Fermented Cod Liver Oil vs. Fish Oil

Fermented Cod Liver Oil vs Fish Oil

Fermented Cod Liver Oil is one of the very few things that I take daily and give to my kids (starting at a few months old). I get quite a few emails asking why I take this particular one and if regular fish oil would work just as well. I’m not a doctor and I’m not trying to play one on the internet, so I’m just sharing the reasons that my family takes Fermented Cod Liver Oil.

Why Fermented Cod Liver Oil?

Fermented cod liver oil is made when cod livers are fermented. This allows the fat soluble vitamins and beneficial oils to separate from the rest of the liver without damaging the fat soluble vitamins (unlike in some methods like heat processing where the vitamins are damaged). This cool temperature fermentation process allows the cod liver oil to maintain its Omega-3, Vitamin D and Vitamin A content. This also makes the nutrients more absorbable to the body as Diane of Balanced Bites explains:

In our bodies, digestive breakdown is the mechanism by which we do this internally – by means of not only the physical churning in our stomach, but also by means of stomach acid, bile, and, perhaps most notably digestive enzymes. There are several ways in which the reduction of nutrients may occur: heat, synthetic chemical processing, and digestion (or fermentation, which is an exogenous means of pre-digesting nutrients). Heat is damaging to delicate nutrients, especially when they are isolated from their whole-food source. Synthetic chemical breakdown of nutrients is damaging as well.

Digestion or fermentation (enzymatic breakdown) is by far the safest and most effective way to reduce the molecular structures in foods to their end usable constituents. (If you are an organic chemistry-buff, perhaps you’ll know a lot more about what the following information means than I do) When reduction is initiated by digestion (digestive enzymes) or fermentation, 100% of molecules break “to the right” – which is how our body uses them best. When the reduction is initiated by either heat or synthetic chemicals, 50% of the molecules break to the left (which may be toxic or unhealthful at the very least) and 50% to the right.

Vitamins in FCLO:

Many healthcare professionals recommend taking Omega-3s in some form, and after researching the processing and Omega-3 levels in Fermented Cod Liver Oil, I decided that it was the best option for our family for several reasons:

  • Unlike many Omega-3 supplements, Fermented Cod Liver Oil is cold processed through fermentation so it retains high levels of fat soluble vitamins and Omega-3s and these are not damaged by high temperatures. Additionally, Fermented Cod Liver Oil contains about 25% DHA and EPA, which are highly recommended forms of Omega-3s.
  • Fermented Cod Liver oil Contains Vitamins A and D, which are both necessary for many aspects of health. While we can get Vitamin D from sunlight, Vitamin A can be harder to consume or absorb and FCLO is an excellent source. Vitamins A and D need each other for proper absorption as the Weston A. Price Foundation explains:”At least 2,000 genes, or nearly 10 percent of your genes, have been identified that are directly influenced by vitamin D, which in turn impact a wide variety of health issues, from preventing the common cold and flu to inhibiting at least sixteen different types of cancer. There’s even evidence linking vitamin D to the process of brain detoxification of heavy metals such as mercury. Widespread vitamin D deficiency has also been strongly linked to the childhood epidemics of autism, asthma, and diabetes, both type 1 and 2. Vitamin A, which is essential for your immune system just like vitamin D, is also a precursor to active hormones that regulate the expression of your genes, and they work in tandem. For example, there is evidence that without vitamin D, vitamin A can be ineffective or even toxic. But if you’re deficient in vitamin A, vitamin D cannot function properly either.”
  • Vitamin A (found abundantly in Fermented Cod Liver Oil) is a vital nutrient for our bodies, but it can be difficult to obtain. From The Healthy Baby Code: “Beta-carotene is the precursor (inactive form) of retinol, the active form of vitamin A. While beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in humans, only 3% gets converted in a healthy adult. And that’s assuming you’re not one of the 45% of adults that don’t convert any beta-carotene into vitamin A at all.This means that – contrary to popular wisdom – vegetables like carrots and red peppers are not adequate food sources of vitamin A.Vitamin A is found in significant amounts only in animal products like liver and grass-fed dairy. You’d have to eat a huge amount of beta-carotene from plants to meet vitamin A requirements during pregnancy. For example, 3 ounces of beef liver contains 27,000 IU of vitamin A. As the chart below illustrates, to get the same amount of vitamin A from plants (assuming a 3% conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A), you’d have to eat 4.4 pounds of cooked carrots, 40 pounds of raw carrots, and 50 cups of cooked kale!”

The Studies on FCLO

According to the Weston A Price Foundation, recent studies have shown that Fermented Cod Liver Oil can be beneficial to those with certain conditions including:

  • “PAIN IN RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS: Cod liver oil supplements were better than controls in relieving pain and can be used as NSAID-sparing agents in rheumatoic arthritis patients (Rheumatology (Oxford). 2008 May;47(5):665-9).
  • VITAMIN D STATUS AND BONE LOSS: Inclusion of cod liver oil in the diet appears to attenuate the seasonal variation of vitamin D status in early postmenopausal women at northerly latitudes where quality of sunlight for production of vitamin D is diminished. Cod liver oil can thus protect against greater bone turnover, bone loss and obesity (Bone. 2008 May;42(5):996-1003).
  • DIABETES-RELATED CARDIOVASCULAR DISORDERS: Cod liver oil treatment in diabetic rats completely prevented endothelial deficiency and partly corrected several biochemical markers for cardiovascular disorders (J Pharm Pharmacol. 2007 Dec;59(12):1629-41).
  • MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS: In Arctic climates, supplemental cod-liver oil during childhood may be protective against multiple sclerosis later in life (J Neurol. 2007 Apr;254(4):471-7).
  • BREAST CANCER: Reduced breast cancer risks were associated with increasing sun exposure and cod liver oil use from ages ten to nineteen. “We found strong evidence to support the hypothesis that vitamin D could help prevent breast cancer. However, our results suggest that exposure earlier in life, particularly during breast development, maybe most relevant” (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2007 Mar;16(3):422-9).
  • DEPRESSION: Regular use of cod liver oil is negatively associated with high levels of depressive symptoms in the general population (J Affect Disord. 2007 Aug;101(1-3):245-9).
  • WOUND HEALING: The combination of zinc oxide and cod liver oil was found to be superior to the formulations containing only one active ingredient. This combination was also found to be most efficient in accelerating wound healing when it is retarded by repeated dexamethasone treatment (Dtsch Tierarztl Wochenschr. 2006 Sep;113(9):331-4).
  • BREAST MILK: Women using cod liver oil had a significantly higher levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in their breast milk. “As this may have an impact on the health and development of breast-fed infants in later life, regular maternal cod liver oil intake could be relevant for the infant as well as for the nutritional adequacy of the maternal diet” (Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(3):270-6).
  • PAIN AND JOINT STIFFNESS: Cod liver oil application allows reduction of the dose of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and improves chief clinical symptoms, reducing pain and morning joint stiffness (Klin Med Mosk2005;83(10):51-7).
  • HIP FRACTURE: Multivitamin or cod liver oil supplementation was associated with a significantly lower risk of any fracture. “We found no evidence to support any skeletal harm associated with increased serum indices of retinol exposure or modest retinol supplementation in this population” (J Bone Miner Res. 2005 Jun;20(6):913-20).
  • HIGHER BIRTH WEIGHT: Women who used liquid cod liver oil in early pregnancy gave birth to heavier babies, even after adjusting for the length of gestation and other confounding factors. “Higher birth weight has been associated with a lower risk of diseases later in life and maternal cod liver oil intake might be one of the means for achieving higher birthweight” (BJOG. 2005 Apr;112(4):424-9).
  • UPPER RESPIRATORY TRACT INFECTIONS IN CHILDREN: Children supplemented with cod liver oil had a decrease in upper respiratory tract infections and pediatric visits over time (Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2004 Nov;113(11):891-901).
  • VITAMIN D STATUS: In Norway, three mølje meals (consisting of cod liver and fresh cod-liver oil) provided an amount of vitamin D equal to 54 times the recommended daily dose. Subjects with food consumption habits that included frequent mølje meals during the winter sustained satisfactory vitamin D levels in their blood, in spite of the long “vitamin D winter” (Public Health Nutr. 2004 Sep;7(6):783-9).
  • DIABETES: Use of cod liver oil in the first year of life was associated with a significantly lower risk of type 1 diabetes. Use of other vitamin D supplements during the first year of life and maternal use of cod liver oil or other vitamin D supplements during pregnancy were not associated with lower risk of type 1 diabete (Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Dec;78(6):1128-34).
  • INTELLIGENCE IN CHILDREN: 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 (Pediatrics. 2003 Jan;111(1):e39-44).
  • RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS: Use of cod liver oil decreased occurrence of morning stiffness, swollen joints and pain intensity in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (Adv Ther. 2002 Mar-Apr;19(2):101-7).
  • EAR ACHES IN CHILDREN: Children prone to ear aches (otitis media) receiving cod liver oil plus selenium needed lower amounts of antibiotics during supplementation compared to before supplementation (Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2002 Jul;111(7 Pt 1):642-52).
  • DIABETIC NEUROPATHY: Use of cod liver oil in mice played an important role in the prevention of diabetic nephropathy (Lipids. 2002 Apr;37(4):359-66).
  • FAT-SOLUBLE VITAMINS IN BREAST MILK: Maternal use of cod liver oil resulted in higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins in breast milk, especially vitamins E and A. (Ann Nutr Metab. 2001;45(6):265-72).” (source)

What Fermented Cod Liver Oil We Take

My family takes Fermented Cod Liver Oil daily. I’ve only found one brand that is manufactured with the cold process fermentation (in the US) and this is Green Pastures (we order ours here). There are several options for Fermented Cod Liver Oil and we typically take the Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend. The High Vitamin Butter Oil has Vitamin K2, another fat soluble vitamin which Dr. Price called “Activator X” and which has been shown to help improve heart, bone, immune, brain and other aspects of health (source). For our family personally, this is what we take daily (ask your doctor before taking any new supplements!):

  • My husband and I take 1 teaspoon of the Fermented Cod Liver Oil  Butter Blend everyday
  • Kids 2 and under (up to 30 lbs) get 1/4 tsp per day
  • Kids 3 and up (over 30 lbs) get 1/2 tsp per day
  • Kids 6 and up (over 50 lbs) get 2/3-3/4 tsp per day
  • I take up to two teaspoons if pregnant/nursing or trying to remineralize teeth

We use the Green Pastures brand of Fermented Cod Liver Oil (usually with High Vitamin Butter Oil added) which I get from here.

Vitamin A Concerns?

Some sources question the safety of consuming regular doses of Vitamin A. After much research, this doesn’t concern me when taken from a healthy source (like fermented cod liver oil) since it has Vitamin A and Vitamin D in synergistic doses. I also make sure to include organ meats and other sources of fat soluble vitamins in our diet. Chris Kresser has a great post that addresses many of the Vitamin A concerns here.

Sources and More Reading:

-“The Cod Liver Oil Debate” by Chris Masterjohn on the Weston A. Price Foundation website
-“A Response to Dr. Mercola on Cod Liver Oil” from the Weston A. Price Foundation website
-“Separating Fact from Fiction on Cod Liver Oil” from Chris Kresser
-“On the Trail of the Elusive X-Factor” by Chris Masterjohn
-“Vitamin K2 – The Missing Nutrient” by Chris Kresser
-“All About Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Why I Don’t Take Fish Oil” by Diane Sanfillipo of Balanced Bites

Other posts I’ve written about our use of Fermented Cod Liver Oil

How to Remineralize Teeth Naturally
Supplements I Take Daily
Supplements for Pregnancy and Nursing
Healthy Teeth From the Inside Out
Eat Your Sunscreen
9 Tips to Balance Hormones Naturally

Do you take fermented cod liver oil? Why or why not? Share below!

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