Cod liver oil

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This article is about the fish oil. For the traditional Newfoundland song, see Cod Liver Oil (song).
Label on the back of a bottle of cod liver oil

Cod liver oil is a nutritional supplement derived from liver of cod fish (Gadidae).[1] As with most fish oils, it has high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Cod liver oil also contains vitamin A and vitamin D. It has historically been taken because of its vitamin A and vitamin D content. It was once commonly given to children, because vitamin D has been shown to prevent rickets and other symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.[2]


Drawing of a cod fish

Cod liver oil was traditionally manufactured by filling a wooden barrel with fresh cod livers and seawater and allowing the mixture to ferment for up to a year before removing the oil.[3] Modern cod liver oil is made by cooking the whole cod body tissues during the manufacture of fish meal.[citation needed]

Therapeutic uses[edit]

Though similar in composition to fish oil, cod liver oil has higher concentrations of vitamins A and D. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a tablespoon (4 drams or 15 ml) of cod liver oil contains 4080 μg of retinol (vitamin A) and 34 μg of vitamin D.[4] The Dietary Reference Intake of vitamin A is 900 μg per day for adult men and 700 μg per day for women, while that for vitamin D is 15 μg per day. The "tolerable upper intake levels" are 3000 μg/day and 100 μg/day, respectively, so people consuming cod liver oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acids should pay attention to how much vitamin A and vitamin D this adds to their diet.[5][6] A 300-mg soft gelatin capsule contains about 88 μg vitamin A per dose .

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, cod liver oil may be beneficial in secondary prophylaxis after a heart attack.[7] Diets supplemented with cod liver oil have also been demonstrated to have beneficial effects on psoriasis.[8]

Potential adverse effects[edit]

Retinol (Vitamin A)

Per tablespoon (13.6 g), cod liver oil contains 136% of the established daily tolerable upper intake level (UL) for preformed vitamin A (retinol).[9][10] Vitamin A accumulates in the liver, and can reach harmful levels sufficient to cause hypervitaminosis A.[5] Pregnant women may want to consider consulting a doctor when taking cod liver oil because of the high amount of natural forms of vitamin A such as retinol.[11] A toxic dose of retinol (vitamin A) is around 25 000 IU/kg (see Retinol#Retinoid overdose (toxicity)), or the equivalent of about 1.25 kg of cod liver oil for a 50-kg person.

The risks of fatty acid oxidation, hypervitaminosis, and exposure to environmental toxins are reduced when purification processes are applied to produce refined fish oil products.[12]

A high intake of cod liver oil by pregnant women is associated with a nearly fivefold increased risk of gestational hypertension. The study noted that "possibly, the amount of n-3 LCPUFA may have positive effects up to a certain level, while becoming detrimental in high doses."[13]

Fish oil preparations that are offered with a doctor's prescription undergo the same FDA regulatory requirements as other prescription pharmaceuticals, with regard to both efficacy and safety.[12]

Other uses[edit]

In Newfoundland, cod liver oil was sometimes used as the liquid base for traditional red ochre paint, the coating of choice for use on outbuildings and work buildings associated with the cod fishery.

In Tübingen, Germany, drinking a glass of cod liver oil is the punishment for the loser at the traditional Stocherkahnrennen, a punting boat race by University groups.

See also[edit]


  2. ^ Rajakumar, K. "Vitamin D, Cod-Liver Oil, Sunlight, and Rickets: A Historical Perspective. 2003". Pediatrics. 112 (2): 132–135. 
  3. ^ David Wetzel (28 February 2006). "Cod Liver Oil Manufacturing". The Weston A. Price Foundation. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Paul Lips (8 May 2003). "Hypervitaminosis A and fractures". N Engl J Med. 348 (4): 1927–1928. doi:10.1056/NEJMe020167. PMID 12540650. Retrieved 6 March 2008. 
  6. ^ Haddad J.G. (30 April 1992). "Vitamin D — Solar Rays, the Milky Way, or Both?". The New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  7. ^ von Schacky, C (2000). "n-3 Fatty acids and the prevention of coronary atherosclerosis". Am J Clin Nutr. 71 ((1 Suppl)): 224S–7S. PMID 10617975. 
  8. ^ Wolters, M. (2005). "Diet and psoriasis: experimental data and clinical evidence". British Journal of Dermatology. 153 (4): 706–14. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2005.06781.x. PMID 16181450. 
  9. ^ National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference "USDA Nutrition Facts: Fish oil, cod liver" USDA
  10. ^ Jane Higdon, Ph.D. of the Linus Pauling Institute "Linus Pauling Institute Micronutirent Center" Oregon State University
  11. ^ Myhre AM, Carlsen MH, Bøhn SK, Wold HL, Laake P, Blomhoff R (December 2003). "Water-miscible, emulsified, and solid forms of retinol supplements are more toxic than oil-based preparations". Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 78 (6): 1152–9. PMID 14668278. 
  12. ^ a b Bays H E (19 March 2007). "Safety Considerations with Omega-3 Fatty Acid Therapy". The American Journal of Cardiology. 99. (Supplement 1) (6): S35–S43. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2006.11.020. PMID 17368277. 
  13. ^ Olafsdottir AS, Skuladottir GV, Thorsdottir I, Hauksson A, Thorgeirsdottir H, Steingrimsdottir L (March 2006). "Relationship between high consumption of marine fatty acids in early pregnancy and hypertensive disorders in pregnancy". BJOG. 113 (3): 301–9. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.2006.00826.x. PMID 16487202. 

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