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It's no secret that terms like "lipids" or "fat" have been falsely categorized over the years as harmful or unhealthy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, phospholipids are often referred to as the "molecules of life”, because without them, we would experience critical cellular dysfunction.

Phospholipids are essential components of the cellular membrane that help maintain its strength, flexibility, and overall structure. But not all phospholipids are the same. For example, Omega-3 phospholipids found in krill oil go into our cell membranes to help facilitate the absorption of essential nutrients such as choline and Omega-3 fatty acids, both of which can be found in krill oil supplements.

What are Phospholipids?

Phospholipids are a particular class of lipids that serves as the primary structural framework for your body's cell membranes. These major membrane lipids consist of bilayers, which act as a barrier to protect cells from damage. Simply put, every cell in the human body requires and is surrounded by fat.

These essential lipids are also responsible for carrying long-chain Omega-3s (EPA & DHA) into the cell membranes.

Phospholipids are necessary for human digestion and other metabolic processes, including the transport of fat between the intestine and the liver, the production of acetylcholine (in the case of phosphatidylcholine, or “PC”, lipids), the synthesis of essential fatty acids, and the production of energy.

What role do phospholipids play in cell function?

As essential components of cell membranes (which separate the inside of cells from the outside environment), phospholipids provide shape and structure to cells and tissues.

Phospholipids are key nutrients that we need in our daily diet to aid in absorbing fats and fat-soluble nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids. Phospholipids encase these fats in a structure like a shell, allowing them to be dispersed and absorbed throughout the body.

Does krill oil contain phospholipids?

The simple answer is yes. Krill oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids that take on a phospholipid form, unlike fish oils that are typically bound to triglycerides or ethyl esters. The average amount of phospholipids in a fish species is between 1% and 1.5%, whereas the average amount extracted from a krill is around 40%.

Phospholipids are essential in transporting Omega-3 fatty acids to critical organs such as the brain, heart, liver, and joints. According to some studies, phospholipid-bound Omega-3s (EPA and DHA) are more effectively absorbed into red blood cell membranes and distributed to the areas that require it the most.

Supplementing with phospholipid-bound Omega-3s can support your overall wellness in various ways. Krill oil in particular has been linked to improved heart and brain function.

Since we know that high triglycerides increase the risk of heart disease, research suggests that taking krill oil supplements may be more effective than fish oil in reducing total cholesterol and triglycerides.

In addition to heart benefits, some research has indicated that phospholipid-rich krill oil may be able to promote mental health and cognitive performance.

Phospholipids in krill oil versus fish oil

Krill oil is similar to fish oil in that they both contain EPA and DHA Omega-3s. Aside from Omega-3 fatty acids, krill oil also contains other nutrients not found in fish oil, such as choline and astaxanthin.

The bioavailability, or how your body can absorb Omega-3s, is another distinction between krill oil and fish oil. Phospholipids are among the most prevalent fatty acids in our bodies and are the building blocks of our cell membranes. The phospholipid-bound Omega-3s in krill oil are water soluble, and as a result, the body absorbs the nutritional benefits of the phospholipid-bound Omega-3s in krill oil more naturally.

Since most fish oil supplements are attached to triglycerides, they aren't exactly water soluble. As a result, they can often end up floating on our stomach's digestive fluids—resulting in those unpleasant fishy burps and aftertaste. For some, the unpleasant digestive discomfort from fish oil supplements may not be a big deal, but for others, it may make the difference when choosing between these two marine-based Omega-3s.

Phospholipids are a vital component of human biology. They are present in many of our food sources and necessary for the function of almost every single cell in the human body.

Phospholipids help cell and organelle membranes to be flexible. They act as binding sites for proteins, and are essential for the proper maintenance and function of the nervous, digestive and cardiovascular systems. Incorporating krill oil supplements into your daily regimen is an excellent way to add natural Omega-3 phospholipids, choline, and astaxanthin into your diet.

Click here to learn more about the difference between krill oil and fish oil!