Fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil or algae oil?

Which one is best?

Krill oil vs Omega 3 fish oil vs cod liver oil vs algae oil

It’s a natural wonder drug, proven to help with a near alphabet of conditions, from acne to weight loss. But with oily fish, krill, cod liver and algae oil vying for your attention, it can be hard to figure out which one of our underwater friends you should choose for your daily dose of Omega 3.

“All of these different marine oils contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),” said Professor Johnathan Napier at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire. “But they have some potentially important differences which might affect how the human body can absorb them. And then there’s the bigger issue of whether or not some of these sources are sustainable and/or economically viable”.

So what are the main differences between krill oil, cod liver oil, algae oil and a fish body oil such as Bare Biology’s Lion Heart Omega 3 liquid? We’ve spoken to the experts to find out what each one can do for your health, and the health of the planet.

While getting your Omega 3 from a fish body oil is undoubtedly a better choice for the planet, it’s still important to choose wisely, to make sure the fish used in your supplement also comes from sustainable sources.

Krill oil vs fish oil

While Omega 3 fish oil comes from the body of oily fish such as sardines and mackerel, krill oil is made from a crustacean called krill which are tiny, shrimp-like creatures that live in the Antarctic. A deep red colour, krill oil contains the same two beneficial essential fatty acids (EFAs) that are found in fish oil, EPA and DHA.

But although both are similar in terms of EFAs, krill oil is certainly the most controversial of the two. Krill make up a vital part of the Antarctic food chain and a huge numbers of species, from penguins to whales to seal and sea birds, are directly or indirectly affected by their declining numbers.

As Professor Napier explains, “there is concern that harvesting this very small animal, which is near the bottom of the marine food web is at best foolhardy, if not reckless, irrespective of being technically challenging.”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall also flagged up this environmental concern in Channel 4’s Hugh’s Fish Fight where he stated “if you start chipping away at the krill to the point where you make a difference to the krill biomass, you make a difference to everything else.”

Professor Alex Rogers of Oxford University, who has carried out many scientific studies of krill, backed this up. “We know that’s the case because when we have bad krill years the breeding of many predators [who feed on krill] collapses during those years.

“I’m not against fishing in any form, the important word here is sustainability. We are in a situation where there is a huge ramp-up for krill fishing and my concern is it’s happening so quickly. If we did fish to the extent where it crashed, it would have a catastrophic impact on Antarctic breeding systems.”

So worrying is the huge decline in Antarctic krill that some retailers have come under fire from Greenpeace for stocking krill oil and others have recently decided to stop selling krill products at all.

Louisa Casson, a Protect the Antarctic campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said “the public mood is clear: almost two-thirds of Brits think retailers shouldn’t be stocking krill products fished from Antarctic waters being considered for protection.”

While getting your Omega 3 from a fish body oil is undoubtedly a better choice for the planet, it’s still important to choose wisely to make sure the fish used in your supplement also comes from sustainable sources.

At Bare Biology we believe passionately in sustainability and only use fisheries and manufacturers who are certified by Friends of the Sea and IFFO-RS. We use small wild fish like anchovies and sardines, from clean and deep water. So not only is our product safe and pure, it’s also more sustainable.

Krill oil vs fish oil for health benefits

Besides environmental concerns, does krill oil provide any health benefits you can’t get from Omega 3 fish oils?

Krill does contain a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin which gives the oil its deep, red colour. Astaxanthin can protect the body from harmful free radicals (produced as the result of  exposure to UV and pollution) but it’s important to remember you can also find this wonder nutrient in more sustainable sources, like wild salmon, red trout, crab and lobster.

Research has also shown that the levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in krill are significantly lower than those found in fish oil. One study in 2014 (Laidlaw, Cockerline, Rowe) found subjects who consumed concentrated levels of fish oil for 28 days had four times the level of EPA in their blood than those who were given a krill oil supplement.

Krill oil vs fish oil for absorption

Manufacturers claim that a major benefit of krill oil is its bioavailability. In other words, how well the body can absorb the Omega 3 contained within it.

A large portion of the EPA and DHA in krill comes in phospholipid form (whereas fish oil fatty acids are contained in triacylglycerols), which some claim has a higher rate of absorption in the body than fish oil.

However this has yet to be fully clarified. In fact one of the more recent studies in 2014 (Salem and Kuratko) concluded there is “no evidence for greater bioavailability of krill oil vs. fish oil”.

Should I choose krill oil or fish oil for arthritis?

While krill oil might be good for joints, it’s not recommended by any of the arthritis agencies either here, in the US or Australia. That’s because all the research done on Omega 3 and arthritis to date has come from studying fish body oils. For that reason krill oil is not recommended for joint pain and arthritis, because it’s simply not known whether it’s useful or not.

However Omega 3 fish body oil has been given a five star rating for effectiveness in treating rheumatoid arthritis by Arthritis UK.

Read more about how fish oil can help arthritis and joints here.

Krill oil vs fish oil for cholesterol

Medical trials have proven that Omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil can lower triglyceride levels. But while krill oil is thought to have similar effects, it hasn’t been as well studied in humans.

The cholesterol charity, Heart UK, recommends getting your Omega 3 by taking a fish body oil supplement.

Krill oil vs fish oil for mercury levels and toxins

In a perfect world you’d get all the Omega 3 you’d need by eating oily fish. But due to alarming levels of toxins and heavy metals such as mercury, many of us are turning to supplements like fish oil and krill oil to get our daily dose. So which one is best when it comes to levels of pollutants? Krill or fish oil?

Manufacturers of krill oil are quick to point out that because krill are right at the bottom end of the ocean’s food chain, they don’t have time to accumulate high levels of mercury or other contaminants.

But choosing a good quality fish oil such as Lion Heart by Bare Biology also means you’ll be getting a supplement that’s free from mercury. Every batch of our fish oils is tested and awarded a five-star purity and quality rating from International Fish Oil Standards, meaning you’ll get all the same levels of purity, without the environmental concerns.

Omega 3 fish oil vs cod liver oil

Fish oil comes from the bodies of oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and anchovies whereas cod liver oil comes from the liver of the fish.

Jeraldine Curran, founder of The Food Nutritionist, explains that “we know that both contain anti-inflammatory properties in the form of EPA and DHA. These Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely important for the function of the brain, cardiovascular system, eyes and numerous other processes in our bodies. As our bodies cannot manufacture Omega 3 fatty acids it’s important that we consume it within our diet and by supplementation.”

Cod liver oil vs Omega 3 fish oil, the main differences

Along with providing Omega 3, (although at lower levels when compared to a clinical strength fish oil like Bare Biology’s Lion Heart) cod liver oil also contains vitamins D and A. While vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant, take too much of it and you’re at risk of vitamin A toxicity. This is when large amounts build up in your body over time, which can lead to liver damage and could even harm your vision.

Certain chronic conditions require a high, clinical dose of Omega 3 to see any benefit - and if you took cod liver oil at the same dosage, you’d be getting too much vitamin A.

It’s also harmful to take vitamin A when you're pregnant as large amounts of retinol can cause serious birth defects. Omega 3 fish oil contains no vitamin A and is safe to take in pregnancy.

Cod liver oil vs Omega 3 fish oil - which is best for your health?

Omega 3 fish oils are obtained from the flesh of a number of oily fish, like sardines, rather than just from the liver of the cod. They are also three times richer in Omega 3 essential fatty acids. The main reasons for taking fish oils are for their beneficial effects on cardiovascular, brain, visual health and because of their anti-inflammatory effect.

The only advantage of taking cod liver oil would be that it also contains vitamins A and D. That’s great if you’re deficient, but you may not be getting enough Omega 3 to see a difference in stubborn conditions such as acne.  

Omega 3 fish oil vs cod liver oil for joints

Not sure whether to take Omega 3 or cod liver oil for your aching joints? It’s no surprise you’re confused! Both fish body oil and cod liver oil contain EPA and DHA, so both have anti-inflammatory effects. However cod liver oil is not recommended for treating joint pain for two reasons. The first is that the function of fish livers are to filter out toxins, meaning that cod liver oil is likely to contain more environmental nasties like PCBs, compared to fish oil 

supplements made from the body of oily fish. Secondly, fish liver oils contain high amounts of vitamin A, something that becomes toxic in the larger doses recommended for treating joint pain.

Cod liver oil vs fish oil for toxins

As the liver is where toxins and contaminants are processed, this type of oil is more likely to contain environmental pollutants, such as heavy metals. Taking a good quality Omega 3 fish oil that publishes its test results means you’re guaranteed to be taking something pure and fresh.

Algae Omega 3 vs fish oil

Algae oil comes from marine algae and is also high in some Omega 3 fatty acids, making it suitable for vegetarians looking for an alternative to fish oil. In fact, the reason fish oil contains so much Omega 3 is because its main source of food is algae. So many people think that by taking an algae supplement you are getting this vital nutrient right from the source. Unfortunately that’s not quite the case.

By taking an algae oil you’ll get the brain and eye boosting benefits of DHA, but you’ll be missing out on all the anti-inflammatory properties of EPA.

Algae oil vs fish oil Omega 3 levels

Algae does contain high levels of DHA, but it doesn’t always contain EPA, as Professor Napier explains...“there are thousands of species of algae, and they vary in their ability to make EPA and/or DHA. Some make both, some make just DHA, and to varying levels.”

Nutritionist Jackie McCusker says this is “problematic” for people who rely on algae oil as a vegan or vegetarian source of Omega 3. “While EPA and DHA have separate roles, they work synergistically and you need them both to help every cell in the human body to function. While taking a supplement that contains just one of these essential Omega 3 fatty acids may have some health benefits, you need them both.”

So by taking an algae oil you’ll get the brain and eye boosting benefits of DHA, but you’ll be missing out on all the anti-inflammatory properties of EPA. This isn’t ideal if you were looking to help inflammatory conditions like eczema or wanted to protect your heart.

Algae oil vs fish oil for sustainability

Professor Napier also has concerns about how this source of Omega 3 can meet our nutritional demands. “Production of algae at the scale required for the optimal nutrition of the global population is not currently feasible, in terms of infrastructure or cost.”

Taking a fish oil that comes from sustainable sources can eliminate this worry.

Krill oil vs cod liver oil vs algae oil vs fish oil - which one is best to take?

Each type of Omega 3 has its own benefits and downsides.

Krill oil, while having a powerful antioxidant that you can’t find in fish body oil, is also of great environmental concern to Greenpeace, leading to many retailers refusing to stock krill oil products on their shelves.

Cod liver oil contains vitamins A and D which is great if you’re deficient in either of those two nutrients, but not so good if you’re pregnant or need to take a clinical dose of Omega 3 for a condition such as arthritis. This is because high levels of vitamin A quickly become toxic in the body. And because the oil comes from the liver there’s a higher risk of being polluted by toxins.

Algae oil is an alternative to fish oil which makes it an attractive option for vegetarians. But while algae oils do contain large amounts of brain-boosting DHA, most don’t contain any EPA fatty acids at all, so you’re missing out on powerful anti-inflammatory benefits.

Choose a high quality Omega 3 fish oil such as Bare Biology’s Lion Heart and you’ll have it all - clinical doses of EPA and DHA from a safe, pure and sustainable source.