Having first been used as a supplement by Scandinavian vikings as early as the 700s, the health benefits associated with cod liver oil have stood the test of time. Packed with nutrients, many cod liver oil benefits can be attributed to its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin D.
Thankfully, we no longer need to steam fresh livers by hand in order to extract cod liver oil – we can simply pop into our local health store, pharmacy, or often even the nearest supermarket to buy capsules or liquid in bottled form. Here, Christina Mamada MSc, nutritionist at Vitl, talks us through cod liver oil benefits:
Cod liver oil benefits
Where regular fish oil is extracted from the tissue of oily fish – such as tuna, mackerel and anchovies – cod liver oil is extracted from the livers of (mostly Atlantic) cod.
However, these cod liver oil benefits really only scratch the surface when it comes to what this potent oil can do for human health. Here, we run through 10 reasons to add cod liver oil to your supplement cupboard:
1. High in vitamins A and D
Cod liver oil is particularly high in fat-soluble vitamins A and D, both powerful antioxidants. A single tablespoon provides 272 per cent of your daily vitamin A requirements and 340 per cent of your daily vitamin D needs. It’s also one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Vitamin A "has been long known to play a significant role in skin homeostasis and vision due to its photoprotective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects," says Mamada. "It also accumulates in cell membranes where it protects DHA from oxidation. Vitamin D, meanwhile, regulates your body’s levels of calcium and phosphate, imbalances of which may lead to bone disruption, rickets or osteoporosis," she says.
2. Promote brain health
Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – to give them their proper name – play important roles in brain function and development. They have been "long known for their neuroprotective properties, and are considered as a potential treatment for a variety of neurodegenerative and neurological disorders," says Mamada. A teaspoon of cod liver oil typically contains 900 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, although levels can be far higher depending on the brand. According to the National Institute of Health, the daily recommended omega-3 intake is 1,100 mg for women and 1,600 mg for men.
3. Protect heart health
The omega-3s found in cod liver oil have benefits for heart health, too. "They have been found to have powerful cardio-protective effects, by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, increasing HDL cholesterol and lowering blood pressure," says Mamada. EPA and DHA – the two major forms of omega-3 – have been linked to cardiovascular protection and anti-coagulation, she adds.
4. Reduce chronic inflammation
Long-term inflammation contributes to a whole host of common illnesses, including heart disease and cancer. The omega-3s and antioxidant vitamins in cod liver oil fight chronic inflammation "by neutralising toxic free radicals and suppressing the action of the pro-inflammatory proteins TNF-α and IL-1," says Mamada. "It has also been found to reduce the risk of developing chronic inflammation, as studies have shown that people who are vitamin A and vitamin D deficient are more likely to experience chronic inflammation, due to decreased antioxidant defence against harmful radicals."
5. Ease anxiety and depression
Studies suggest there may be a link between chronic inflammation and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. If so, it’s possible that the omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil could help to lower inflammation and therefore reduce symptoms. "There is some evidence linking chronic inflammation with anxiety and depression, suggesting that supplementation of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids may improve cognitive function, but more studies are needed to prove this definitively," says Mamada.
6. Improve bone health
Cod liver oil is one of the very few dietary sources of vitamin D. Most people get their daily recommendation through sunlight exposure, but this can be tricky if you live far from the equator or don’t spend much time outside. Vitamin D plays an important role in helping your body to absorb calcium, so getting enough is vital for bone health. "Supplementation of cod liver oil is known to reduce the risk of increased bone disruption, rickets and osteoporosis in adults and to strengthen bone structure in children," says Mamada.
7. Support vitamin absorption
Your intestine absorbs certain vitamins best when they’re paired with a fat source. Since a single tablespoon of cod liver oil contains 14g of fat, "it supports the absorption of other anti-inflammatory and antioxidant fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin E and vitamin K," says Mamada.
8. Promote healthy joints
Cod liver oil has been found to support healthy joint structure and function, especially in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, says Mamada. This is because of its inflammation-fighting properties. "In particular, studies investigating the effect of cod liver oil supplementation on arthritis symptoms showed that 39 per cent of the patients who supplemented reduced the use of their prescription anti-inflammatory medication by 30 per cent," she says.
9. Support eye health
Two of the leading causes of vision loss are glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can occur as a consequence of chronic inflammation. However, the omega-3s and vitamin A found in cod liver oil have been shown to protect against eye diseases caused by inflammation.
10. Keep skin healthy
While research is limited, the omega-3s in cod liver oil are believed to protect your skin against the sun's ultraviolet rays, reduce the severity of acne, and promote healthy hydrated skin. "The fatty acids in fish oil can improve skin barrier function, inhibit UV-induced inflammation and hyperpigmentation, attenuate dry skin and pruritus elicited by dermatitis, accelerate skin wound healing, and prevent skin cancer development," according to a review published in the journal Marine Drugs.
How to take cod liver oil
A report by The National Diet and Nutrition Survey report from Public Health England revealed the average consumption of oily fish in the UK is suboptimal in all age groups, says Mamada. "Blood levels of vitamin D and vitamin A have also been found to remain concerningly low," she says. "This highlights the potential need to supplement to reach the daily recommended intake of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D."
This is where a cod liver oil supplement may be beneficial. There’s no recommended daily dosage for cod liver oil, so most guidelines focus on safe intake levels for omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A and D. The liquid and capsule forms are the most common and can vary in terms of potency. It’s best to stick with the intake instructions outlined on the label, as ingesting excess cod liver oil may be harmful due to the high levels of vitamin A.
Cod liver oil can act as a blood thinner, so if you are taking blood pressure or blood thinning medications, check with your doctor before you start taking it. The same goes for pregnant women – while getting sufficient omega-3 during pregnancy is crucial and recommended, high levels of vitamin A can also harm the baby, so speak with your healthcare provider before taking a cod liver oil supplement.
In need of some at-home inspiration? Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for skincare and self-care, the latest cultural hits to read and download, and the little luxuries that make staying in so much more satisfying.
Plus, sign up here to get Harper’s Bazaar magazine delivered straight to your door.
You Might Also Like