Risks and Benefits of Cod Liver Oil
by Patsy Hamilton
oil is related to its vitamin E content, which helps the body process the fatty acids, is
an essential antioxidant and promotes the health of the skin and the hair.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids/Benefits of Cod Liver Oil

Omega-3s are essential to human health, cannot be produced inside the body, and
so, must be obtained from food or through supplementation. The best know source
of omega-3 fatty acids is fish. Some fish contain more omega 3s than others.

There are two types of omega-3 fatty acids that have been identified as essential for
human health. They are Docosahexaenoic Acid or DHA and Eicosapentaenoic Acid or
EPA. These are found primarily in fish. The body can convert another omega-3 fatty
acid, known as Alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, to DHA and EPA, but the process is
relatively inefficient. It is believed that one would have to consume a great deal of
ALA in order to get the health benefits provided by DHA and EPA.

The omega-3 found in flax seed oil is ALA. And some believe that flax seed oil can
provide cod liver oil benefits, without the risks, but this is debatable. Although there
are no risks associated with flax seed oil, it is unknown if ALA provides the same
health benefits as DHA and EPA.

The Risks

Cod liver oil contains large amounts of vitamin A and vitamin D and may contain
contaminants such as mercury and pesticides. The body needs adequate amounts of
vitamin A, but large amounts can be toxic. Vitamin D is not commonly found in
natural foods, but many processed foods are fortified with vitamin D to ensure good

At one time the benefits of cod liver oil were believed to be associated with its
vitamin A and D content. This was before omega-3 fatty acids had been identified
and before food fortification was a common practice. It was also before taking daily
multi-vitamins became a common practice and before industrial pollutants had
contaminated our oceans.

Vitamin D

While no tolerable upper limit for vitamin D consumption has been established,
adequate intake for adults, under the age of 50, and children is believed to be around
200 units per day. Adults over 50 should increase consumption to 400 units per day
for men and 600 units per day for women. Vitamin D is necessary for the body to
process calcium and is therefore a factor in preventing osteoporosis and maintaining
bone health. However, one of the popular cod liver oil products contains 4000 to
5000 units of vitamin D per teaspoon, more than anyone needs on a daily basis.

Vitamin A

A tolerable upper limit for vitamin A has been established. The maximum amount of
vitamin A that a 25 year old man should consumer per day is 10,000 IU. Women
should consume less than half that amount. Women who are pregnant should avoid
dietary supplements that contain vitamin A because of the risk of birth defects. While
vitamin A is necessary for fetal development and overall good health, it is stored in
the fat cells and there is a great risk of over supplementation. Excess consumption of
vitamin A is also believed to contribute to osteoporosis.

One of the popular cod liver oil products contains 4000-5000 IU of vitamin A, per
teaspoon. When added to the amount that may be present in other dietary
supplements, as well as the food that a person consumes per day, it will put most
people over the safe upper limit for vitamin A. While the benefit of cod liver oil for
supplying essential omega 3s is known, it is unknown if excess consumption of
vitamin A will counteract those effects.

A better choice for vitamin A supplementation is beta carotene and other
carotenoids. Present in the better daily dietary supplements, carotenoids are
converted by the body to vitamin A on an as-needed basis and are not associated
with the negative effects of "pre-formed" vitamin A. The only known side effect of
excess consumption of carotenoids is a yellowing of the skin, called carotenosis,
which is not dangerous, but may be undesirable.


Fish oil derived from the flesh of fish does not contain the vitamins A and D. Those
vitamins are usually present in adequate amounts in daily multi-vitamins and fortified
foods. Though extra vitamin D supplementation is often recommended for persons
over the age of 50, it is not a benefit of cod liver oil and there are better choices for
vitamin D supplementation.

From an environmental standpoint, over harvesting of the cod fish has led to the
depletion of many populations. Farms affect the health of wild fish. The equipment
used for harvesting damages the habitat of other water dwelling life forms. Although
there are cod liver oil benefits, these health benefits can be obtained from other
sources that do not cause damage to our environment.

You can get the health
by taking fish oil supplements derived
from the flesh, rather than the liver of fish. To learn more, please visit the

About The Author

Patsy Hamilton was a health care professional for over twenty years before
becoming a freelance writer. Currently she is writing a series of articles about
omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil.
There are health benefits of cod liver
oil and there are drawbacks. Cod liver
oil benefits may not outweigh the
risks. The primary benefit of cod liver
oil is related to its omega-3 content,
but fish oils derived from the flesh of
fish, rather than the liver, provide that
benefit without the risks.

The health benefits of cod liver oil are
related, primarily to omega-3 fatty
acids. These are essential for the
healthy function of the brain, the
heart, the joints, the digestive
system and many other systems of
the body. Another benefit of cod liver
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