Most people remember a time when giving children a teaspoon of cod liver oil was common practice. This has largely gone by the wayside in over the past 30 years or so. Recently, however, the benefits of cod liver oil have been rediscovered and cod liver oil has made a comeback.
What is cod liver oil?
Cod liver oil is a nutritional supplement that is derived from livers of the Atlantic cod, a cold-water fish that inhabits the waters of the northern Atlantic Ocean. The livers are removed from the codfish and steamed, and the oil is extracted. Cod liver oil is a pale-yellow liquid with a slightly fishy taste that on occasion can be as pungent as the smell of rotting fish-hence the addition of flavorings such as mint or lemon to mask the fishy flavor. Cod liver oil is not the same as fish oil, another potent source of Omega-3 fatty acids that is made from the whole fish.
Why is it good for you?
Packed with Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, and vitamins A and D, cod liver oil was often given to children in the 19th century to prevent rickets, bone deformities caused by a Vitamin D deficiency. Today, researchers have discovered other diseases and health conditions that benefit from the intake of cod liver oil, including a significant reduction in joint inflammation and pain in adults suffering from arthritis, as well relief from middle-ear infections in children. The Vitamin D in cod liver oil has also been shown to reverse osteoporosis in women. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important in brain development in children and are effective at preventing cardiovascular disease in adults and reducing blood pressure levels caused by stress.
Do you really need it?
While cod liver oil is not considered an essential nutrient for our bodies, there are many reasons to take it. People who live north of the 42nd latitude and who do not drink milk, which is heavily fortified with Vitamin D, can benefit enormously from supplementing with cod liver oil. In fact, cod liver oil contains more Vitamin D and Vitamin A than any other food. In addition, cod liver oil is the most popular nutritional supplement in Europe, primarily because it contains large amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids.
How to take cod liver oil
Cod liver oil can be taken in the form of capsules or liquid. Some find it difficult to swallow an oily liquid and find it easier to take capsules; however, both are effective. Not all cod liver oil is created equal, though. Most cod liver oil is imported from Norway and is of a lighter grade, containing fewer vitamins. It also goes rancid more quickly. Heavier-grade cod liver oil has more vitamins but may be difficult to find in the United States.
Environmental and other concerns
While cod liver oil can benefit certain individuals, it's not necessary for everyone. There are also some other concerns to consider. Atlantic Cod, like many other fish populations are in danger of being overfished. Cod liver oil also has very high amounts of Vitamin A. Most people in the United States are not deficient in this particular vitamin, and it can be toxic if taken in large quantities.
Omega-3 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids, which mean that it cannot be synthesized by the body and must result from the diet. The best source for this fatty acid is found in fish especially sardines, salmon and herring.