Cod liver oil may seem like a medicine of the past, where stories and productions like Mary Poppins portray it as a reviled children’s remedy. Despite its reduced popularity, many people still take cod liver oil today, even if in a different form, like capsules. To help educate you on the supplement, we will discuss some of the substantiated health benefits of cod liver oil in this article.
As referenced above, my familiarity with cod liver oil as a child only came from references in books or movies set in earlier times. I had never seen cod liver oil as a child, since my parents never kept it, but the name did sound unappetizing to me.
Later on, as a parent, I finally tasted cod liver oil when we got some to try with our son’s cavities. I was not a fan of the flavor, and neither were my kids, so we blended the oil into smoothies to attempt to mask the flavor. Although the flavor was still detectable in smoothies, my kids at least drank the smoothies for the most part.
So, you might ask, what exactly are the health benefits of cod liver oil that anyone would want to take it. We will answer that question in this article and more.
What is Cod Liver Oil?
Cod liver oil was most popular as a health supplement between 1900 and 1950, because of its ability to prevent and treat rickets (i.e. a condition causing soft, weak bones in children), which was common at the time. The oil’s high Vitamin D content was key. Once the threat and prevalence of rickets declined, so did the number of households stocking cod liver oil for their children.
However, many health professionals and individuals still recognize the health benefits of cod liver oil, so keep it to prevent and treat illnesses.
Cod liver oil, as the name suggests, is the oil found in cod livers. Manufacturers typically undergo many steps to produce cod liver oil, but I will provide a super simplified summary.
In a nutshell, production begins with manufacturers grinding up fish livers, usually involving heat. (See our Resources section below for a manufacturer that does not use heat.) Manufacturers then separate the oil from the liver solids and employ other refining and purifying procedures to minimize contaminants and toxins before bottling the oil.
Cod is the most common type of fish liver oil, but manufacturers may use livers from other types of fish like shark and halibut. So, you should always check the ingredients label of your cod liver oil to ensure only cod liver oil is used, unless you don’t mind other types of livers added.
Norway and Iceland are among the leading countries that produce cod liver oil.
7+ Inspiring Health Benefits of Cod Liver Oil
The health benefits of cod liver oil stem mostly from its Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acid content.
Our bodies can only get Vitamin A from diet, and liver is one of the top sources of Vitamin A. One tablespoon of cod liver oil has about 13,600 IU of Vitamin A, which equates to about 272% of the recommended daily value.
Vitamin A is important for skin and tissue health, preventing infections, eye health, and reproductive health, among many other benefits.
Cod liver oil is also really high in Vitamin D, where one tablespoon has about 1,360 IU of Vitamin D, equating to about 340% of the recommended daily value. As discussed earlier, its Vitamin D content was one of the health benefits of cod liver oil that fueled its popularity in the early 1900’s.
Although you can produce Vitamin D by going in the sun, some people may still be deficient from not going in the sun enough (or using sunscreen too often), or not consuming enough in their diet.
Vitamin D is important for bone health, cardiovascular health, muscle health, and many other functions, including protecting against infectious and autoimmune diseases. Researcher have even found a link between Vitamin D deficiency and susceptibility to COVID-19.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the two key omega-3 fatty acids that form the cornerstone health benefits of cod liver oil. EPA and DHA are primarily found in fish, such as cod.
Health professionals consider EPA and DHA to be essential fatty acids, meaning critical components for your body’s development. Thus, everyone could benefit from eating more fish or taking supplements like fish oil or cod liver oil to increase EPA and DHA levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids can provide many health benefits, like the following:
Studies have shown that regular EPA and DHA consumption can reduce the risk of heart attacks and other heart disease events. Thus, researchers recommend individuals to eat one to two servings of fish per week or to take supplements.
Lowers Blood Pressure
One study found that EPA lowers systolic blood pressure while DHA lowers diastolic blood pressure. However, another study determined that DHA, not EPA, is responsible for lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
Since it has both types of omega-3 fatty acids, you can reap the health benefits of cod liver oil on blood pressure regardless of which fatty acid is responsible.
Research has shown that EPA and DHA can prevent and/or treat inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease. In general, acute or chronic inflammation in the body produces ill-effects with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
For this reason, anti-inflammatory effects are one of the more important health benefits of cod liver oil, where the effects can be widespread and pervasive.
Improved Gut Health
Perhaps most interesting and surprising (at least to me) among the health benefits of cod liver oil is the benefit to gut health. Research has provided that omega-3 fatty acids can change the gut microbiome, i.e. the prevalence or lack of certain bacteria in the digestive tract.
Also, as previously mentioned, omega-3 fatty acids can combat inflammation, which includes inflammation in the gut. Thus, the anti-inflammatory and gut flora health benefits of cod liver oil can benefit individuals with inflammatory bowel conditions like Chron’s Disease or ulcerative colitis.
Researchers also surmise that a healthier gut microbiome can benefit mental and behavioral health, such as less depression and other behavioral issues.
Enhanced Cancer Treatment
Research reveals that DHA manifests anti-tumor activity, so can be a helpful supplement to cancer patients undergoing cancer treatment.
Is Cod Liver Oil the Same as Fish Oil?
Fish oil is another popular supplement, but is not the same as cod liver oil. Although both types of oil are derived from fish, fish oil is extracted from fish flesh (i.e. the meat), whereas fish liver oil is extracted only from fish livers.
Both types of oil are rich with omega-3 fatty acids, but in different quantities and proportions. Cod liver oil typically has less EPA than fish oil, but more DHA.
However, cod liver oil has vitamins A and D, whereas fish oil does not. Thus, Vitamin A and Vitamin D are health benefits of cod liver oil that you would not find in fish oil.
Should Children Also Take Cod Liver Oil?
Yes! Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids benefit children’s development. We already discussed cod liver oil’s high levels of Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). We also discussed the various benefits these substances confer on our health.
Thus, children can benefit as well.
Research showed a positive correlation between DHA supplementation and its effects on children’s learning and behavior.
Also, this scientific article supported the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids on children’s central nervous system development, vision, cardiovascular health, and immune system. Regarding the latter, this study found that children who consumed cod liver oil had less doctor visits for upper respiratory illness than children who did not consume cod liver oil.
Thus, health benefits of cod liver oil exist for children as well, but are perhaps even more important because of children’s constant growth and development.
Precautions on Taking Cod Liver Oil
Like with any supplement, you should consult with your healthcare provider first to ensure cod liver oil is safe for you to consume, and in what quantities. If you plan to give your children cod liver oil, you should similarly consult with their healthcare provider first.
Also, if you have underlying health conditions or take certain medications, I would especially recommend consulting with your physician first. This study, for instance, cautions that Type II Diabetics can experience higher glucose (i.e. blood sugar) levels after taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
If you want to try cod liver oil, Rosita is one of the few brands that touts the use of no heat or chemicals in producing its cod liver oil, so more nutrients are prone to survive processing:
If you want to avoid the potentially unpleasant taste of cod liver oil, you can get their cod liver oil in capsule form instead:
If you have any thoughts on the various health benefits of cod liver oil that we discussed in this article, or on cod liver oil generally, please comment below!