Image Credit: Nina Nelson @ Flickr
A nutrient-dense supplement that had been spoon-fed to generations of reluctant children prior to 1950, fermented cod liver oil has recently been the subject of renewed interest as a super food.
Derived from the fatty liver of Gadus morhua, cod liver oil has a long history of use, stemming as far back as the Viking Era. In those days it was important part of the Norse diet, especially during the dark winter months when exposure to sunlight was minimal.
Today, the vitamins and nutrients found in fermented cod liver oil are just as essential for childhood growth and development, as well as the prevention of age-related diseases, as it was hundreds of years ago…
1. It’s Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
As one of nature’s richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a single teaspoon of cod liver oil contains 400 mg of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 500 mg of Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – two types of omega 3s that reduce inflammation, lower the risk of chronic diseases, and play a significant role in brain function and mood.
Studies on people whose diets are enriched with omega-3s indicate that it lowers blood pressure, improves heart health by raising HDL (the good) cholesterol, reduces arthritic joint pain, helps prevent cognitive decline, and eases depression, among other amazing attributes.
Since the body doesn’t make omega-3s, the only way to gain these benefits is by eating more flax and fish, or by taking a daily supplement like fermented cod liver oil.
2. An Excellent Source of Vitamin D
A hormone that our bodies produce when we spend time in the sun, vitamin D helps keep bones strong and healthy. It also improves the immune system, blood circulation, and cardiovascular health.
People residing in the northern hemisphere are often deficient in vitamin D, which can lead to muscle weakness, depression, brittle bones, fatigue, and an increased risk of several types of cancers.
Though vitamin D is found in very few foods, cod liver oil is one of the best dietary sources for this vital nutrient. Each teaspoon contains 450 IU of vitamin D, which is 75% of the recommended daily value of 600 IU.
3. It’s Packed with Vitamin A
A cornerstone nutrient to be sure, vitamin A is an antioxidant that is essential for maintaining good vision, normal cell growth and development, improving immune system function, and preventing cancer.
A teaspoonful of cod liver oil consists of 4,500 IU of vitamin A, which is 150% of the recommended dietary allowance for men and women aged 19 or older. Unlike other multivitamin supplements that contain vitamin A in synthetic form, cod liver oil is a natural source of vitamin A and doesn’t carry the same concerns for toxicity because it is a whole food.
In fact, vitamins A and D and omega-3s have a synergistic effect when taken together – and they are all found in cod liver oil.
4. It’s Brain Food
From the cradle to the grave, omega-3 fatty acids play a fundamental role in brain function.
When omega-3s (specifically DHA) are ingested during pregnancy, the effects on the child’s cognitive development are long-ranging. With improved growth of the brain and eyes while still in the womb, children whose mothers supplemented their diets with DHA while pregnant and breastfeeding had higher verbal intelligence and visual recognition memory as they matured. At four years of age, they displayed heightened intellect compared with their peers. Conversely, a lack of DHA in the maternal diet has been associated with reduced language, fine motor, communication, and social skills, as well as lower IQs.
Beyond childhood, adult brains continue to benefit from DHA in the diet. Over the course of just 35 days, healthy subjects between the ages of 22 to 51 consumed a teaspoon of fish oil each day and experienced significant improvements in attention, reaction time, and cognitive performance compared with the placebo group.
Eating foods rich in omega-3s continues to support the brain, even at an advanced age. After 26 weeks of taking a half teaspoon of fish oil daily, subjects aged 50 to 75 years showed meaningful improvements in cognitive function and an increase in volume of grey matter in the brain.
5. It Naturally Balances Mood
In addition to granting us more brainpower, omega-3s are closely associated with mood and behavior.
Numerous studies have shown that people who have very low levels of the omega-3s EPA and DHA in the body are frequently more depressed or anxious, are quicker to anger, are more impulsive, and experience recurring mood swings.
On the flip side, consuming more omega-3s helps fight depression and anxiety while reducing aggression and hostility. The EPA and DHA found in cod liver oil may also be helpful as an adjunct treatment for mood disorders like major depression and bipolar disorder.
6. It Prevents Heart Disease
Because people have been taking cod liver oil for centuries, nearly one thousand studies have examined its effects on the mind and body. A particularly virile area of research has been cod liver oil’s benefits for cardiovascular health.
Due to an abundance of vitamins and omega-3s, cod liver oil may help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, discourage the build-up of plaque in the arteries, and prevent blood clots.
Cod liver oil bolsters the entire cardiovascular system by preventing many of the factors that can lead to heart disease in the first place.
7. It Supports Healthy Bones Throughout Life
Vitamin D is just as important as calcium when it comes to maintaining strong bones and preventing the loss of bone density.
Though often seen as a disease that only affects children in the developing world, rickets is on the rise in the United States, and is caused by calcium and vitamin D deficiencies. Likewise, osteoporosis is a major health concern for aging populations that affects nearly 44 million Americans who may not be aware they have it until they break a bone.
A simple and natural way to prevent both conditions is to take a daily dose of cod liver oil. The high vitamin D content in cod liver oil corrects many bone problems associated with these diseases by helping the body better absorb calcium. This, in turn, increases bone mass and density.
8. It’s a Potent Anti-Inflammatory
The omega-3s present in cod liver oil have been shown to be very effective in treating pain and inflammation.
Lessening, and sometimes replacing, the need for ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), cod liver oil has been used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, neck and back pain, migraine headaches, and musculoskeletal pain. In all cases, cod liver oil reduced the intensity and frequency of these painful conditions naturally. And unlike NSAIDs, cod liver oil is a much safer alternative for consistent pain relief.
How to Take Fermented Cod Liver Oil
The ancient practice of fermenting cod liver oil involves soaking wild Atlantic cod livers in brine. It’s a gentle process that allows the cod liver to naturally break down over time. Once the nutrients have separated from the liver, the oil is slaked off the top of the “brew”. Since some cod liver oil brands are processed with heat, which destroys much of the liver’s intrinsic nutrients, we recommend only using fermented processing.
Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil is one of the only brands available in the US that uses cold process fermentation to create a better product. You can purchase their Non-Flavored Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil from this page on Amazon. You can also buy non-gelatin capsules from here.
As you might imagine, pure cod liver oil tastes just like fish. Feel free to add it to juice, smoothies, or lemon water to disguise the slightly fishy flavor.
While the nutrient content tends to vary by brand, here are some general guidelines to follow when taking fermented cod liver oil:
- Children aged 3 months to 12 years – A dosage of 5,000 IU of vitamin A, equivalent to one teaspoon of cod liver oil.
- Children over 12 years and adults – Two teaspoons of cod liver oil, providing 10,000 IU of vitamin A.
Cod liver oil can act like a blood thinner, so pregnant women, asthmatics or people taking high blood pressure medication or anticoagulants should speak to their doctor before supplementing with cod liver oil.
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