So What Is Krill Oil & Why Is It Special?

what is krill oil

So what is krill oil?

It’s a common question that comes up when people start researching the various sources of Omega 3 fatty acids and the benefits of krill oil vs. fish oil. Krill oil is believed to be very similar to fish oil in that it packs lots of Omega 3 and its constituent long chain fatty acids, namely EPA and DHA. However, krill and fish are, quite literally, different animals. Find out more about krill and why the oil derived from them may be safer than that obtained from fish sources.

What the heck are krill?

The common term “krill” is used to refer to tiny marine shrimp (arthropods), typically those in the genus Euphausia, which holds the largest number of krill species and includes the two most commercially important and wide-ranging members of the group, Euphausia superba, the Antarctic krill, and Euphausia pacifica, the Northern krill.

Krill swarms have been harvested commercially for a variety of products since the 1960s, mainly for aquaculture and a cheap source of fish food in the western world, yet they have always been a staple in the diet of many peoples and other animals, including small fish, penguins, seals and even the largest mammals in the world – the baleen whales.

Why it’s good that krill are low on the food chain

One of the most important aspects of krill biology, besides their Omega 3 content, is where they lie on the trophic ladder – i.e., the food chain. Unlike most Omega 3 rich fish, such as salmon, krill feed on the the tiniest of marine animals, which compose the first link in the food chain. We are talking about plankton. As they perform daily vertical migrations through the water column, krill filter feed through the water column with modified legs to capture these microscopic (or nearly microscopic) organisms. Indeed, at a total body length of roughly a half inch, there’s really nothing else a krill can overpower!

The good news is that being relegated to the low end of the food chain means there is little risk of the biomagnification of chemical contaminants, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”). Biomagnification occurs when small organisms, such plankton and small invertebrates, ingest or otherwise take up a toxic material and are then eaten by larger organisms, which are then eaten by still larger organisms. At each step up the chain, the amount of these toxins increases in predators as they consume and sequester all of the chemicals contained in their prey items. This explains why swordfish and shark meat is on the EPA’s list of items women should not consume during pregnancy. Krill, on the other hand, don’t biogmagnify toxins like fish do since they feed primarily on the planktonic level, and no higher.

Featured (top) photo credit: “A Northern krill (Meganyctiphanes norvegica)” by Øystein Paulsen, Wikimedia Commons under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

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