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Could krill oil become the omega-3 supplement of choice?

Article-Could krill oil become the omega-3 supplement of choice?

© iStock/Madeleine_Steinbach Could krill oil become the omega-3 supplement of choice?
Krill oil, with its potential to support heart health, is an ingredient to keep an eye on, according to insights from Mintel.

Global market intelligence company Mintel has identified krill oil as an ingredient to watch. The oil has been rising in popularity, attributed to its potential to support heart health, better absorption compared to fish oils on the market, and its diverse nutritional profile.

Krill oil could be a more sustainable alternative to fish oil

Omega-3 fatty acids come from a variety of sources. Well-known sources are fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring, and mackerel. While getting omega-3 from whole food sources is advised, many people struggle to get it in adequate amounts from food alone. Supplementation is therefore often recommended.

When it comes to the omega-3 supplementation market, fish oils dominate the market. According to a 2024 report by Allied Market Research, the global fish oil omega-3 market, valued at $1.1 billion in 2022, is projected to reach $1.8 billion by 2032.

Despite this expected growth, awareness of environmental sustainability and concerns about overfishing have been increasing. There is now a growing interest in sustainable sources of omega-3 supplementation.

Krill oil is derived from tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans called Antarctic krill, which is an abundant species with a high reproductive rate. According to Mintel, between 2019 and 2024, 39% of global food, drink, and supplement launches containing krill oil made ethical claims related to being an environmentally friendly product, followed closely by ethical claims related to sustainability, habitat, and resources, at 36%.

Krill oils may offer enhanced absorption

Sustainability claims are not the only reason for the growing popularity of krill oil. In comparison to fish oils, which commonly contain omega-3 fatty acids in triglyceride form, krill oil contains them in the form of phospholipids.

Research indicates that the phospholipid form of omega-3 fatty acids in krill oil may enhance their absorption and utilisation by the body, compared to triglyceride-bound omega-3s found in fish oil. This improved absorption may result in higher blood levels of DHA and EPA, potentially leading to greater health benefits. Additionally, one study indicated a difference in the bioavailability of EPA and DHA, suggesting that EPA and DHA from krill oil may be more bioavailable than those from fish oil. The researchers, however, concluded that conclusive evidence is still lacking, and further studies are needed to confirm these findings. A 2015 study, on the other hand, found no evidence to support greater bioavailability of krill oil over fish oil, and the team emphasised the necessity for more carefully controlled human trials to be conducted in this area.

Alongside phospholipids, krill oils contain astaxanthin  a powerful antioxidant not typically found in fish oil supplements. Studies have associated astaxanthins' molecular features with several health benefits, including neuroprotective, cardioprotective, and antitumoural properties.

Cardiovascular benefits 

Another reason for the rising popularity of krill oil may be its potential to support heart health. Claims related to functional cardiovascular health took the top spot for global food, drink, and supplement launches containing krill oil, at 48%, according to Mintel.

Numerous studies have investigated the cardiovascular benefits of krill oil supplementation, with promising results. These studies have demonstrated that krill oil can effectively reduce triglyceride levels, improve cholesterol profiles, and support overall heart function.

Plant-based 'krill' oils

Mintel also identified that there is a growing potential for plant-based krill oils, due to consumers' demand for sustainably sourced omega-3s. These vegan supplements are usually made from algal oil, which is derived from specific microalgae species rich in omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, and EPA.

Krill and fish themselves are not sources of omega-3, rather, they accumulate these fatty acids in their tissues by eating microalgae. Plant-basedkrill oils have the potential to make a mark on the industry, as they address concerns about overfishing and environmental impacts, while still delivering DHA and EPA, making them more appealing to environmentally conscious consumers.

On World Krill Day in 2023, Iwi Life launched Vegikrill, a vegan krill-free supplement. The company wanted to provide a better alternative to krill oil while protecting krill and their fundamental role in the marine ecosystem because krill is the primary food source for seals, dolphins, penguins, and blue whales. 

Vegikrill contains a triple-patented ingredient, AlmegaPL(r), which according to the company has been scientifically proven to provide 1.7 times the absorption level of omega-3 found in fish and krill oil. Vegikrill also contains astaxanthin, the powerful antioxidant found in krill, but not fish oils.