega-3 that is taken in. Krill oil phospholipid has a particular molecular structure with EPA and DHA occupying the two fatty acid chains of the phospholipids.

On the other hand, krill oil carotenoids comprise a group of plant substances that are hugely beneficial to the body even though they are never officially rated as essential nutrients. There is a wide range of differing individual carotenoids in plants, including plants used for human foods. As the carotenoids are pigments, these are usually the red, orange or yellow fruits and vegetables. However, green vegetables also contain variable amounts of carotenoids whose colours are hidden by the intense green of chlorophyll. The carotenoids may be briefly put into perspective by discussing one member of the group, beta-carotene.

Beta-carotene is at the same time a vitamin precursor that the body uses to make vitamin A, and a phytonutrient. Carrots account for the major source of beta-carotene in North American diets, yellow-green vegetables in Japan, and red palm oil in West Africa. Studies have indicated that people who consume higher than average amounts of beta-carotene have fewer defects and illnesses that can be ascribed to free radical damage. It greatly enhances the immune system. It is a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger. Beta-carotene is the most efficient neutralizer of singlet oxygen, the high-energy, destructive molecule that is one of the most potent free radicals.  This compound is not found on algal oils.

The normal range of human intake of beta-carotene is a few milligrams per day in western diets. However, large daily intakes of beta-carotene appear to be harmless and do not cause vitamin A toxicity. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A only as the body requires it. One or two hundred milligrams per day are regularly prescribed for the treatment of a disease called erythropoietic protoporphyria without causing vitamin A toxicity, liver problems, or any other apparent side effects. The World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives estimated that an acceptable upper daily intake of beta-carotene for a 140-pound adult is about 350 milligrams per day. In several studies, supplemental beta-carotene in the amount of 30 milligrams per day has been used without harm but has caused the skin to go orange in a select few persons.

Other important carotenoids in food include Alpha-Carotene, Beta-Cryptoxanthin, Lycopene, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Violaxanthin, Neoxanthin. Their properties and potencies differ among the group. Several also produce extra benefits not necessarily related to free radicals, such as slowing the rate of tumour growth.

Astaxanthin, which is listed as a component of krill oil, is another carotenoid. It is a member of an important group of protective nutrients. However, it is not normally sourced from common foods. It is a specifically marine type of carotenoid. Fish do not contain much of it due to their much higher position in the food chain than the krill. Actual manufacturers of it are the tiny micro-algae that the krill eat. It is also the micro-algae that manufacture the marine Omega-3 oils. It is just that these get passed well up the food chain so that they become stored in large amounts in the body fat of fish, while the Astaxanthin does not. The special value of the Astaxanthin of krill oil comes from its especially powerful antioxidant action.

Tests have shown krill oil to be safe and well-tolerated when used for either humans or animals. Even normal healthy subjects benefited from its use, reporting better skin and hair quality, less joint discomfort and less in the way of seasonal allergy symptoms.

The recommended daily intakes are, for menstrual cycle benefits, 1000mg – 500mg and for cardiovascular benefits 1500mg – 3000mg. It is reported as better to start with the higher intake and reduce this after about 2 months so long as the benefits can be maintained at that lower level.

Antarctic krill oil is stated to be almost free from heavy metal contamination and that it is a renewable, abundant and sustainable source of splendid nutrients.

Source of information; © Copyright of Dr Lawrence Plaskett B.A. Ph.D., C.Chem

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Dimitri Sclabos

Founder and Co-owner