Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be deficient in our diet, thanks to changing food habits and increased dependence on processed foods. These essential fatty acids are good fats that our body cannot make and need to be supplied through diet. These fats can be obtained both from plant and animal foods.
They are an important family of healthy fats as they play a key role in several metabolic functions of our body and help in reducing inflammation, facilitating healthy brain function, lowering blood fats, maintaining blood pressure levels, regulating heart rhythms, and boosting immunity and lung function. These make them useful for people suffering from diseases such as arthritis, asthma, auto-immune disorders, ADHD, Crohn’s, Parkinson’s, and heart ailments.
Today, the scientific consensus is so strong that health policy makers worldwide, including the American Heart Association (AHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), agree that omega-3s maintain health and help prevent diseases. Reports on health benefits have led to increased demand for products containing marine omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs poly-unsaturated fatty acids)).
Most people have been using fish oils and recently, flaxseeds to boost intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Since fish is a restricted source, there is a growing interest in alternative sources of omega-3 fats. The latest to enter the omega-3 delivery system is Krill oil, found in the southern coast of Antarctica. Krill, tiny sea creatures, about 2 inches long, are shrimp-like crustaceans that are a dietary staple for whales, small fish, and seabirds. Krill or Okiami, as the Japanese call it, has been a cherished food source in many Asian countries since the 19th century.
The metabolic effects of Krill oil are essentially similar to those of fish oil. Krill oil has less omega-3 concentration but is more readily and effectively absorbed by the body. Krill oil contains an antioxidant astaxanthin, which has been found to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and decrease triglycerides. Phospholipids found in Krill oil too have been found to increase the good cholesterol. Unlike fish oils, krill oil carries omega-3s in the form of phospholipids, which are readily absorbed by the body.
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Findings from a study conducted at McGill University in Montreal and published in 2004 in the journal Alternative Medicine Review indicate that Krill oil helps lower (bad) cholesterol levels more effectively than fish oil. Another study published in 2013, in the European Journal of Nutrition demonstrated that while fish oil and Krill oil are comparable dietary sources of omega-3 fats, Krill oil seems to have greater potential to improve lipid profiles and lower inflammation, at similar doses.
Although a food-based approach for achieving omega-3 PUFA is recommended, but may not always be possible. Omega-3 supplements may be needed for those who do not like fish. The downside of Krill oil is its high cost and environmental concerns.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”