Fishy business

Fish oil has long been recommended to treat ailments from arthritis through to improving brain function. But a new oil from the sea, krill oil, is being touted as the superior alternative to fish oil.

The big question though - is it really any better for you than the fish oil brand you've been dutifully popping every day?

Not necessarily, according to some of Perth's leading natural health practitioners, who advise consumers to tread with caution when choosing the best source of Omega 3 for their needs.

The problem, according to NatMed Group naturopath Deborah Taylor, is that there are not yet enough scientifically based studies into the efficacy of krill oil.

"Krill oil companies are claiming that one krill tablet is equal to roughly six fish oil tablets due to the increased uptake, or bioavailability, of krill compared to fish because of its structure," Ms Taylor explains.

"However, this is simply not borne out by any scientific trials at this stage."

Fish oil is derived from the tissue of oily fish that have eaten micro-algae containing Omega 3, a group of fatty acids known to reduce inflammation, promote heart health and provide immune system, joint and mood support throughout the body.

Krill oil is harvested from small, red- coloured crustaceans found in the Antarctic. It also contains DHA and EPA, the two essential components of Omega 3s, as well as astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant.

Ms Taylor says that when recommending the use of either fish or krill oils to her clients she takes into account the sustainability, efficacy, purity, convenience and price of the oil.

Mt Lawley naturopath Marnie Downer says the best fish oils should be ethically sourced and come from small fish, which means there is less likelihood of toxicity.

"The bigger the fish, the more mercury, which is why I avoid salmon oil," Ms Downer says.

"A good fish oil shouldn't give you reflux or that fishy after-taste."

Ms Taylor suggests biting into the capsule to check its quality.

It should taste smooth (like olive oil) rather than fishy, which means the tablet is most likely rancid and inabsorbable by the body. Be warned, she says, some of the cheaper supermarket varieties often are.

When choosing a fish oil, most naturopaths strongly advocate making sure that it is sourced from fisheries using a sustainable catch policy in order to protect marine environments.

When it comes to health, Ms Taylor says it's a juggling act: krill oil provides the best oil in terms of bioavailability (if you compare one capsule with another) but it is more expensive in terms of financial cost and on the environment.

"Generally speaking, if you need a short-term Omega 3 supplement to treat an illness, then it may be useful to use krill for a short period of time," Ms Taylor says.

"However, if you want a reliable, relatively cheap source of fish oil that is sustainable on an ongoing basis for the whole family then wild, small fish oil such as anchovy and sardine oil is still the winner."

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