For centuries, cod liver oil has been used by some people who live in parts of Northern Europe. They used it to improve immunity and also as a protection during long dark winters. Also, cod liver oil was used as a natural solution for stiff muscles, aching joints, and rheumatism.
Eating the livers of Gadus morhua fish is the primary source of cod liver oil. For most people, it was not very appealing to consume. However, traditional populations believed that it was worth it because cod liver oil holds numerous health-promoting benefits.
Cod Liver Oil: What Is it?
Cod liver oil is a source of important vitamins such as vitamin D, vitamin A, and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential nutrients that play a huge part in hormonal, immune, cardiovascular, neurological, and reproductive health. Since many people do not consume enough anti-inflammatory foods, many people can attain these vitamins from supplementing with cod liver oil regularly.
Basically, cod liver oil comes from cod liver. You may consume the oil in two ways: eat fresh cod liver or take store-bought supplements.
According to the USDA, a teaspoon of cod liver oil holds around 4.5 grams of fat and 41 calories, split between saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Cod liver oil is one of the best foods rich in vitamin D. It holds excellent levels of omega-3 fatty acids which is its greatest beneficial aspect. These omega-3 fatty acids are the similar kind that can be found in oily seafood such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon.
Vitamin D and omega-3s are known for hindering blood clotting, lowering inflammation, preserving brain health, and preventing depression. Also, they can reduce swelling and levels of pain that occur from certain inflammatory illnesses such as arthritis.
Numerous studies connected the following benefits to cod liver oil:
• treating depression
• preventing and treating diabetes
• lowering high blood pressure
• preventing and treating kidney disease
• lowering high triglycerides and high cholesterol
• protecting eyesight and fighting certain eye disorders such as glaucoma
• reducing the risk for autoimmune diseases
• preventing heart disease
• lessening the risk for osteoarthritis
• preventing fractures or osteoporosis and maintaining bone health
• treating ear infections, asthma, and allergies
• helping to heal skin wounds
11 Cod Liver Oil Benefits
1. Excellent Source of Anti-inflammatory Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Cod liver oil is taken as one of nature’s richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These properties lower the requirement for anti-inflammatory drugs because of their natural anti-inflammatory benefits and their ability to decrease the production of prostaglandin. Cod liver oil may be used to naturally treat various types of symptoms from depression and arthritis pain to coronary heart disease risk factors.
Some of the many benefits of omega-3 supplements or foods include decreasing the chances of developing the following: ADHD, anxiety, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and a whole lot more. You may wonder how they can do a lot of amazing things. Well, it is important to know that the majority of Americans actually suffer from having an imbalance in their diets of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. Keep in mind that omega-6 fats aren’t certainly harmful to you. However, if they are taken in considerable amounts without omega-3s, they may result in inflammation—which is the source of the majority of diseases.
The ideal healthy balance is about 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fats. However, most people consume 5–10 times more omega-6s compared to this. The deficiency of omega-3 is rising due to the popularity of fast foods, processed foods, and fried foods that hold refined vegetable oils such as canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and cottonseed oil which are filled with omega-6s.
One of the ways to lessen inflammation and restore your healthy fatty acid ratio is by consuming omega-3-rich cod liver oil.
2. A Great Source of Vitamin D
Vitamin D has an important role in the body. Since it affects inflammatory responses, heart health, and neurotransmitter functioning, it actually acts more like a hormone in the body than a vitamin. Vitamin D is naturally produced by your own skin as you’re exposed to the sun’s UV light. That’s why the best way to have enough vitamin D is to spend time outdoors without any sunscreen on.
Aside from its benefit in a healthy bone metabolism, it also supports significant functions of all of our cells. Vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of becoming sick short term. Worse, it could also increase the risk of developing a chronic autoimmune disorder, osteoporosis, cognitive or cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or even cancer. This is all because lower levels of vitamin D can interfere with the ability of our cells to reproduce and replenish.
Today, the supplementation of vitamin D is recommended for most people since a lot of adults and children live indoor lifestyles and don’t get enough sun exposure regularly. Some of the symptoms of having vitamin D deficiency include anxiety, depression, low libido, fatigue, infertility, asthma, autism, and a whole lot more. Also, vitamin D deficiency may even increase the risk of developing cancer.
Now, it is advised to consume vitamin D in combination with synergistic vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids (like how it’s naturally found in vitamin D-rich foods such as cod liver oil) since great doses of vitamin D consumed alone may have serious side effects.
3. A Great Source of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is an essential antioxidant that decreases oxidative stress which is also called free radical damage. In that way, inflammation levels also lower down. It is actually connected to the avoidance of eye-related disorders. It also helps fight cancer, supports brain health, and is vital for the production of the hormone. Most people who are having a well-balanced diet in a daily basis get enough vitamin A. However, deficiency is a risk for some people consuming a lot of highly processed foods and not enough calories in general.
Since great levels are believed to be potentially dangerous and toxic, supplementing with vitamin has recently been debated. In the midst of it all, it’s essential to know that a lot of primitive populations that ate whole-food-based diets actually consumed great amounts of vitamin A (alongside with vitamin D) and actually gained great health. For instance, the Weston A. Price Foundation states that the traditional Scottish diet consists of foods like fish liver oils, shellfish organ meats, and animal fats which are all natural sources of both vitamins A and D. Take note that these people experienced low rates of chronic diseases.
Always remember that the supplement’s quality makes a huge impact when it comes to consuming vitamin A from cod liver oil. A lot of brands actually contain synthetic forms of vitamins A and D that aren’t well absorbed, along with harmful ratios of both nutrients. Even though consuming great levels of vitamin A from supplements alone has been related to certain health concerns, consuming vitamin A naturally from certain food sources actually helps a lot in improving the immune system. Eating a lot of vitamin A-rich foods is helpful and beneficial for healthy cellular growth, night vision, bone growth, ovarian and testicular function, and a whole lot more.
Both vitamin A and vitamin D are fat-soluble nutrients that are usually found together in animal foods.
Both vitamins perform like precursors to active hormones for us to be able to produce enzymes that transform each of these to active forms that the body may use for the regulation of our immune system. Vitamin A is changed to retinol in this case. Consuming vitamin A together with vitamin D is totally natural and permits these developments to occur in a way that guards us from toxicity.
4. Helps Avoid Heart Disease
When consumed either in supplement or in food form, cod liver oil may help lower high triglycerides—a type of harmful fat in the blood that increases heart disease risks. In addition to that, cod liver oil is an effective treatment for those with high blood pressure or those who want to balance their cholesterol levels.
It was proven in a variety of animal and human research that great effectiveness of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids seen in cod liver oil is helpful in preventing atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries) and the complications that come with it. Treating it, either alone or together with statin drugs, aids in reversing risk factors in patients with high triglyceride levels and hypertriglyceridemia.
5. Decreases Cancer Risks
Significant levels of vitamin D that are acquired from both supplementing with cod liver oil and sun exposure have been linked to lower cancer risks. One research discovered that vitamin D from both cod liver oil and the sun could help avoid breast cancer in women, as it has proapoptotic and antiproliferative effects on breast cancer cells, thus decreasing mammary tumors. Natural exposure to the sun still appears to be the protective factor that is the most relevant for obtaining enough vitamin D. However, cod liver oil also seems to aid in offsetting common deficiencies.
6. Treats or Prevents Diabetes
Cod liver oil aids in controlling insulin resistance and inflammation and managing glucose or sugar levels in the blood, since it is an incredible source of healthy essential fats. Also, it has been proven to help in lowering symptoms of problems that are linked to diabetes, such as kidney disease. During pregnancy and the first year of an infant’s life, consuming vitamin D and cod liver oil may also help in lowering the risk of having diabetes.
In 2007, a research that was published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology discovered that treating diabetic rats with supplements of cod liver oil for twelve weeks had a positive effect. It acted as a natural treatment for diabetes. In addition to that, consuming supplements of cod liver oil also helps in the prevention of endothelial deficiency and aid in correcting various biochemical markers for metabolic syndrome. Before supplementing the rats with cod liver oil, they actually suffered elevated plasma glucose levels, high cholesterol concentrations in their blood, and high triacylglycerol. Amazingly, cod liver oil aids in managing the weight gain of the rats and ultimately prevented plasma lipid abnormalities and also maintained insulin sensitivity and other issues at the same time.
7. Aids in Treating Arthritis
At the start of the 20th century, cod liver oil was recognized by scientists as a natural “antirachitic” which means that a lot of mothers started spoon-feeding it to their children forcefully. The use of cod liver oil is connected with the reduction of joint stiffness, pain, and swelling to those who are suffering from arthritis and different kinds of inflammatory disorders. Since it copies the effects of medications, cod liver oil is a natural and efficient treatment for arthritis. It serves as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which helps in the improvement of primary clinical symptoms. Also, it may be used as a safe and efficient substitute to medications or a complementary supplement for rheumatoid arthritis treatment.
8. Helps with Growth and Development and Boosts Fertility
Fats help our body in the production of sex hormones which include progesterone and estrogen, that’s why they are essential for the reproductive health and a lively pregnancy. Amazingly, cod liver oil is associated with improved ovarian and testicular function as it provides essential nutrients (mainly vitamin D and omega-3s) that aid in keeping the endocrine system working properly.
Cod liver oil supports the hyptothalamic, adrenal, and pituitary glands that are responsible for controlling the release of sex hormones involved in pregnancy, libido, and reproduction due to its numerous anti-inflammatory nutrients. In men, DHA also has a very important part in mobility and health of sperm. The Weston A. Price Foundation stated that those women who used liquid cod liver oil in the early stage of their pregnancy have a higher probability of giving birth to babies who are heavier, which is related to having a lesser risk of diseases later in life. Also, women who were consuming cod liver oil have considerably greater levels of EPA and DHA in their breast milk, which significantly impact the growth of breastfed babies positively.
In 2003, a research made in Norway at the University of Oslo presented that mothers who had taken cod liver oil during their lactation and pregnancy had children at age four who scored higher on intelligence tests in comparison with the kids whose mothers consumed corn oil instead.
9. Develops Brain Function
Because of the higher consumption of vitamin D and omega-3 fats, supplementing with fish oil for depression regularly has been related to lower risks for depressive symptoms.
In 2007, a research that was made in the Journal of Affective Disorders discovered that omega-3 fatty acids that are found in cod liver oil enhanced the outcome of anxiety and depression in the general population. For 2 years, 21,835 adults living in Norway were followed by the Hordaland Health Study. They found out that in those who used cod liver oil daily, the occurrence of depressive symptoms was 2.5% in comparison to 3.8% in the rest of the population. Aside from that, they also discovered that the existence of great levels of depressive symptoms reduced with growing duration of cod liver use (about 0–12 months).
There is also a strong connection between fish oil supplementation or omega-3 consumption and avoidance of cognitive decline which includes Alzheimer’s disease. Research has shown results that are consistent. It indicates that the essential fatty acids vital for the function of the brain are found in fish oil and aid in preventing brain problems in adults.
10. Aids in Bone Health Maintenance
Vitamin D is much needed for both maintaining and building strong and healthy bones. Research shows that those women who don’t get much needed sunlight due to living in northerly cold latitudes are likely to produce less vitamin D. This upsurges the risk for bone loss, bone turnover, fractures, and even obesity.
Supplementing with vitamin D has been linked to lowering the risk of bone fractures. In addition to that, it might actually help in naturally avoiding osteoporosis from developing.
11. Treats Ulcers
Cod liver oil, in laboratory settings, has displayed benefits for improving the healing of gastric ulcer and lessening gastric antisecretory effects detected in rats. It appears like the oil produce gastric cytoprotective effect that results in an amazing decrease in the development of pain and stress triggered by gastric ulcers.
The Right Dosage and the Best Type of Cod Liver Oil to Buy
Today, most of the fish oil supplements that are available are not healthy since they contain synthetic components or fillers which can be harmful and are not an ideal ratio of fatty acids. The best thing to do is to look for a brand that is trustworthy. Ideally, look for the one that also holds antioxidants such as astaxanthin to keep the oil from oxidizing. By some brands, fermented cod liver oil is also available. This means that the livers were fermented to yield more vitamins and make it more digestible before the oil was extracted. Usually, this kind is a better choice. There is nothing to worry about, since fermenting fish has been done all over the world for countless years.
What is the right dosage? I advise you to stick to a daily dose of not more than 1,000 milligrams of omega-3s unless you are working with a physician for a particular condition. Know that each brand of cod liver oil does not deliver similar levels of vitamin D, vitamin A, and omega-3s. That is why it’s hard to give one overall dosage recommendation.
For continuous updates concerning various cod liver oil manufacturers who have products available in different countries, the Weston A. Price Foundation is an excellent resource. As an overall guideline, they suggest the following cod liver oil doses:
• For children who are 3 months to 12 years of age: A daily dose of cod liver oil that offers around 500–1,000 IU vitamin D and 5,000 IU vitamin A. This is equivalent to around 1/2 teaspoon of high-vitamin cod liver oil or 1 teaspoon of regular cod liver oil. Check the label of the brand. Just in case that you need to give as little as 1/8 of a teaspoon to a child.
• For children who are over 12 years of age and adults: A daily dose of cod liver oil that gives around 1,000–2,000 IU vitamin D and 10,000 IU vitamin A. This is around one teaspoon of high-vitamin cod liver oil or 2 teaspoons of regular cod liver oil. Then again, keep in mind that the amount differs by company.
• For pregnant or nursing women: A daily dose of cod liver oil that gives around 20,000 IU vitamin A and 2,000–4,000 IU of vitamin D. This is around two teaspoons high-vitamin cod liver oil or 4 teaspoons of regular cod liver oil.
How should we consume fish oil? It is advisable that you combine it with a small amount of lemon water, juice, yogurt, smoothie, almond butter, applesauce, or anything else that helps cover the somewhat fishy taste. Be prepared, though, since decent brands will not add up some flavor enhancers or eliminate the taste or odor. There are some brands, on the other hand, that will add some natural extract to enhance the flavor (such as lemon or mint).
Place your bottle of cod liver oil in a dark and cold place. Keeping it in the refrigerator is also ideal to keep it from going rancid or spoiling.
Risks or Side Effects of Cod Liver Oil
As with all things, it all comes down to the need for balance. This is also accurate when it comes to cod liver oil and any omega-3 supplement or fish oil.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids both have to have a balanced ratio. Ideally, with a little more omega-6 fats in the diet than omega-3s. It isn’t good to take significant amounts of cod liver oil, since more is not better. Remember, we are after a healthy and balanced ratio.
It is important to know that omega-6 fatty acids aren’t really bad for you. As a matter of fact, it has a crucial role in the function of the immune system. That is why too much cod liver oil can cause damage, because omega-3 fatty acids destroy inflammation and omega-6 fatty acids stimulate inflammation. We need some of both. This mild relationship preserves your immune system to work well, so you yield “defense mechanisms” against posed threats (such as bacteria, toxins, or pathogens) when you need to, but don’t become too inflamed in the process.
The perfect way to achieve balance is through obtaining your omega-3s from food sources such as wild-caught fish (e.g., salmon), cage-free eggs, or grass-fed or pasture-raised meat. Seeds and nuts are also great choices but give a different type of omega-3 known as ALA. Animal sources, on the other hand, offer the ideal kinds called DHA and EPA.
If you have a diet that is high in plant-based omega-3 foods or pastured animal fats, or if you are eating wild-caught fish a few times a week, then consuming an omega-3 supplement might not be needed. However, the regular person can still benefit from eating well and supplementing.
Keep in mind that asthmatics, pregnant women, or people undergoing medication for high blood pressure or anticoagulants should talk to their doctor first before starting a fish oil regimen, since cod liver oil may act as a blood thinner.
Even though it’s not harmful to most people, there are still a few possible side effects which include belching or having “fish burps,” heartburn, nausea, bad breath, nosebleeds, blood stools, low blood pressure, and high levels of vitamin A and D.