Testing a heart-healthy theory
Researchers randomly selected 300 men and women with borderline-high (150 to 199 mg/dL) or high (200 to 499 mg/dL) triglycerides to receive no krill oil (placebo olive oil pill), or to receive 0.5, 1, 2, or 4 grams of krill oil per day. Fasting blood lipid levels-- LDL ("bad") cholesterol, HDL ("good") cholesterol, and triglycerides--were measured at the start of the study, and 6 and 12 weeks later.
Triglyceride levels can vary significantly, even within a single individual. For example, a person may have a fasting triglyceride level of 75 mg/dL on one test, and 130 mg/dL at another time. Both of these levels are considered normal--any number less than 150 is normal--but the values are quite different. For this reason, the researchers used a statistical method to consider all of the supplement groups together, and looked for a relationship between krill oil dose and triglyceride changes over time.
The study authors estimated that compared with the placebo group, people who received krill oil had a 10.2% reduction in fasting triglyceride blood levels over the 12-week study. LDL-cholesterol levels did not increase in the krill oil group compared with placebo, a reassuring result given that some studies have found supplementing omega-3 fats from fish oil increases LDL-cholesterol.
Krill oil caveats
The study was double-blinded and placebo-controlled, the gold standard of research, but it wasn't large enough, or of long enough duration, to conclude krill oil is effective for reducing high triglycerides. Dr. Ira Ockene, MD, cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School concurs, noting "At present, there is insufficient evidence to recommend [krill oil], especially to those who already have known atherosclerotic disease where fish oil has been shown to be of great benefit."
If you want to try krill oil, discuss the pros and cons with your doctor, and do not add this supplement into your daily routine without medical supervision. In the meantime, there are plenty of other things that will nudge your triglyceride levels in the right direction, naturally:
- Skip sugar. Simple sugar is a major dietary culprit that contributes to high triglycerides. Limit all forms of added sugar, such as sugar found in cookies, cakes, pies, hard and gummy candies, crackers, chips, cereals, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Move it to lose it. Regular physical activity has two benefits. Activity itself helps the body use triglycerides for energy, bringing levels into a healthier range, and even modest weight loss, often achieved by adding in more movement, can decrease levels.
- Try teetotaling. For general health, men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women no more than one, though for some people, even this amount of alcohol will increase triglycerides significantly. Cutting back, or cutting alcohol out completely, can bring triglycerides down in a hurry.
- Feast on (healthy) fat. The right types of dietary fat, found in nuts, seeds, and avocados, can improve triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Focus on fiber. Dietary fiber in beans, peas, vegetables, and whole grains is a known triglyceride fighter.
(Nutr Res 2014;34:126-33)