When we hear about krill, we probably don’t think about the powerful antioxidant it contains and the strong positive impact it can have on our body and immune system. This article is here to change that!
Like fish oil, krill oil is used as a food supplement because it contains the powerful omega – 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These essential fats play an important role in our body, are good for our heart and can even strengthen our immune system. This is why krill oil is so important for us. There are some differences between fish oil and krill oil, which you can read more about here. The krill oil we talk about in this article is made from Antarctic krill, a species of this small crustacean that lives in the Southern Ocean, in one of the cleanest waters of the world and is rich in EPA, DHA but also contains the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, which gives it its red colour and has many other health benefits that we will explain below.
But what is an antioxidant, and why should you care?
What Are Antioxidants and Free Radicals
Our body is exposed to toxins and other environmental stressors on a daily basis. But it has its very own defence mechanism, to protect its cells and stay healthy. One of those elements of our defence system is the immune system, which can be strengthened by taking EPA and DHA in the form of food supplements, like krill oil for example. You can read more about that here.
Another part of our defence are molecules called antioxidants, which help to protect our body from free radicals, which can damage our cells. Free radicals occur when oxygen molecules in our body split into single atoms which then have unpaired electrons. These electrons however want to be in pairs, so they will go all around our body looking for other electrons to “steal”. This then causes damage to the cells or proteins where they took the electron from. So, this can impact all cells in our body and even our DNA. This split of oxygen molecules is a natural by-product of chemical processes in our metabolism but can also be triggered by other factors like UV exposure, rancid fats and pollutants that we ingest through the air we breathe or even the water we drink.
Those free radicals are not only bad for us, thought. They are also essential for our immune system to fight off infections and help turn food into chemical energy. They only cause a problem if the balance between free radicals and the antioxidants in our body is off. If there are too many free radicals, our body can be under so-called “oxidative stress” which, if maintained over a long time, can cause damage to our DNA which possibly increases the risk of cancer. High levels of free radicals have also been linked to other health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
But what can we do, to keep those free radicals in check? This is where the antioxidants come into play. We have mentioned before, that those molecules protect our body from free radicals. They do this by preventing or slowing down the damage caused by free radicals by stopping the free radical from taking away electrons from the cells that contain antioxidants.
While our body produces a certain number of antioxidants itself, we do rely on consuming additional ones through our diet. Foods like whole foods of both plant and animal origin for example contain antioxidants, since both plants and animals also produce those molecules. A supplement like krill oil that contains the natural antioxidant astaxanthin, can also be a good alternative to increase your antioxidant-intake. In the next section, we will talk some more about the special qualities of krill oil and the antioxidant it contains.
Why is Krill Oil so Special? – Astaxanthin and Choline
Krill oil is not just a regular omega – 3 – supplement. It also contains the substances astaxanthin and choline, which are essential for our well-being.
Let’s start with astaxanthin. It is a natural antioxidant, which gives the krill oil its natural red hue and has the usual benefits of an antioxidant that we have explained above. In addition, antioxidants are natural preservatives as they inhibit oxidation, and can therefore improve the shelf-life of products like krill oil! Astaxanthin is also anti-inflammatory and because it is water-soluble, it can easily cross the blood-brain barrier. This means that it has been linked to an improved immune function and other health benefits, as it may be beneficial for our cardiovascular health because it protects the lipids in our blood from oxidation.
But krill oil has something else up its sleeve. The component choline is another essential substance for our bodies and is important for our cell structure, function and signalling for example. It is a substance that is neither vitamin nor mineral, but contributes to our cardiovascular and cognitive health and is involved in cell maintenance and DNA synthesis for example. Our body also converts it into a neurotransmitter which affects our nerve and plays a role in regulating some of our vital body functions like breathing and heart rate. It is a nutrient that we, similar to antioxidants, produce ourselves, but only in small quantities. We therefore also rely on external sources like krill oil or other foods like beef, soybeans, fish, eggs, broccoli and potatoes.
The Benefits of Krill Oil
So, now we know what special substances krill oil contains and why it is so important, that we supply our body with all the nutrients it needs. But krill oil also has additional health benefits that are linked to the omega – 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA it contains. It is beneficial for our heart health because it can support our body in keeping a healthy level of fats in our blood, which reduces the risk for strokes or heart attacks. Their strong anti-inflammatory properties also make EPA and DHA important components of our immune defence and help our body to protect itself from infections and viruses.