Everyone knows that eating oily fish like salmon and tuna can improve your heart health and offer a range of nutrients. There is also growing evidence to suggest that whole fish provides more benefits than krill oil and fish oil supplements. However, if you don’t have the time or inclination to chow down on fish all the time – leading to some potentially isolating social experiences, a supplement may be the next best thing. But, which one should you take – krill or fish?
Fish Oil and Krill Oil: What is it?
Krill oil is a red oil from a creature called Krill that looks similar to shrimp. It contains omega-3 fatty acid and offers a whole host of health benefits to the consumer. Fish oil, on the other hand, is more yellow or gold, originating from oily fish such as salmon or tuna. It, too, offers omega-3 fatty acids and plenty of health benefits.(1)
If you want to know whether krill oil or fish oil is better for Omega-3, then the answer can change depending on the study and product. Both fish and krill oil are similar in EPA and DHA levels, but a 2011 study showed that you might need to consume twice as much krill oil to get the same number of benefits as fish oil.(2) In saying that, there are plenty of krill oil manufacturers laying claim to better absorption rates with krill oil as opposed to fish oil, resulting in a lower concentration necessary for the same benefits.
Other studies say the complete opposite. Therefore, it’s challenging to know which evidence is stronger – or whether you can expect the same benefits from both.(3)
Fish Oil and Krill Oil Benefits
Without strong evidence to find out which is better for Omega-3, the next best thing is to find out what benefits you can receive from consuming either fish oil or krill oil. There is no robust evidence to suggest you would receive the same benefits from supplements as you would eating whole fish, but you may find omega-3 can offer the following: (4)
Lower triglyceride levels
Reduced rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
The evidence is inconclusive as to whether fish oil and krill oil can reduce your risk of heart disease, improve your cardiovascular health, or offer nutritional benefits on-par with fish.(5) Even though scientists do not yet know for sure whether you receive as many benefits from supplements as you do whole fish, there is still around 1.1 percent of children and 7.8 of American adults who consume supplements daily. Many of these contain fish and krill as well as animal-free alternatives like flaxseed and algal oil.
How Much Fish Oil and Krill Oil Should I Consume?
Every manufacturer will state a different daily dose by which you should abide. However, there are a few recommendations and guidelines for omega-3 supplements. If you consume more than 900mg per day, you may be suppressing your body’s natural inflammatory response. Instead, men should consume 1.6g per day and women, 1.1g.
There is no reliable scientific evidence to determine whether krill oil or fish oil is better for omega-3. Some weaker evidence shows krill oil may be easier for your body to absorb, but you may still need to consume more of it to be on par with the benefits of fish oil. Regardless of which supplement you consume for omega-3, however, you are sure to find it’s going to be beneficial for your body in one way or another. Pay attention to the supplement bottle guidelines and consult a medical professional if you have any questions. (6)
New evidence published today shows there is little or no effect of omega 3 supplements on our risk of experiencing heart disease, stroke or death.
Omega 3 is a type of fat. Small amounts of omega 3 fats are essential for good health, and they can be found in the food that we eat. The main types of omega 3 fatty acids are; alphalinolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is normally found in fats from plant foods, such as nuts and seeds (walnuts and rapeseed are rich sources). EPA and DHA, collectively called long chain omega 3 fats, are naturally found in fatty fish, such as salmon and fish oils including cod liver oil.
Increased consumption of omega 3 fats is widely promoted globally because of a common belief that that it will protect against heart disease. There is more than one possible mechanism for how they might help prevent heart disease, including reducing blood pressure or reducing cholesterol. Omega 3 fats are readily available as over-the-counter supplements and they are widely bought and used.
A new Cochrane systematic review, published today in the Cochrane Library, combines the results of seventy-nine randomised trials involving 112,059 people. These studies assessed effects of consuming additional omega 3 fat, compared to usual or lower omega 3, on diseases of the heart and circulation. Twenty-five studies were assessed as highly trustworthy because they were well designed and conducted.
The studies recruited men and women, some healthy and others with existing illnesses from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Participants were randomly assigned to increase their omega 3 fats or to maintain their usual intake of fat for at least a year. Most studies investigated the impact of giving a long-chain omega 3 supplement in a capsule form and compared it to a dummy pill. Only a few assessed whole fish intake. Most ALA trials added omega 3 fats to foods such as margarine and gave these enriched foods, or naturally ALA-rich foods such as walnuts, to people in the intervention groups, and usual (non-enriched) foods to other participants.
The Cochrane researchers found that increasing long-chain omega 3 provides little if any benefit on most outcomes that they looked at. They found high certainty evidence that long-chain omega 3 fats had little or no meaningful effect on the risk of death from any cause. The risk of death from any cause was 8.8% in people who had increased their intake of omega 3 fats, compared with 9% in people in the control groups.
They also found that taking more long-chain omega 3 fats (including EPA and DHA), primarily through supplements probably makes little or no difference to risk of cardiovascular events, coronary heart deaths, coronary heart disease events, stroke or heart irregularities. Long-chain omega 3 fats probably did reduce some blood fats, triglycerides and HDL cholesterol. Reducing triglycerides is likely to be protective of heart diseases, but reducing HDL has the opposite effect. The researchers collected information on harms from the studies, but information on bleeding and blood clots was very limited.
The systematic review suggests that eating more ALA through food or supplements probably has little or no effect on cardiovascular deaths or deaths from any cause. However, eating more ALA probably reduces the risk of heart irregularities from 3.3 to 2.6%. The review team found that reductions in cardiovascular events with ALA were so small that about 1000 people would need to increase consumption of ALA for one of them to benefit. Similar results were found for cardiovascular death. They did not find enough data from the studies to be able to measure the risk of bleeding or blood clots from using ALA.
Increasing long-chain omega 3 or ALA probably does not affect body weight or fatness.
Cochrane lead author, Dr. Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia, UK said: “We can be confident in the findings of this review which go against the popular belief that long-chain omega 3 supplements protect the heart. This large systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods. Despite all this information, we don’t see protective effects.
“The review provides good evidence that taking long-chain omega 3 (fish oil, EPA or DHA) supplements does not benefit heart health or reduce our risk of stroke or death from any cause. The most trustworthy studies consistently showed little or no effect of long-chain omega 3 fats on cardiovascular health. On the other hand, while oily fish is a healthy food, it is unclear from the small number of trials whether eating more oily fish is protective of our hearts.
“This systematic review did find moderate evidence that ALA, found in plant oils (such as rapeseed or canola oil) and nuts (particularly walnuts) may be slightly protective of some diseases of the heart and circulation. However, the effect is very small, 143 people would need to increase their ALA intake to prevent one person developing arrhythmia. One thousand people would need to increase their ALA intake to prevent one person dying of coronary heart disease or experiencing a cardiovascular event. ALA is an essential fatty acid, an important part of a balanced diet, and increasing intakes may be slightly beneficial for prevention or treatment of cardiovascular disease."
Full citation: Abdelhamid AS, Brown TJ, Brainard JS, Biswas P, Thorpe GC, Moore HJ, Deane KHO, AlAbdulghafoor FK, Summerbell CD, Worthington HV, Song F, Hooper L. Omega 3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003177. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003177.pub3.
For further information and media enquiries, please contact,
Media Officer, Cochrane
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Dr. Lee Hooper
Norwich Medical School
University of East Anglia
Norwich Research Park
Cochrane is a global independent network of researchers, professionals, patients, carers and people interested in health.
Cochrane produces reviews which study all of the best available evidence generated through research and make it easier to inform decisions about health. These are called systematic reviews.
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Studies show that Omega-3s can reduce the risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and arthritis, and improve overall happiness.
The American Heart Association, and several other prominent health organizations, suggest an intake of at least 250 to 500 milligrams of omega-3 EPA+DHA per day, which is equivalent to about two meals (or 6 oz) of oily fish per week. That’s where we get the #Seafood2xWk from!
The recommendations call for a variety of fish or to select “fatty” or “oily” fish – but what does that mean? These fish are the ones with the highest Omega-3 fatty acids.
What is Considered a Fatty Fish?
Fattier fish have more than 5% fat.
Seafood with the highest omega-3s has a firmer texture, a richer flavor, and deeper color (usually).
They are perfect for air frying, grilling, poaching, baking, or even microwaving.
Which Fish Have the Most Health Benefits?
While all fish are excellent high-quality protein options, those with the highest amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids are packed with the most heart, brain, eye, and overall health benefits. Some shellfish also are rich in omega-3s. The fish with the highest mg of Omega-3 fatty acids are anchovies, herring, mackerel, oysters, and so many others!
Check out this chart (a printout of the chart is available here)