What do you think of when you think of cod liver oil? Images of kids scurrying and hiding in all parts of the house? Mother with a stern look on her face holding out a spoon to a kid with a screwed-up disgusted expression?
Most of us have no personal experience with cod liver oil prior to beginning a real foods diet. Our knowledge of cod liver oil comes from cartoons and old movies and, if we are older, stories from our parents childhoods. But cod liver oil was a part of daily life prior to the fifties. It is another part of our food heritage that is disappearing down the memory hole.
Going back hundreds of years, mothers in northern climates such as Norway, Sweden and Scotland relied on cod liver oil to keep their families healthy when the weather turned bleak. They may not have understood why this foul-tasting oily liquid seemed to be beneficial, but their powers of observation told them that children given cod liver oil were less susceptible to colds and flu.
Although this practice has fallen out of favour, scientists are now confirming that the old wives might have been on to something. Old-fashioned nasty-tasting cod liver oil contained vitamin D along with vitamin A and omega 3 fatty acids. The vitamin D might have been key against infection.
The requirement for vitamin D begins from the foetal stage, continues during childhood and throughout life.
During pregnancy when foetal bones are developing, calcium is deposited into bones, making them strong. This is where vitamin D plays an essential role; vitamin D is needed for normal metabolism and utilisation of calcium and aids in the mineralisation of bone. During pregnancy, maternal vitamin D requirements can increase up to four-to five-fold to facilitate the availability of the extra calcium required for foetal skeletal growth.1
In addition to bone health vitamin D also has an effect on language development. In 2011 results became available from a large clinical trial investigating vitamin D levels in pregnancy and offspring development. A total of 743 offspring from mothers from Perth, Western Australia were investigated. This study found that vitamin D insufficiency among Caucasian women during pregnancy was associated with an increased rate of language impairment among offspring. It concluded that maternal vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy may reduce the risk of developmental language difficulties among their children.
Vitamin D plays many additional roles in the body. In children as well as adults, it helps regulate heartbeat, protects against muscle weakness and is needed for normal blood clotting and healthy thyroid function. In addition, vitamin D supports immune function which keeps us strong and able to fight off colds and flues.2
The easiest way to obtain sufficient Vitamin D is through cod liver oil. However, not all cod liver oils are made equal. Nowadays, Companies buy rendered oil on the open market. The rendering process destroys much of the natural vitamin content. They then heat it to 200° to deodorize it, further destroying the natural vitamins. When the oil is clean and deodorized they add synthetic vitamins back in. Virtually all the brands you see at the store buy this oil and put their own label on it. So what you get for your money is highly refined fish oil with synthetic vitamins added.
The only cod liver oil that is still made according to tradition is Green Pasture’s. The fish liver is allowed to ferment for more than half a year, never heated in the process. That is the same way as it has been made for thousands of years before the industrial revolution. And in the lives of many families, it has made all the difference.
You can find good cod liver oil here: