Cod liver oil - yes, the supplement of countless jokes - has earned every one of them. Yes, it takes like fish. Yes, it is best as a liquid. Yes, mom knew what she was talking about.... Here are 11 reasons to take your cod liver oil (preferably Springreen!)
1. Helps Prevent Heart Disease
Evidence shows that cod liver oil taken either in supplement or whole food form can help lower high triglycerides, a type of dangerous fat in the blood that raises the risk for heart disease. Cod liver oil also treats high blood pressure and helps to balance cholesterol levels.
A range of human and animal studies have proven high efficacy of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids obtained from cod liver oil in preventing atherosclerosis (hardening and stiffening of the arteries) and its complications. Treatment either alone or in combination with statin drugs helps reverse risk factors in patients with hypertriglyceridemia and high triglyceride levels.
2. Lowers Risk for Cancer
High levels of vitamin D, obtained from both sun exposure and supplementing with cod liver oil, have been associated with lower risks of cancer. One study found that vitamin D from both the sun and cod liver oil could help prevent breast cancer in women due to having anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects on breast cancer cells, thereby reducing mammary tumors. While sun exposure still seems to be the most relevant protective factor for getting enough cancer-busting vitamin D, cod liver oil also seems to help offset common deficiencies.
3. Prevents or Treats Diabetes
As a great source of essential healthy fats, cod liver oil can help control insulin resistance, inflammation and manage glucose (sugar) levels in the blood. It’s even been shown to help lower symptoms of complications related to diabetes like kidney disease. Use of cod liver oil and vitamin D supplements during the first year of a baby’s life and use of cod liver during pregnancy can also help lower the risk for developing diabetes.
One 2007 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology found that giving diabetic rats cod liver oil supplements for 12 weeks acted as a natural diabetes treatment. The cod liver oil supplements completely prevented endothelial deficiency and helped correct several biochemical markers for metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes and cardiovascular disorder risk factors).
Prior to supplementing with cod liver oil, the rats experienced elevated plasma glucose (sugar) levels and high triacylglycerol and high cholesterol concentrations in their blood. Cod liver oil helped manage the rats’ weight gain and entirely prevented plasma lipid abnormalities while also controlling insulin sensitivity and other factors.
4. Helps Treat Arthritis
At the beginning of the 20th century, scientists established that cod liver oil was a natural “antirachitic,” which meant thousands of mothers began forcefully spoon-feeding the stuff to unwilling children! Cod liver oil use is associated with a reduction in pain, joint stiffness and swelling in patients with arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Cod liver oil is an effective natural treatment for arthritis because it mimics the effects of medications. It acts as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, improves chief clinical symptoms, and can be used as a safe alternative to medications, or simply a complementary supplement, in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
5. Boosts Fertility and Helps with Growth and Development
Fats are critical for reproductive health and a vibrant pregnancy because they help the body produce sex hormones including estrogen and progesterone. Cod liver oil is linked with healthier ovarian and testicular function since it provides critical nutrients (omega-3s and vitamin D) that help keep the endocrine system running smoothly.
With multiple anti-inflammatory nutrients, cod liver oil supports the adrenal, hyptothalamic and pituitary glands that control the release of sex hormones involved in libido, pregnancy and reproduction. DHA also plays a crucial role in the mobility and health of sperm in men.
As the Weston A. Price Foundation points out, women who used liquid cod liver oil early in their pregnancy have a higher likelihood of giving birth to heavier babies, which is associated with a lower risk of diseases later in life. Women using cod liver oil also have significantly higher levels of DHA and EPA in their breast milk, which positively impacts development of breast-fed infants.
Results from a 2003 study conducted at the University of Oslo in Norway showed that children who were born to mothers who had taken cod liver oil during pregnancy and lactation scored higher on intelligence tests at age four compared with children whose mothers had taken corn oil instead.
6. Improves Brain Function
Regularly supplementing with fish oil for depression has been associated with lower risks for depressive symptoms, due to both the higher intake of essential omega-3 fats and vitamin D.
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that omega-3 fatty acids from cod liver oil improved the outcome of depression and anxiety in the general population. The Hordaland Health Study followed 21,835 adults living in Norway for two years and discovered that the prevalence of depressive symptoms in those who used cod liver oil daily was 2.5 percent, as compared to 3.8 percent in the rest of the population. They also found that the prevalence of high levels of depressive symptoms decreased with increasing duration (0–12 months) of cod liver oil use.
There’s a strong connection between omega-3 intake or fish oil supplementation and prevention of cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show consistent results: The essential fatty acids vital for brain function are found in fish oil and help prevent brain disorders in older adults.
7. Helps Maintain Bone Health
Vitamin D is important for building and maintaining strong bones. Studies show that women who live in cold, northerly latitudes and don’t get enough sunlight tend to produce less vitamin D, which increases the risk for bone turnover, bone loss, fractures and also obesity. Vitamin D supplementation, including from cod liver oil, has been associated with a significantly lower risk of bone fractures and might help naturally prevent osteoporosis from developing.
8. Fights Ulcers
In laboratory settings, cod liver oil has shown benefits for improving gastric ulcer healing and reducing gastric antisecretory effects observed in rats. The oil also seems to produce gastric cytoprotective effects and causes a significant reduction in the development of stress and pain caused by gastric ulcers.
9. High Source of Anti-Inflammatory Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Cod liver fish oil is one of nature’s richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, called Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Due to their natural anti-inflammatory properties, including the capability to reduce prostaglandin production, omega-3s lower the need for anti-inflammatory drugs and can be used to treat a variety of symptoms naturally, from coronary heart disease risk factors to depression or arthritis pain.
If you aren’t yet familiar with the many benefits of omega-3 foods or supplements, these include lowering the odds of developing: heart disease, ADHD, anxiety, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, cancer and more. How can they do so much? The problem is that the vast majority of Americans have an imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in their diet. Omega-6 fats aren’t necessarily bad for you, but if they are consumed in large amounts without omega-3s, they cause inflammation, which is at the root of most diseases.
A healthy ratio is ideally around 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fats, but most people have about five to ten times more omega-6s than this! Omega-3 deficiency is on the rise because of the over consumption of processed foods, fast or fried foods that contain refined vegetable oils (like soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and corn oil) filled with omega-6s. Supplementing with omega-3-rich cod liver oil is one way to lower inflammation and tip your fatty acid ratio back in favor of better health.
10. Supplies Critical Vitamin D
Vitamin D acts more like a hormone in the body than a vitamin, since it effects neurotransmitter functioning, heart health and inflammatory responses. Synthesized by your own skin when you’re exposed to the sun’s UV light, the best way to get enough vitamin D is to spend time outdoors without sunscreen on.
Not only does vitamin D play a part in healthy bone metabolism, but it supports important functions of all of our cells. Because low vitamin D levels can interfere with our cells’ ability to multiply and replenish, vitamin D deficiency might increase the risk of becoming sick short term, or even worse developing a chronic autoimmune disorder, cognitive or cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis or cancer.
Considering most adults and children don’t get enough regular sun exposure year round due to living mostly indoor lifestyles, vitamin D supplementation is now recommended for the majority of people. Vitamin D deficiency symptoms can include depression, anxiety, fatigue, low libido, infertility, autism, asthma and more — in addition, the deficiency can lower immunity and even up the risk for cancer.
High doses of vitamin D taken alone might have potential side effects, which is why it’s now recommended to take vitamin D in combination with synergistic vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, such as how it’s found naturally in vitamin D – rich foods including cod liver oil.
11. Great Source of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is an important antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress (also called free radical damage) and thereby inflammation levels. It’s tied to the prevention of eye-related disorders, supports brain health, helps fight cancer and is important for hormone production. While most people eating a pretty well-balanced diet get enough vitamin A daily, deficiency is a risk for some people eating highly processed foods or not enough calories in general.
Recently, supplementing with vitamin A has come under debate, since high levels are thought to actually be harmful and potentially toxic. However, it’s important to note that many primitive populations that ate whole-food–based diets consumed plenty of vitamin A (along with vitamin D) and experienced great health. For example, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation, the traditional Scottish diet was high in foods like fish liver oils, organ meats, shellfish and animal fats — all natural sources of vitamins A and D, and these people had very low rates of chronic diseases.
When it comes to obtaining vitamin A from cod liver oil, the quality of the supplement seems to make a big impact. Many brands contain synthetic versions of vitamins A and D that aren’t well absorbed, in addition to dangerous ratios of these two nutrients. While consuming very high levels of vitamin A from supplements alone has been linked to some health concerns, obtaining vitamin A naturally from food sources can help improve the immune system. Eating plenty of vitamin A-rich foods is beneficial for bone growth, night vision, healthy cellular growth, testicular and ovarian function, and much more.
Vitamins A and D are fat-soluble nutrients often found together in animal foods. Both act like precursors to active hormones, so we produce certain enzymes that convert each of these to active forms the body can use to regulate our immune system. In this case, vitamin A is converted to retinol. Obtaining vitamins A and D together is completely natural and allows these processes to happen in a way that protects us from toxicity.