Cod liver oil has been used as a remedy for centuries – people used it for treating and preventing rickets in children but also for treating the chronic pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
Today, cod liver oil is still popular but what does it do for our health actually? Is it worth taking? Is it really good for you? Do you actually need it?
Cod liver oil health benefits
There is no doubt that cod liver oil has many health benefits. It has been proven to play a role in:
- lowering high cholesterol and high triglycerides
- preventing and treating diabetes
- lowering high blood pressure
- preventing heart disease
- reducing the risk for osteoarthritis
- treating depression
- lowering risk for autoimmune diseases
- fighting eye disorders like glaucoma and protecting eye sight
One reason why cod liver oil is so beneficial to our health is because it contains high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids have various functions and roles, just to mention a few:
- they play a crucial role in brain function
- they help keep our heart healthy
- they reduce inflammation which may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis
- they can improve bone strength and joint health
- they help to keep our skin healthy, preventing premature ageing and more
Cod liver oil is also naturally rich in vitamins A and D. Vitamin A is an anti-oxidant which plays a role in skin health and keeps your eyes healthy while vitamin D has a long list of functions including healthy bones and keeping the immune system strong.
The quality of cod liver oil supplements
While the benefits of cod liver oil are real, you will only get these benefits if you choose a good quality cod liver oil. Have you ever asked yourself how pure your cod liver oil is? Or, where does it come from? Or, how is it made?
When buying cod liver oil supplement it’s important to research the source of cod livers and also, it’s a good idea to ask for the certificate of purity to ensure you are getting the best quality.
Some companies proudly mention on their websites that they can provide lab results to prove the purity of their products. Other companies are being very vague about the source of the products and purity and there is no mention of lab testing or anything like that.
Here is some guidance on what you should look for to ensure you buy the best quality cod liver oil:
1. Where has the fish been caught?
This is one very important factor to consider as you don’t want to consume cod liver oil which contains high levels of toxins. If the fish has been caught in more pure sea waters it means that cod liver oil will contain less heavy metals, if any at all. Look for cod liver oil which has been sourced from Icelandic or Norwegian sea waters as these are cleaner. Avoid cod liver produced from Baltic seas as it’s highly polluted with heavy metals.
Lots of companies won’t display on their websites where their cod liver oil originates and there’s probably a good reason for that! But some companies are quite open about that, for example Simply Supplements state on their website that their fish oils (including their cod liver oil) are sourced from the deep pristine waters off the Norwegian coast.
2. How has the cod liver oil been made?
Cod liver oil is very delicate and during processing it’s important to take extreme care to ensure the oil doesn’t go rancid. Rancidity is caused by exposure to light, heat and air and for this reason cod liver oil must be well protected from these elements.
If you prefer to buy cod liver oil in bottles, make sure you buy a dark bottle as this will protect cod liver oil from light. There should be no air in the bottle and each company should have a process for that. The same goes for cod liver oil capsules – the capsules should be made in such way that they are left with no air in them.
If the cod liver oil has been heated its nutrient profile will be altered, so it’s better to buy cod liver oil which has been produced without the heat.
3. Amount of omega 3 fatty acids per dose
Every supplement should have a label with the amount of omega-3 fatty acids you get per dose. Some cod liver oil products will contain only the minimal amounts due to different types of fish used to produce them.
Who will benefit from taking cod liver oil?
As cod liver oil contains vitamins D and A, it’s especially beneficial to take it in winter when many of us experience vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D and A work in synergy – there is evidence that without vitamin D, vitamin A can be ineffective or even toxic. But if you’re deficient in vitamin A, vitamin D cannot function properly either.
Some people will benefit from supplementing with cod liver oil all-year-round, especially those with dark skin, elderly and home-bound people who rarely get any sun exposure. By supplementing, the elderly will not only raise their vitamin D levels but they will also get the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids which will help them with joint issues, heart health and lowering inflammation in the body.
If you want to take cod liver oil just because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, you need to consider whether you need extra vitamins D and A as well. The last thing you want to do is overdose on these vitamins which are highly toxic in big quantities. If you are not sure what’s the best for you, speak to a qualified dietitian.
The bottom line is that the cod liver can be good for your health, just as long as you know why you are taking it and know how to use it properly to get the desired health benefits. Also, the quality of cod liver oil does matter and it goes without saying that the better quality cod liver oil will be better for you and your health.