While many people are excited about what krill oil can do for their cardiovascular health and their cholesterol levels others – including many members of the medical and scientific communities – are just as excited, if not more so, about what the oil from a tiny little shrimp can potentially do for the human brain.
The Developing Brain
At some point back in ancient history cavemen (or cavepeople if you prefer) stopped eating just plants and animals they had hunted down on land and began to discover that the seas held a lot of food for them as well.
While that was a wonderful change in menu for these people it also marked, scientists say, a turning point in human brain development. As these people began to consume certain fish one of the ingredients the fish possessed in their bodies, the essential omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), was introduced into their systems and historically that coincided with leaps and bounds in human intelligence and of the expansion of gray matter in the cerebral cortex, something that is characteristic of the “modern” brain over the prehistoric one.
As a very membrane rich tissue gray matter is particularly nourished by the unique properties of the DHA molecule. So there has been little doubt for some time that DHA plays a huge role in creating a functioning brain. What is now being investigated though is if a deficency in DHA can actually speed or even lead to brain degeneration
” An emerging body of research is exploring a unique role for DHA in neurodevelopment and the prevention of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders” Nutrients Journal
Plant DHA versus Fish DHA
Unlike some Omega 3 fatty acids DHA is not produced naturally by the body, that is why it is surmised that the “cave – brain” did not develop so rapidly earlier. You may have read that some plants contain omega 3 fatty acids inclusing a form of DHA and that is indeed quite true. However plant Omega 3s and fish omega 3s are not the same thing and are not “interchangeable”.
Fish and marine life oil supplements like krill oil contain EPA and DHA as direct source. Plants on the other hand contain the parent source alpha-linolenic acid which can be converted into EPA and DHA but the conversion is, it has been found, not very effective and the direct EPA and DHA provided in seafood and marine oil is a more efficient and potent option.
“Unlike the photosynthetic cells in algae and higher plants, mammalian cells lack the specific enzymes required for the de novo synthesis of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the precursor for all omega-3 fatty acid syntheses. Endogenous synthesis of DHA from ALA in humans is much lower and more limited than previously assumed.
… [A]fter much intense research, the 1989 NATO Advanced Research Workshop on dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids on biological effects and nutritional essentiality, agreed by consensus that n-3 fatty acids generally: (1) have anti-inflammatory properties; (2) lower serum triglycerides and cholesterol; and (3) decrease thrombosis and platelet aggregation. Therefore administration was recommended as beneficial in cardiovascular disease, hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis.
Since then, however, there has been a wealth of evidence to support the notion that the omega-3 fatty acids are not bioequivalent and that the longer chain EPA and DHA are much more important than their precursor ALA.”
In more basic terms? Although the Omega 3s from plants are an essential nutrient as well getting more of your DHA and EPA from a seafood based source will be more beneficial for your health, especially brain health.
Could Krill Be a Miracle Oil?
For the last forty years or so scientists have been researching the effects of DHA as they relate to certain specific brain disorders and more specifically what a lack of DHA can potentially do to accelerate these ailments as well as what an increase in it can potentially do to help reverse damage. The main areas of study have been:
- General ongoing memory loss
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Diagnosed Depression
- Bipolar disorder
Many of these studies have presented some pretty compelling evidence that a DHA supplement can indeed help reduce the symptoms of psychiatric illnesses like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and a few studies have indicated that DHA supplementation seems to be helpful in reversing some of the effects of brain degeneration.
For example in one study involved over 450 elderly volunteers who were already experiencing significant memory loss. Divided into two groups one was given 900mgs of DHA daily, the other a placebo. After 24 weeks the DHA group reported significant increases in memory over the placebo group. In another trial a similar group of people who were given 800mg of DHA daily were able to score significantly better on verbal acuity scores than they had before.
Why is Krill Oil Better than Fish Oil?
Both krill oil and fish oil supplements contain DHA but in slightly different forms. In fish oil it is a triglyceride molecule that has to be broken down in the body into its component base acids DHA and EPA. In doing so about 85% can be lost to bodily waste. The DHA in krill oil is directly absorbed into the body is far more efficient in delivering just what is needed.