Krill oil is also absorbed better than fish oil.
Krill is also a more sustainable and potentially more ethical source for omega-3 fatty acids, though some of this depends on the particulars of how the oils are harvested.
The benefits of krill oil hinge in large part on choosing a high quality krill oil supplement, so it’s imperative that you choose a good one.
Our research team has separated the wheat from the chaff with our rankings of the best krill oil.
1. 1MD Antarctic Krill Oil
This was simply the best krill oil we tested.
People are taking this every day because its the most effective krill oil for helping joint pain.
Each serving is loaded with 1600 mg of pure krill oil. It also has the most astaxanthin – a powerful antioxidant that helps boost overall health and energy levels – than any other krill oil we reviewed on this list.
“1MD Krill Oil Platinum contains 100% natural ingredients, absolutely no artificial fillers or synthetic additives, and is clinically proven to be effective…1MD has formulated the purest, most high quality krill oil on the market today”, says board certified cardiologist Michael Finster MD.
Simply the best option for those serious about eliminating joint pain.
2. Antarctic Krill Oil
With 1000 mg of highly pure krill oil per serving, Antarctic Krill Oil provides a high overall dose of the oil. This dosage breaks down into 400 mg of phospholipids, 128 mg of EPA, and 60 mg of DHA.
Additional antioxidant benefits come from the 1 mg of astaxanthin per serving, which is decent for a krill oil supplement, although our #1 recommendation is double that (2 mg).
3. Neptune Krill Oil
Two things distinguish this krill oil supplement. The first is the very high dosage per capsule: 1000 mg of total krill oil. The EPA, DHA, and astaxanthin contents are solid as well.
Neptune is also the company that has funded much of the scientific research into krill oil, so many of the studies supporting its health benefits use this exact supplement. If you want to be sure that you are following the scientific research protocols as closely as possible, Neptune Krill Oil is the way to go.
4. Viva Naturals Krill Oil
Viva Naturals offers a krill oil supplement in a high dosage that provides a good portion of EPA and DHA–there are 1250 mg of total krill oil per serving and 165 and 95 mg of EPA and DHA, respectively.
The only downside is that the serving size is actually two softgels instead of one, so if you are only taking one capsule, you need to divide all these numbers by two.
5. Jarrow Formulas Krill Oil
Jarrow Formulas delivers 1200 mg of krill oil, divided up into two capsules per serving (so only 600 mg per capsule).
This product does not contain as much astaxanthin as some other competitors; there are only 0.11 mg per serving, so if this is an important component for you when it comes to krill oil, there might be better options.
6. Renew Naturals Antarctic Krill Oil
With a moderate krill oil content per capsule (500 mg) but a high relative proportion of DHA and EPA, Renew Naturals’ take on krill oil is a good choice if your main goal is getting the active omega 3 fatty acid ingredients, and you’re less concerned about the total krill oil content. The astaxanthin content is solid, but not top of the line.
7. NutraBlast Krill Oil
With 500 mg of krill oil per serving, NutraBlast Krill Oil isn’t setting and potency records, but one thing does stand out.
The product is labeled in accordance with California’s Proposition 65, which sets strict requirements on purity when it comes to PCBs, a type of synthetic chemical that is associated with cancer and can be found in some ocean species. If you want to be sure your krill oil has low PCB levels it’s a good call.
8. Natrogix Antarctic Krill Oil
Natrogix’s take on krill oil is pretty middle-of-the-road. The krill oil dosage is moderate, at 500 mg per capsule, and the astaxanthin is decent, but not the best.
It’s very pure, and does not have much in the way of extraneous ingredients, so it will appeal to purists, but beyond that, it does not distinguish itself in any particular direction–good or bad.
9. Bronson Antarctic Krill Oil
Bronson Antarctic Krill Oil is another pretty standard take on krill oil: 500 mg of krill oil per capsule, and a moderate amount of DHA, EPA, and astaxanthin. Still, other competitors beat it out in each of these categories.
10. Schiff MegaRed
While it’s very popular and it does have a high EPA and DHA content relative to its krill oil content, there’s no getting around the fact that MegaRed has a fairly low overall krill oil content per serving.
Each capsule only contains 350 mg of krill oil, and the astaxanthin content is quite small, at only 17 micrograms.
11. Nature Made Krill Oil
Though Nature Made is a big brand and its products are ubiquitous, their krill oil supplement leaves much to be desired.
The serving size is quite small, at 300 mg of krill oil per capsule, and the EPA and DHA contents are extremely low. The same is true for the phospholipids. The label doesn’t even mention astaxanthin content, likely because it’s only present in trace amounts.
Who should buy krill oil?
Krill oil is a great supplement for people looking to reduce their risk factors for heart disease, improve their mental health, and decrease pain related to joint inflammation caused by arthritis.
If you don’t feel like fish oil is giving you the benefits you’d like, give krill oil a shot—it has ingredients which can help boost the bioavailability and absorption of the omega-3 fatty acids.
These wide-ranging benefits are exactly in line with what we’d expect from a concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have both physical and mental health benefits.
The added antioxidant content of krill oil, and its potentially greater bioavailability, help amplify these effects.
How we ranked
To evaluate krill oil, we took stock of all of the options on the market, evaluating them on their levels of three key bioactive compounds. First and most important was the omega 3 fatty acid content, which can be measured directly by the levels of DHA and EPA.
These are two specific kinds of omega-3 fatty acids that have been directly connected through strong experimental research to better cardiovascular health. As such, we put a heavy weight in our rankings on the levels of EPA and DHA.
Some krill oil supplements didn’t specify a level of EPA or DHA, which is usually a trick to obscure low concentrations of these ingredients (it’s possible to get low-quality krill oil whose concentration of EPA and DHA is not very high; in contrast, better supplements use krill oil with a high concentration of EPA and DHA).
We dropped any krill oil supplement from our list that did not specify the breakdown of its omega-3 fatty acids. Then, we prioritized supplements according to their levels of DHA and EPA content.
The omega-3 fatty acid content wasn’t the only ingredient we looked at, however. One of the points of distinction between krill oil and fish oil is that krill oil contains phospholipids, which may help boost the body’s ability to absorb the omega-3 fatty acids.
As we discuss later, some research has found equivalent effects between krill oil and fish oil, even when krill oil has substantially less omega-3 fatty acids.
As such, we made phospholipid content an important (though secondary) factor in our rankings. All else equal, we prefered krill oil supplements with a greater phospholipid content.
Lastly, we tracked the levels of astaxanthin in the remaining supplements and used it as a marker of the supplement’s added antioxidant power.
Astaxanthin is what gives krill oil its distinctive deep red color. Like other deeply colored natural compounds such as coffee or resveratrol, astaxanthin has powerful antioxidant properties. These properties give krill oil a leg up against other sources of omega-3 fatty acids, so again, all else equal, we preferred krill oil products that had greater astaxanthin levels.
Krill oil combines omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Krill oil is becoming increasingly popular as a supplement because it combines the health benefits of the omega 3 fatty acids you’d find in fish oil with additional health-boosting power from the phospholipids and the astaxanthin that gives krill oil its distinctive deep red color.
The research on the benefits of krill oil is fairly new, but it appears that krill oil offers many of the same benefits as fish oil, but with some additional perks.
As a source of omega 3 fatty acids, krill oil has all of the associated health benefits you’d get in a fish oil supplement too. These benefits are widely documented and affect a myriad of health conditions.
Krill oil could help reduce risk factors for heart disease. Omega 3 fatty acids (and especially their primary active ingredients, DHA and EPA) are associated with a decrease in risk factors for cardiovascular disease, as reported by a 2003 study published by the American Heart Association (1).
Krill oil can help improve mental health. There is good evidence for their benefits in mental health too: a review in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2006 discussed the various uses of omega 3 fatty acids in the prevention and treatment of depression (2), and other research indicates that it can help prevent cognitive decline in the elderly (3).
The real question is whether krill oil offers any additional or independent benefits beyond those of normal fish oil. Fortunately, there’s a lot of research that can help answer this question.
Krill oil may offer benefits that fish oil does not. Some evidence from animal studies is promising. In a 2010 study, researchers experimentally induced rheumatoid arthritis (an inflammatory disease of the joints) in mice (4).
The researchers split the mice into three groups: one which received a krill oil supplement, another group that received a fish oil subject, and a final group that acted as a control.
The researchers found that the krill oil was particularly effective at staving off rheumatoid arthritis in the mice. Because the krill oil reduced markers of inflammation at the cellular level in the mice, the researchers proposed that krill oil has especially effective inflammation-fighting properties.
Further research substantiated these claims in human subjects. In a short two-week randomized trial, a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that volunteers with rheumatoid or osteoarthritis received either a krill oil supplement (300 mg per day) or a placebo to serve as a control group.
The researchers found that blood levels of inflammatory chemicals decreased in the krill oil group when compared to the control group.
Though the duration of this study was short, and longer-term studied would be needed to study the clinical outcome of such an intervention, the evidence is promising that krill oil could be a useful treatment for arthritis and other joint pain related to inflammation.
Krill oil has also been found to decrease the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome in women. One study, funded by a company that manufactures krill oil, found that women who took a krill oil supplement over the course of three months experienced fewer symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and had to take fewer over-the-counter pain medication during the course of the study to treat their symptoms (5).
Krill oil may also be more effective than an equivalent dose of fish oil when it comes to reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease. That was the conclusion of a 2004 study in the journal Alternative Medicine Reviews (6). That study split a large population of volunteers into four groups that received low or high doses of krill oil, fish oil, or a placebo.
The researchers followed the subjects for 90 days and studied the change in blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood triglycerides–high levels of any of these are strong risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
The study found that, when delivered at equivalent doses, krill oil resulted in a greater reduction in cholesterol and triglycerides than fish oil.
Not all researchers are enamored with krill oil. One study by Stine Ulven and colleagues Akershus University College in Norway studied the differential effects of fish oil and krill oil in human volunteers (7).
They found that neither had a significant effect on several markers of metabolic activity, but they did find that fish oil and krill oil resulted in a similar increase in omega 3 fatty acids in the blood, even though the DHA and EPA content of krill oil was only two-thirds that of fish oil.
This may suggest that krill oil has higher bioavailability than fish oil, meaning that you’ll absorb more of the omega 3 fatty acids from krill oil than an equivalent amount of fish oil.
Much like its cousin supplement, fish oil, krill oil is extremely well-tolerated. The only side effects that are reported are minor: a trivial number of people report mild gastrointestinal discomfort, and some supplements can cause a transient “fish-like” taste in your throat.
One of the key benefits of krill oil over traditional fish oil is that there is less concern about PCB and mercury contamination in krill oil, because the krill used to produce it are harvested from very cold, infrequently-travelled antarctic waters.
The level of contamination in these waters is thought to be much less than in the ocean at large. If this is something you’re concerned about, choose a krill oil supplement that is tested for mercury and PCB content.
Because so much of the research on krill oil is funded by the companies that make krill oil supplements, the dosages used in research studies usually reflect the dosage available in the supplement that’s the source of the research funding.
With that caveat, the research indicates that doses of at least 300 mg of krill oil per day are optimal. However, research on fish oil typically uses higher doses to deliver higher amounts of DHA and EPA to the bloodstream.
Considering this, alongside the excellent safety profile of krill oil, it’s probably a good idea to aim for more like 800-1200 mg of krill oil per day for the best chance of broad-spectrum health benefits.
You can achieve this with one high-dose supplement, or by taking a smaller dose supplement a few times during the day.
Q: Is krill oil vegan?
A: Krill oil is derived from krill, which are crustaceans that you might think of as smaller versions of crabs or lobsters. So no, krill oil is neither vegetarian nor vegan.
It does qualify as pescatarian, however, so if you are just trying to avoid meat, but not fish or crustaceans, krill oil could suit your needs quite well. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you’ll want to opt for a vegan omega-3 supplement instead.
Q: Is krill oil better than fish oil?
A: There are advantages and disadvantages to both krill oil and fish oil. Both contain omega-3 fatty acids, but fish oil tends to have a higher concentration, per milliliter of oil, of the vital fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are thought to account for many of the health benefits of any source of omega-3.
Fish oil has also been studied more deeply by scientific researchers, so if you wanted to weigh up the evidence for each fish oil would definitely come out on top.
On the other hand, krill oil has two ingredients you won’t find in high concentrations in fish oil. These are phospholipids and astaxanthin.
Phospholipids are fatty molecules that form the barriers around cell walls, and some researchers think that phospholipids could help increase the absorption of omega-3 fatty acids in krill oil.
Moreover, astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant that naturally occurs in krill oil (and is why krill oil has a deep red color, while fish oil is a pale golden color). These antioxidant benefits might help with combating inflammation and oxidative damage, though in studies that have compared fish oil and krill oil head to head, krill oil has not come out as distinctively better.
Q: What is krill oil made from?
A: Krill oil is made from krill, which are small, hard-shelled crustaceans that are found in huge quantities in the ocean. Krill (the organism) serve as the primary food for whales.
Krill is also harvested by fishermen for uses ranging from livestock feed to fish bait. Some portion of the krill harvested every year is processed so that the fatty oils inside the krill are extracted and purified, much like fish oil is extracted and purified from anchovies, sardines, or other types of fish.
Q: Does krill oil have benefits for skin?
A: Since krill oil is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, it should have all of the associated benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for your skin.
Perhaps thanks to the anti-inflammatory effects, omega-3 fatty acids have been used successfully in medical research to reduce the severity of psoriasis (8).
On top of that, because the DHA and EPA in any source of omega-3 fatty acid work their way directly into your bloodstream, the content of fatty acids in your skin cells actually increases if you take an omega-3 supplement for long enough.
One study found an increase in EPA levels within the epidermal cells of the skin after eight weeks of supplemental omega-3 fatty acid (9).
Q: Are there dangers associated with krill oil?
A: In term of health dangers, krill oil poses little risk to your body. There are some side effects associated with krill oil, but they are mild and not a threat to your physical health—just a fish-like taste in your throat, and mild gastrointestinal discomfort.
Theoretically at least, krill oil in high doses poses less of a danger than fish oil when it comes to contaminants. The PCB and heavy metal content of krill oil might be lower because the deep, cold, antarctic waters in which krill oil is harvested do not have as much pollution.
In practice, high-quality fish oil supplements are tested for PCB and heavy metals, so this isn’t a significant concern.
Q: How long does krill oil stay in your system?
A: The omega-3 fatty acids in krill oil stay in your system for a surprisingly long time—the elimination half-life of EPA, one of the primary omega-3 fatty acids, is known to be one to three days.
This means that if you take a dosage of 400 mg today, in 1-3 days your body will still be experiencing an effective dosage of 200 mg; a few days after that, the effective dosage has halved again to 100 mg.
As such, krill oil has a profound and lasting effect on your body; as you take multiple doses over the course of several days, the concentration of krill oil in your body rapidly stabilizes and may stay elevated for up to a week after stopping.
This is good news if you are inconsistent or forgetful with your supplements, because it means that the timing of krill oil doses is not particularly important.
Q: What does krill oil do for you?
A: Krill oil, like any source of omega-3 fatty acids, has good potential for reducing your risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like high blood triglycerides or high cholesterol.
Since omega-3 fatty acids are also used heavily by your brain, krill oil may help preserve cognitive function as you get older. Another avenue that is even more interesting is the potential for krill oil to be used as a treatment for mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
Research supports a link between higher levels of omega-3s and decreases in the severity of symptoms. Finally, the anti-inflammatory effects of both the omega-3 fatty acids and the astaxanthin in krill oil may help with joint-related pain from arthritis.
Q: How much krill oil should you take to lower triglycerides?
A: Research supports a krill oil dosage of at least one gram per day, and up to four grams per day to decrease blood triglycerides.
One study actually tested one, two, three, and four grams of krill oil per day in an attempt to establish the optimal dose of krill oil when it comes to decreasing blood triglycerides, but there was too much inter-individual variability to establish strong dosing recommendations (10).
The study did, however, find a significant group effect of krill oil on triglyceride levels, indicating that the krill oil did have the intended effect.
Another study successfully used three grams per day (11), so based on these studies, one to three grams per day seems to be an effective dosage to reduce blood triglycerides.
Q: How can you tell if krill oil is rancid?
A: Krill oil is particularly prone to oxidation, perhaps due to differences in the fat composition included in krill oil versus fish oil. One study found that 50% of omega-3 products contained levels of oxidation above the voluntary limits set by supplement companies (12).
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell by look or smell whether a krill oil supplement has gone rancid. The best indicator, of course, is the expiration date, but the research cited above suggests that krill oil may go bad even a year out from its stated expiration date.
To keep your krill oil from going bad, you can keep the bottle in your refrigerator to slow the rate of oxidation.
Q: What is the best time to take krill oil?
A: Because the DHA and EPA in krill oil last so long in your body, the time of day that you take krill oil is not particularly critical.
As long as you take it at approximately the same time every day, and are careful to not miss any of your doses day to day, taking it in the morning versus the evening does not matter.
With regular fish oil, some evidence suggests that taking at the same time as a high fat meal may increase the bioavailability of the fish oil.
While this is not a bad idea with krill oil, it may not be as necessary. The phospholipids that are contained in krill oil are thought to increase the bioavailability of the DHA and EPA, which may supplant or reduce the need for consuming fat alongside an omega-3 fatty acid source.
Q: How long does it take for krill oil to work in the body?
A: Most studies on the benefits of krill oil are a minimum of six to eight weeks long, so this is a good baseline for how long it should take for you to start seeing effects.
It takes several days from when you start taking krill oil until you reach a steady-state equilibrium of omega-3 fatty acids in your body, so you may start feeling some short-term effects more rapidly.
But most of the markers of long-term health that are beneficially affected by omega-3 fatty acids are slow to change, so improvements that you see in blood lipid levels, cognitive function, and mental wellness may take several weeks to appear.
Krill oil is an extremely promising and very safe supplement for delivering omega 3 fatty acids to your body, fighting inflammation, and possibly for preventing premenstrual syndrome as well.
While it’s still unclear whether krill oil is superior in all regards to fish oil, it does seem to have additional benefits.
Because it is so new, there is still a need for independent research into the long-term benefits of taking krill oil, but if you want the benefits of fish oil plus additional joint pain or premenstrual syndrome-fighting effects, krill oil is an excellent addition to your supplement regimen.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 krill oil recommendation, click here.