The truth about krill oil

March of the Penguins Decline of the Penguins - and it looks like krill oil is to blame!


Due to the popularity of krill oil supplements I am often asked why Ascenta does not use krill oil. Here are several facts you need to know about krill:

1. Krill oil is NOT sustainable

Several key studies in the past year have the scientific community worried about the fate of krill populations and the potential impact on the global food chain. A study published in March 2011 raises serious concerns over the rapidly declining krill populations “Penguin, Krill Populations in Freefall” . The PEW Environment Group has criticized last year’s certification of the krill fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council, “Sustainable” Label for Antarctic Krill Fishery Misleading, says Pew Environment Group”. Furthermore, due to its geographic location (Antarctic) the krill fishery has one of the highest carbon footprints of any fishery in the world.

2. Krill is NOT more potent than fish oil

Some companies claim krill oil to be 500% better absorbed than fish oil. This is far from the truth. The scientific literature seems to indicate that krill oil is about 10% better absorbed due to its phospholipid content. If krill oil and fish oil are taken with a typical meal (which typically contains lots of phospholipids) the absorption is likely identical. Krill oil manufacturers focus hard on the absorption of krill oil simply to justify krill’s extremely high price.

3. Krill contains the (not so) powerful antioxidant astaxanthin

Krill naturally contain the non-essential carotenoid astaxanthin however its health benefits have been grossly exaggerated. A study in 1997 by A Mortensen and LH Skibsted reported astaxanthin to have less antioxidant capacity than other common carotenoids. An experimental trial by Ascenta investigated the antioxidant capacity of several key antioxidants used in omega-3 supplements and found from lowest to highest vitamin E < astaxanthin < lutein < green tea polyphenols (used in NutraSea).

It appears the only truth you can be sure of for krill oil is that it is all marketing no science.

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OK- I ran into a guy at the

OK- I ran into a guy at the grocery store looking for krill oil. Now I know what to tell him when I steer him to better products!

This article would disagree

This article would disagree that astaxanthin is "not so powerful." According to multiple clinical studies astaxanthin can target several different health issues. Here is a link to the article: ..,I would also appreciate if you could provide scientific studies on the absorption of Krill oil and fish oil. From multiple studies I have seen that Krill Oil is the by far superior Omega 3 source.

Thank you for your comments

Thank you for your comments regarding krill oil absorption and astaxanthin. In the case of claims made within the natural products industry clinical studies are often misinterpreted or aspects taken out of context.

Krill oil absorption

With the limited studies available the absorption of krill vs fish would be concluded as equal. Since the absorption of fish oil in TG form has been determined to be between 75-85% it would theoretically be impossible to have something else be absorbed 500% better as claimed by many krill oil brands. See my comments on the 2 available published studies on absorption:

Ulven SM, Kirkhus B, Lamglait A, Basu S, Elind E, Haider T, Berge K, Vik H, Pedersen JI. (2011). Metabolic Effects of Krill Oil are Essentially Similar to Those of Fish Oil but at Lower Dose of EPA and DHA, in Healthy Volunteers. Lipids, 46:37-46.

Healthy subjects supplemented with krill oil containing 37.2% less EPA+DHA than those supplemented with fish oil (TG) saw same increases in plasma EPA and DHA over the seven week treatment period. This study indicates that EPA and DHA from krill oil are equally, or possible more, bioavailable than those from fish oil. This could be due to krill oil’s higher content of EPA and DHA in the PL form.

However, it is interesting to note that the subjects in the krill oil treatment group were given almost twice as much oil compared to the fish oil group; 3g (6 capsules) of krill oil and 1.8g (3 capsules) of fish oil.

Maki KC, Reeves MS, Farmer M, Griinari M, Berge K, Vik H, Hubacher R, Rains TM. (2009). Krill oil supplementation increases plasma concentrations of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in overweight and obese men and women. Nutritional Research, 29;609-615.

Overweight and obese subjects were supplemented with 2g of either krill oil (216 mg EPA and 90 mg DHA), fish oil (212 mg EPA and 178 DHA) or control (olive oil) for 4 wks. At the end of the study, subjects receiving krill oil or fish oil had statistically significant plasma elevations of EPA and DHA compared to the control group. However, the increase in plasma EPA and DHA levels were not significantly different between the krill oil and fish oil groups.  Even though subjects in the krill oil group had higher plasma levels of EPA compared to the fish oil group, this difference was not statistically different. This indicates krill oil is absorbed as well as fish oil.


Although there are studies that support the comment of Astaxanthin being an effective antioxidant there are studies that found conflicting results. Studies conducted in soybean oil found that astaxanthin provides superior protection against photo-oxidation compared to lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin and isozeaxanthin (Lee et al., 1990). Another study investigated the effectiveness of various carotenoids to scavenge phenoxyl radicals (Mortensen & Skibsted, 1997). They found that lycopene was most reactive with phenoxyl radicals while astaxanthin was not reactive at all (Mortensen & Skibsted, 1997). Woodall et al. (1997) found that lycopene, Beta-carotene and zeaxanthin were all more reactive with various oxidizing agents than astaxanthin. The more reactive the carotenoid is to a radical, the less likely radicals will be available to react with other molecules in a system (i.e. unsaturated fatty acids), thus Woodall et al.’s findings agree with Mortensen and Skibted (1997). Thus, a few in vitro studies looking at the antioxidant mechanism carotenoids, indicate that astaxanthin may not be as potent an antioxidant as other carotenoids, especially lycopene.


Lee SH, Min DB. (1990). Effects, quenching mechanisms, and kinetics of carotenoids in chlorophyll-sensitized photooxidation of soybean oil. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 38:1630-1634.

Mortensen A, Skibsted LH. (1997). Importance of carotenoid structure in radical-scavenging reactions. J. Agric. Food Chem., 45:2970-2977.

Woodall AA, Lee SWM,  Weesie RJ, Jackson MJ, Britton. (1997). Oxidation of carotenoids by free radicals: relationship between structure and reactivity. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 1336: 33-42.

An oil is any substance that

An oil is any substance that is liquid at ambient temperatures and is hydrophobic but soluble in organic solvents. Oils have a high carbon and hydrogen content and are nonpolar substances. The general definition above includes compound classes with, and uses, including vegetable oils, petrochemical oils, and volatile essential oils. Check this site for more information. Myca M2M

I take Astaxanthin 4mg (far

I take Astaxanthin 4mg (far above the level in Krill oil) two tablets a day- within 4 days my plantars faciitis was gone. Could be a co-incidence.

While I'm not convinced that

While I'm not convinced that fishing is the cause of krill population declines (fishing rates are still relatively low, while sea ice loss in some regions, ocean and resurgence of some predator species are likely to have more drastic effects), I'm fine with not sourcing omega-3 oils for ecological concerns following the precautionary principle. However, it should be pointed out that only a tiny portion of the krill being caught is being used for this purpose (this is similar to many fish species used for supplements). Most krill goes to aquaculture and, to a lesser extent, animal feeds. What really needs to happen if we want to alleviate pressure on krill stocks is to either a) reduce demand for high trophic level farmed fish species like salmon and trout (unlikely); or b) replace krill inputs to aquafeeds with inputs sourced from other fisheries or from plant-based alternatives. Also, a small note, you say "due to its geographic location (Antarctic) the krill fishery has one of the highest carbon footprints of any fishery in the world". The krill fishery does a higher carbon footprint than most other fisheries targeting small pelagics for meal/oil/supplements, and yes this is likely due to the high seas location of fishing as well as the use of trawls rather than purse seines, but it is still much lower than many other fish species on a per-landings basis (cod, tuna, etc.)

Krill Sustainability

The vast array of questions and comments re: krill oil sustainability is indicative of the challenges scientists have in researching such species. One scientist was quoted recently as saying, “Counting krill stock status is like counting trees in a forest except the trees are always moving.” Knowing the challenges of such research and the often conflicting data available, Ascenta uses a precautionary approach to sourcing raw materials.

The first step when considering a new raw material is an assessment (by an independent marine biologist) of the sustainability and ecological impact of the species, taking into account the available research at the time. When “red flags” are raised in the marine biologist’s report, we refrain from pursuing that resource until such time that the concerns are addressed with credible research.
The recent published study by Trivelpiece et al uses the most current data on krill and predator populations and paints the picture of a potential “perfect storm” brewing in the Antarctic. The entire paper can be accessed here: Although you may not have an appetite to read the entire paper, please do view the chart on page 3 (fig 2) as an indicator of what’s occurring in the Antarctic and specifically krill populations. Based on this data Ascenta has chosen not to pursue krill, but will carefully monitor the situation as new research emerges.
As the leading brand of omega-3 in Canada, Ascenta is continually approached by the world’s leading krill suppliers. While krill oil may one day turn out to be a viable food or nutraceutical ingredient, in the context of sustainability, Ascenta has focused on more environmentally conscious sources such as omega-3 from pacific squid, algae, and plant-based Echium.  


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