Krill ‘n’ Shills and Bellyaches

July 3, 2014 at 7:17 pm (Nutritionism, Supplements) (, , , , , )

There’s the TV adverts for Schiff, the advertorials from Alta Care, the celebrity endorsement by Carol Vorderman (Bioglan). People seem to really want me to buy krill oil pills.

Then there’s the Wikipedia article; looking at the history of this article, it’s clear there have been problems for some time with advocates trying to promote krill oil. Here, you can see the most blatant and easily spotted example of this sort of thing. A company has simply added a link to their website’s product page for krill oil pills. You can see something similar here, where an advertorial is linked to (the same company later added an image of their product: here). Someone else added “A very helpful page with lots of comments from krill oil users”; as with several other contributors to this page, this appears to have been their only Wikipedia edit. Companies edit the page to add links to their site in the “further reading” section, or cite papers indexed in Pubmed (but only those that mention their specific brand of pills). And so on, and so on. Until someone spots what they’re doing and removes their subtle, or unsubtle, promotion.

The promotion’s great. But what about the product? Well, krill oil seems to have similar benefits to fish oil (or, indeed, fish – but without the protein, vitamins and minerals you get from eating food) in terms of increasing levels of omega 3 fatty acids. In this paper it was reported that 3g of krill oil was comparable to 1.8g of fish oil: “The changes in EPA, DHA, and DPA differed significantly between the subjects supplemented with n-3 PUFAs and the subjects in the control group, but there was no significant difference in the change in any of the n-3 PUFAs between the fish oil and the krill oil groups (Table 4).”

So, how much krill oil and omega 3 fatty acids do you get in one of these wonder pills?

Schiff have a 300mg pill-a-day product costing $32 for 90 pills. Each of which contains (drumroll…) a grand total of 90mg of omega 3 fatty acids per pill (50mg EPA and 24mg DHA). Their ‘ultra strength’ 1000mg product has 230mg of omega 3 fatty acids per pill (128mg EPA and 60mg DHA). It’s $40 for a month’s supply of 30 pills.

Bioglan sell a pot of 30 pills for £18, with 200mg of omega 3 fatty acids per pill claimed on the label (116mg EPA, 74mg DHA). This product contains concentrated fish oil in order to deliver the claimed fatty acid content on the label, despite also claiming that red krill oil’s fatty acids are more bioavailable (I think this is what’s known as having your cake and eating it). They also make a big deal about the antioxidant content of their pills. You can get antioxidants from fruit and veg, which you can buy for pennies in any supermarket (fruit and veg also happen to contain fibre, which I hear is an important part of your diet).

Alta Care have a product available at 20 euros for 40 pills, containing 117mg omega 3 (72mg EPA, 45mg DHA) per pill.

Each of these products works out at 3-4mg of omega 3 fatty acids per penny. By comparison, the tins of sardines (1800mg per tin) and mackerel (4140mg) in my cupboard come out at 36 and 59mg per penny respectively. Krill oil pills don’t seem to be an economic way of increasing my blood plasma levels of omega 3 fatty acids. When your product contains so little of the active ingredient compared to cheap and easily available food sources, it seems to me that talk of superior bio-availability is a red herring.

Oh, and just for completeness… in light of the thread title, I note that the dropouts due to clinical symptoms in this paper were all in the krill oil group and included gastrointestinal symptoms.

1 Comment

  1. Little Waster said,

    “I note that the dropouts due to clinical symptoms in this paper were all in the krill oil group and included gastrointestinal symptoms.”

    Yep, that’s always the issue with taking any sort of dietary oil supplement, it gives you the galloping shits. I always wanted to get the phrase “galloping shits” into a paper but my co-authors always object. My two chances are either a paper on using dietary oil supplements or one on fox-hunting in the UK.

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