You’ve probably seen old black and white movies where a child is grimacing as an adult makes them take a spoonful of medicine. Chances are that the medicine was cod liver oil.
Back when the relationship was finally discovered between vitamin D and preventing rickets but before many foods started to be fortified with vitamin D, cod liver oil was one of the most common ways to get an extra shot of the stuff. But the consumption of cod liver oil for its many benefits goes back much further than the people of northern Europe.
The difference then was how they got their dose of the elixir— by consuming fresh cod livers. While the real deal might always be best, today you can reap the benefits of cod liver oil by also taking over-the-counter supplements.
Benefits of Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is packed with all kinds of good stuff, but the “big three” are vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are 14 really good reasons to take cod liver oil:
1) A Well-Kept Beauty Secret
Because cod liver oil has such high concentrations of important nutrients, it acts as an overall health promoter. And when you feel great, you’ll naturally look your best as well.
2) Skin Like a Baby’s Butt
Supplementing with traditionally processed fermented cod liver oil rejuvenates and heals your skin from the inside out. The vitamin A in cod liver oil acts as an effective antioxidant in the battle against free radicals, which can cause such issues as wrinkles, acne, rosacea, and cancerous lesions.
Vitamin A also turns dry, flaky skin into the soft, supple feel people are referring to when they talk about a baby’s butt. The omega-3 fatty acids keep the outer layer of your skin strong enough to act as a barrier against toxins.
Moreover, you need enough omega-3 fatty acids to prevent your skin from cracking, flaking, and premature wrinkling. Vitamin D has been shown to be effective in preventing and treating a number of skin conditions, including acne and psoriasis.
3) Increases Fertility
When it comes to fertility, fats play a key role in reproductive health by promoting the production of sex hormones such as progesterone and estrogen. Cod liver oil promotes healthy testicular function for men and healthy ovarian function for women.
It does this by supporting the various glands responsible for releasing sex hormones, including the pituitary, hypothalamic, and adrenal glands. Women who use cod liver oil give birth to healthier babies and have better breast milk for them.
4) Maintains Bone Health
As previously mentioned, the link between vitamin D and bone health has been known for a long time, and yet most people simply don’t get enough vitamin D. People who live in northern climates have historically been more prone to vitamin D deficiency given their much lower exposure to enough sunshine.
However, with widespread campaigns to combat skin cancer by reducing or eliminating exposure to the sun, vitamin D deficiency has become a worldwide epidemic. One tablespoon of cod liver oil gives you more than twice the daily recommended intake for vitamin D.
5) Contains Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The big benefit of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in their anti-inflammatory properties. Getting your omega-3s from a natural source such as cod liver oil means you could reduce the need for other anti-inflammatory medications. Because cod liver oil is one of nature’s best sources of omega-3s, it’s effective in reducing the risk of developing various conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol, anxiety, ADHD, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and more.
If that sounds too good to be true, just keep in mind that inflammation has been shown to be a driving force behind many disease conditions. If you don’t maintain the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, the result is inflammation. And most Americans are getting too many omega-6 fats and too few omega-3s.
6) Gives You a Sexy Smile
Nothing makes a good first impression like an awesome smile. Fermented cod liver oil’s perfect trifecta of vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids help you achieve a winning smile. The vitamin A supports healthy gums and stronger protective walls around roots. Vitamin D keeps your jawbone strong, which helps your teeth stay put later in life. And omega-3 fatty acids actually help make your teeth straighter!
7) Prevents Heart Disease
Cod liver oil has all sorts of heart-healthy benefits, preventing heart disease by lowering high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides and preventing the hardening of arteries.
8) Lowers Cancer Risk
Vitamin D is a true cancer fighter, and what’s interesting here is that the best way to optimize its cancer-fighting abilities is by getting it from both exposure to the sun and from cod liver oil.
9) Prevents/Treats Diabetes
Cod liver oil’s healthy fats help achieve the right balance of insulin resistance, anti-inflammation, and well-managed blood sugar levels. Using it early in life significantly lowers of the risk of developing diabetes. And for those who do have diabetes, cod liver oil has been proven to be an effective treatment that helps reduce many negative symptoms.
10) Treats Arthritis
Because arthritis is essentially an inflammation in joint tissues, cod liver oil’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a great natural treatment for the condition that affects more than 40 million Americans.
11) Vitamin A
Vitamin A’s powerful antioxidant capabilities offer critical preventative health benefits ranging from brain health and cancer to a variety of eye disorders, as well as boosting the immune system.
12) Vitamin D
Everyone knows that vitamin D is important to bone health and that one way to get it is from exposure to sunshine. However, given the concern most people have about the sun’s role in causing skin cancer, cod liver oil is a good alternative source. Vitamin D actually ends up functioning a lot like a hormone in promoting heart health and responding to inflammation.
13) Combats Ulcers
Cod liver oil helps heal both ulcers and the pain and stress they cause. The exact nature of the relationship between cod liver oil and ulcers has yet to be determined, but in studies on rats with ulcers, cod liver oil reduced gastric antisecretory effects and promoted gastric cytoprotective effects.
14) Improves Brain Function
When it comes to keeping your brain healthy and not falling prey to depression and anxiety, it seems cod liver oil has a lot to offer, mostly because it’s rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. It can also help prevent both general cognitive decline and specific brain issues such as Alzheimer’s.
Cod Liver Oil Buyer’s Guide and Dosage
When it comes to cod liver oil, the quality of available supplements varies so widely that it’s hard to trust many of them. Any use of heat or chemicals to extract the oil destroys the vitamin D content, which many supplement manufacturers try to make up for by adding back in synthetic vitamin D. This is no good because it wrecks the natural ratio of vitamin A and vitamin D that makes cod liver oil such a healthy supplement.
That’s why there’s really only one way to go when purchasing cod liver oil—you want it traditionally prepared through a fermentation process. This enhances its nutrient content and also makes it more digestible. The process has been time-tested over thousands of years.
Specifying a universal dosage level is difficult because there are so many products that have different levels of omega-3s, vitamin A, and vitamin D. For kids under 12, you want to limit their intake of vitamin A to about 5,000 IU per day and cap vitamin D at 500-1,000 IU per day. Depending on how vitamin-rich the product is, the amount you give them could be as much as 1 teaspoon or as little as 1/8 of a teaspoon. Read the label!
For adults and youth over 12, a good amount of vitamin A is 10,000 IU per day and for vitamin D about 1,000-2,000 IU per day. And yes, taken by itself it will certainly taste fishy. Feel free to mix it in with juice, a smoothie, yogurt, or applesauce to make it more palatable.
A few brands you can trust include Designs for Health XanthOmega Dark Red Krill Oil, Carlson Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, Designs for Health OmegAvail, and Green Pastures Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil.
Disclaimer: Risks and Side Effects
You have to be mindful when taking cod liver oil for a number of reasons. First of all, it can act as a blood thinner, so if you’re taking medications for high blood pressure or anticoagulants, if you’re pregnant, or if you’re an asthmatic, check with your doctor before starting a cod liver oil regimen.
Both vitamins A and D can be toxic if you get too much of them. During months when you get plenty of sunshine, reduce your intake.