Omega-3 phospholipids (pronounce: fos-fo-lipids) are the key building blocks of cellular life. Without the unique properties of phospholipids no life would have been possible. Currently, the only economical source for omega-3 phospholipids is krill oil. The best food source for omega-3 phospholipids is raw or barely cooked fish (sashimi).
In the old days people would consume large quantities of omega-3 phospholipids through the consumption of brain, liver, and other organ meats. Mammalian brains are mainly fat, and the most common brain fat is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) an essential fatty acid which can not be made by your body in sufficient quantities. Essential means that the majority of these two fats must be consumed through diet.
Omega-3 deficiency on cellular level has a tremendous health impact. If you wonder why krill oil and fish oil can be good for so many afflictions, then it is only because omega-3 phospholipids are so essential to almost everything in your body. Any omega-3 deficiency will influence a vast number of health issues.
Why are phospholipids better?
Phospholipids stick together in a unique pattern, and form natural structures that allow oxygen and nutrients to enter our cells, and which keep (most) toxins, viruses and bacteria out. Our cell membranes are made from phospholipids, and the quality of the cell membranes is determined by how much omega-3 is part of the phospholipid molecule.
Fish oils don’t contain phospholipids, but do contain omega-3 triglycerides. These fish oil molecules play no role in our cell membranes, and for any omega-3 from fish oils to be used in cells, it must be converted in our liver to a phospholipid. This conversion process is very inefficient and not every fish oil omega-3 is guaranteed to play a role in our cellular health.
The formation of phospholipids in our liver is more a statistical process, than a selection process. In other words, the consumption of large quantities of bad fats will decrease the probability that good fish oil omega-3 will end up playing a role in one of your cell membranes. (Fish Oil) Triglycerides are store and transport molecules, whereas omega-3 phospholipids are the bricks in our cellular walls.
Your body is very selective in which phospholipids it uses. For example, our brain mainly uses DHA-phospholipids, because DHA is a high charged and brain activity needs these highly charged molecules. Eye-retinas need even more charged molecules to convert light rays to brain signals, so eye phospholipids contain whenever possible two DHA lipid molecules. No wonder that omega-3 plays an important role in brain health like ADHD, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. Muscles are less picky, and will settle for lower quality fats if that’s all that is available.
Omega-3 plays another important cellular role. DHA is a very long chain fatty acid, and thus can have very specific forms and shapes. These shapes seem to greatly impact the number and kind of receptors in the cell membrane. For example, serotonin receptors, which influence mood and depression, correlate to omega-3 levels in the phospholipid membrane.
Omega-3 (DHA and EPA) and omega-6 (AA) greatly impact inflammation; omega 3 reduces inflammation, and in large quantities omega-6 will increase inflammation. The ratio between omega 3 and 6 is therefore a good indication for the risk of many inflammatory diseases. If cells get damaged, for example through oxidative stress, the fats that are attached to the phospholipid are released (cleaved in jargon) and go down an inflammation or anti-inflammation path. If the quantity of omega-6 and omega-3 is out of balance on a cellular level, the inflammatory processes can get out of control too. Examples of inflammatory processes are cardio vascular disease, and arthritis.
Omega-3 fats are high unstable. For example, you would not consider cooking French fries in fish oil. Consequently, industrial growers of fats (corn oil, canola oil etc.) have an interest in breeding the omega-3 fats out of their plants, and increasing the level of omega-6 fats. Their oils become more stable as a result. Consumers are unaware that their nutrition is changing dramatically without changing their diet. Because of these nutritional changes, and because omega-6 fats are so much cheaper the historical balance of 1 to 1 between omega-6 and omega-3 has shifted in the US to 15 to 1 and for certain poor populations which consume large quantities of cheap processed foods, the ratio has shifted to 30:1 or worse.
Omega-3 phospholipids from krill
Krill oil contains 40% phospholipids with bonded omega-3. The quantity of omega-3 (EPA and DHA) is far less than in fish oils, but the phospholipid form is radically different.