What Is So Special About Krill Oil?
Can Krill Oil Really Boost Mental Performance?
Even people who have never heard of the word “nootropic” will know that when you say “brain food”, you are referring to fish.
They may not fully understand why, but they will take it as a given that some component of fish and seafood helps keep their brain healthy and active, and so they will seek to incorporate more fish into their regular diet.
Despite not fully understanding the reasons why, these people are dead right to try and eat certain types of fish more regularly.
Although not all marine life offers exactly the same benefits (with some even being potentially very harmful to our mental health and cognitive performance), generally speaking, consuming fresh, oily fish on a regular basis provides us with dietary fats that are absolutely vital for our brain’s growth, maintenance, and functioning.
What are these fats? How do they work? Do all fish provide these important dietary components? Are some fish better for our cognitive functioning than others? What about supplements? Can vegetarians still get these fats? Where does krill oil come into all of this? What’s the difference between krill oil and fish oil?
On this page, we will seek to answer these questions and more, hopefully providing you will all the information you need to plan your diet to ensure optimal cognitive performance.
Fish Oil – Nature’s Nootropic?
Fish oil is now one of the most popular supplements on the market. People take it for a variety of reasons, and it seems rightly so.
Fish oil is a superb source of omega-3 fatty acids. It is these fatty acids that bring about the many effects that people take fish oil for, from lowering inflammation to helping with digestive discomfort.
In particular, fish oil is packed full of EPA and DHA. These two omega-3 fatty acids are of great importance to our cognitive functioning, not to mention our overall general health. It is for tis reason that people interested in boosting their mental performance get drawn to fish oil.
So, what do these two fats do exactly?
With regards to general health, regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids offers tremendous benefits.
Studies have found that people consuming higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids on a regular basis have a relatively lower risk of developing all sorts of problems, from simple hypertension to full-blown heart disease. This is important information for everyone, but it is particularly pertinent if your diet is currently full of omega-6 fatty acids, as is the case with most people living in the west today.
Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. They are a necessary part of our diet and vital for an active and healthy life.
On their own, they are not harmful in any way; in fact, if you didn’t eat them at all, you’d soon run into trouble. However, it is important that your intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is well balanced.
Although the reality is a little more complicated, as a general rule, you can think of omega-6 fatty acids as being slightly inflammatory in the human body, while omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Making sure that your body is not overwhelmed by inflammatory fatty acids is a good idea; otherwise, you run the risk of developing a range of conditions, one of the most common being chronic gastrointestinal problems.
When you consume far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids for a long period of time, then you may be at a much higher risk of developing much more serious conditions, including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and even mental illnesses such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Taking the typical US diet as an example, experts estimate that Americans consume anywhere between 14 and 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. To put that into perspective, some dieticians suggest that a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be around 2:1. Many people in the fitness industry put the ideal ratio at around 1:1. Clearly, most US citizens are wide of the mark.
So, since most people in the west already consume more than enough omega-6, it is probably wise for people to look to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Doing so could dramatically reduce your chances of developing heart conditions, bowel problems, mental illnesses, and possibly even certain cancers.
What About Mental Performance?
More interestingly from our perspective, certain omega-3 fatty acids have a very direct link to physical brain health, and as a result, promoting optimal mental performance.
We are talking here about one omega-3 fatty acid above all others: DHA.
DHA’s relationship with cognitive performance is very easy to explain, but very few people actually use this information to improve their day-to-day performance.
To put it as simply as possible, a huge amount of your brain’s physical mass is made up of fat; almost 60% in fact. And the brain prefers omega-3 fatty acids above all else, and DHA in particular. So much so that DHA makes up as much as 20% of the brain’s cerebral cortex.
That’s right, 20%! One fifth of your cerebral cortex is composed of this one type of omega-3 fatty acid.
It doesn’t take a genius then to figure out why DHA is so important for enhancing cognitive function.
If you don’t give the brain the raw materials it needs to replace brain cells when your existing ones die, then your neural network will never be as efficient as it possibly can be, and your cognitive functioning will never reach its full potential.
As always, we never expect you to just take our word for it.
The role of DHA in supporting cognitive function and long-term brain health is well-understood, well-documented, and robustly proven.
Here is a list of studies that examined everything from DHA’s prominence in supporting cognitive development in children, to its ability to promote learning and memory in later life. We recommend taking a look at these studies if you really want to get to grips with DHA’s salience in the arsenal of the nootropic enthusiast.
Why Is Supplementation Important?
Now, 20% may not sound like a huge amount of DHA to some of you. You might think that this should be an easy amount to get from your diet. But unfortunately you’d be wrong.
When you realise how little DHA we usually get from our normal diet, and how important DHA is for numerous other bodily functions, you will understand how important it is to make extra efforts to ensure you’re getting enough of the stuff.
The human body can make its own DHA, so a true deficiency is very uncommon. We need to stress this point: PROBLEMATIC DEFICIENCY IN DHA IS RARE AS THE BODY MAKES ITS OWN.
But, the body cannot produce DHA in large amounts, and it requires other omega-3 fatty acids to do so. So for people interested in boosting their mental performance and long-term brain health, relying on the measly amount made by the body is simply not an option.
The vast majority of people in the Western world get nowhere near enough omega-3 fatty acids from their regular diet. Not even close.
That fact, coupled with the fact that DHA is also hugely important for a number of other reasons (e.g it makes up as much as 80% of the human retina), means that we can’t really get by with a small amount of DHA if we want to truly optimise cognitive performance.
A quick search on Google will give you all of this information and more. There is very little that any of us can tell you about DHA’s nature that you can’t find out yourself from a better source.
But, what we can tell you is how to best use DHA to promote cognitive function. This is where Krill Oil comes in.
Why Krill Oil?
The main reason to use krill oil is simply because it works! Those of you who follow that link will find a study showing that just 4 weeks of krill oil supplementation helped boost plasma DHA and EPA levels.
But we’re not interested in why we should take krill oil; we’re interested in why you should take krill oil over regular fish oil, since the latter is typically so much cheaper.
The main advantage of krill oil over run-of-the-mill fish oil supplements is quite simple: it is currently thought by many that krill oil typically provides more of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA than fish oil (check out this study for more information on this).
This is because the phospholipid structure of these fats in krill oil make them more readily absorbed than the EPA and DHA found in fish oil (source).
Not only that, but Krill oil provides one thing that fish oil does not: an antioxidant called astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin is a keto-caretanoid which gives Krill its lovely bright red colour. It is quite a potent anti-oxidant, with potential benefits for sufferers of a wide range of conditions, from poor eye-sight to Alzheimer’s disease. Our research on this issue is limited, but browse this page from WebMD and do some digging of your own.
We are primarily interested in the cognitive enhancements that might be obtained by taking krill oil. However, there are several important environmental factors to take into account when choosing how you obtain your DHA/EPA.
For starters, since industrial fishing practices became the norm, almost 90% of large fish species are now thought to be being over-fished. Some of these species seem to be being over-fished into extinction. It makes sense, therefore, to try to limit our consumption of large fish where and when we can. One way is to avoid conventional fish oil and to opt for a more sustainable alternative.
Krill is one such alternative. While large fish such as cod routinely enter “over-fished” territory, the amount of krill currently being fished could increase 50-fold before it reached worrying levels. Until that happens, krill oil is certainly the more sustainable option for conscientious consumers.
What About Pollutants In Krill Oil?
Many of you will have no doubt heard that deep sea, large fish such as tuna, cod and salmon now almost invariably contain large amounts of pollutants such as mercury.
Many of you will have also either heard or reasoned that these pollutants may also be in the fish oil that millions of us consume on a daily basis.
While this isn’t an unreasonable conclusion to draw, some very thorough studies have found that fish oil supplements tested contained none of the pollutants commonly found in large, deep sea fish, and only very minute amounts of other pollutants particular to cod.
You are therefore probably at significantly less risk from pollutants, such as mercury, when taking fish oil than you are when eating fish several times per week.
That said, there is no reason why you shouldn’t take the precaution anyway until more research is done on the presence of pollutants in fish oil supplements. Krill don’t contain the same pollutants as large, deep sea fish, so they are without question fundamentally less likely to pass such pollutants on in their oil.
Some of you will be wondering: this is all well and good, but I’m a vegetarian – what am I supposed to do?!
Well, fortunately for you, there isn’t just a passable alternative to fish oil for vegetarians and vegans. Rather, opting for the vegan source of DHA/EPA may be a significantly better option for everyone, not to mention the planet.
Many people think that fish oil is the only way to obtain the essential omega 3 fatty acids mentioned on this page. However, these very clever people have obviously never asked themselves; where do the fish get these omega 3 fatty acids from?
The answer is algae. Deep water algae are where the cod that died for your cod liver oil got its omega-3s from, and that is where some incredibly ingenious manufacturers are now getting their omega-3 oils from too.
Only a few manufacturers are producing high quality algal omega-3 supplements at the time of writing, but some found by our research team have offered significantly more DHA and EPA than even the most potent krill oils.
The only catch is that these supplements are currently much more expensive than fish oil (although the price is not too dissimilar to krill oil). This will no doubt change in the future as more manufacturers catch on to the growing demand, but for now fish oil might be the only attainable option for some.
Stacking Krill Oil?
Every contributor to this site takes some form of EPA/DHA supplement as part of their daily supplement regimen.
We each have very different priorities when it comes to “personal development”, but we all benefit enormously from increasing our intake of omega-3 fatty acids, especially since those of us who eat a lot of meat consume incredible amounts of inflammatory omega-9 fatty acids.
Interestingly, we all also take our EPA/DHA supplement at exactly the same time; first thing in the morning. Why is this interesting you ask? Because there’s no reason for us to do so, beyond it being easy to take it at same time as our other supplements (nootropics, vitamin pills, protein shakes, etc).
Whether your goal is to support brain health as you get older, to help you stay focused on the playing field, in the gym, or at work, or to just improve your overall health, it doesn’t seem to matter a great deal when you take your EPA/DHA supplement.