Children of yesteryear often lament being force-fed a spoonful of cod liver oil by well-meaning parents and grandparents. As it turns out our grandmas were right - cod liver oil really is good for us. And thanks to modern-day capsules you won’t even have to force it down with a peg on your nose!
Where do I find cod liver oil?
As the name suggests, cod liver comes direct from the fish’s liver, whereas fish oil comes from the flesh of oily fish.
Cod liver is found by eating fresh cod liver or by taking cod liver supplements. Cod liver has a mild fishy taste which is often disguised with lemon or other citrus flavours. It generally comes in liquid form or in soft capsules.
Why do I need cod liver oil?
Cod liver oil is a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids and scientists are starting to discover its many benefits.
A study from Scotland*, has suggested just two teaspoons of cod liver oil a day may be sufficient to reduce arthritic pain. The essential fatty acids in the oil seem to block the action of an enzyme responsible for breaking down joint cartilage and for causing inflammation and pain.
The fatty acids in cod liver oil also prevent the blood from clotting too easily. Many experts believe cod liver oil can help lower cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of blood fat) and may also lower blood pressure.
Some people believe that applying cod liver oil to the skin can aid wound healing.
Other benefits include reducing the risk of ear infections in young children, and helping conditions such as glaucoma and an irregular heartbeat - more research is needed in all these areas.
There is also some suggestion that cod liver oil is protective against diabetes. Finnish researchers found that infants who were given cod liver oil were less likely to develop diabetes later in life. In a very recent study* (August 2013) experts have also found that fish oil can help reverse liver disease in infants.
The amounts of cod liver that you need will depend on your aim. For lower cholesterol a dose of 30ml is recommended daily, for lower blood pressure or lower triglycerides a dose of 20ml is suitable.
Can cod liver oil ever be harmful?
Cod liver oil contains vitamins A and D so if you are giving your child supplements make sure they either get cod liver oil or supplements but not both as too much vitamin A can damage the liver and too much vitamin D can cause kidney damage.
For the same reason you should not take cod liver oil supplements when pregnant for fear of consuming too much vitamin A which can be harmful to your unborn baby.
As cod liver oil is believed to lower blood pressure you should check with a doctor before taking this if you are already on blood lowering medication. Because cod liver oil is thought to help thin the blood you should seek advice before taking cod liver oil supplements if you are taking blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin or aspirin.
In most cases cod liver is thought to be safe but at very high levels it might cause nausea and loose stools (poo). Other problems include bad breath, heartburn and nose bleeds.