...As in the childhood days of our mothers and grandmothers...perhaps for some, great-grandmothers. Well, not exactly. In the world of cod liver oil imbibers, things have changed a bit. There are now 'plain' cod liver oils, fermented cod liver oils, flavored cod liver oils, encapsulated cod liver oils and cod liver oils enhanced with the vitamin Weston A. Price discovered, now called K-2, but in his day, 'The X Factor'. This latter oil is the cream of the crop. The 'X' factor it contains comes from the butter of cows pigging-out on rapidly growing green grass. (And of course, the green grass they feed on is pesticide-free.) Find out more about that here.
Today's cod liver oil is a far cry from the child running from momma as she advances with her teaspoon of disgusting tasting and smelling oil, still, don't just run to your local pharmacy and pick up the one on the shelf. There are varying levels and since we repeatedly talk on this blog about getting the most for your financial efforts, I have to advocate getting the best value for your money.
The Weston Price Foundation lauds cod liver oil (CLO) as "our number one superfood". It earns this title due to several factors, the first on the list being vitamins. A tiny daily dosage can deliver Vitamins A, D, K2 and E. Via DHA*, it also gives a good boost to visual and brain function as well as the immune system. DHA also aids in reduction of inflammation.
The vitamins in CLO work in harmony, or better, synergy, with other nutrients that the diet must have in order for the vitamins to be effective. This is an important note, because you could spend much on a great CLO, but render it ineffective if the rest of the diet is inadequate. It should not be taken in conjunction with synthetic vitamins A or D, and one must be aware that these often occur in processed foods in an effort by manufacturers to make their product appear 'healthy'.
Here is a run-down of foods can help us get the maxed-out benefits of CLO:
- High-Vitamin Butter Oil. This comes from the butter of cows that eat fast-growing grass-Spring grass, if you will. It contains 'Activator X'/the 'X Factor', now believed to be K2. Dr. Price called it the 'animal form' of vitamin K. This works beautifully with natural vitamins A and D, found in CLO. Together, these work to enable our bodies to assimilate minerals and water soluble vitamins we ingest. The fat-soluble vitamins are especially important for pregnant and nursing mothers and children as they "ensure the the development of attractive, strong bodies, freedom from tooth decay and a high immunity to disease."
- Grass-fed butter: This also provides vitamin K2 and good saturated fats that all work with the DHA, contained in the CLO. The contribution here is towards proper brain and nervous system function as well as resolving inflammation.
- Saturated fat: These ensure that the omega-3 fatty acid in the CLO are properly assimilated by the body. It may come from lard, tallow, butter or tropical oils such as coconut oil. There is a lot of controversy over these types of fats, but a closer look at the evidences of the good of these fats can change even the most staunch protester's mind. Look here for more about saturated fats. (Read and be amazed.)
- Calcium: Works with vitamins A, D and K2 and comes to us via dairy products. Another great source is bone broths. There are many ways to build such broths, but I favor the methods of Nourishing Traditions because veggies are added giving extra mileage to nutrient density. Calcium working in sync with the nutrients of CLO give us strong bones and teeth.
- Magnesium: You probably know that the lack of vitamin D causes rickets. But the rest of that story is that without magnesium, vitamin D cannot prevent rickets. Magnesium comes to us via green veggies, nuts, whole grains, legumes and everybody's favorite, organ meats. (Well, some folks' favorites, at least.)
The best oil to buy is, believe it or not, made right here in the good ol' U.S. of A. This manufacturer uses processing techniques that won't take away from the good of the final product. (If you've been around traditional food reasoning for awhile, you already know that a huge part of our diet deficit is due to the damage done via processing techniques.) The processing used by this company uses fermentation, gentle filtering, and low temperatures. In the end, we get CLO without loss of its naturally present vitamins. How does this compare to an industrially processed CLO? The vitamins contained within the oil processed the 'old-fashioned' way is double the amount found in most processed by modern methods. If you are interested in purchasing such an oil as this, click here. (No, I don't get kick-backs.) The brand recommended here is the top of the line, but there are more which you can find in this article by Sally Fallon at the Weston A. Price Foundation.
So, what's wrong with the modern methods of CLO processing? WAPF lists several, among them, bleaching, deodorization, molecular distillation-which keeps the oil at high temps for as many as six hours and damages its unsaturated fatty acids. This high heat also eliminates most of the vitamin D and much of the vitamin A. Then, in order to replace that which is supposed to be there in the first place, the manufacturer adds synthetic vitamins back in so they can meet the requirements of their buyers. (Vitamins D, A, K and E can be toxic in synthetic form.)
If you just can't stomach taking CLO on a spoon, the best way is to mix it with a few ounces of juice or warm water. CLO can leave an aftertaste, so avoid this by taking just before a meal. I have only had one flavor I had trouble dealing with. In fact, so much so that I haven't taken it regularly...The good news about that is it has been discontinued, so you won't have to worry about it. My preference in taste is the orange flavored, but I haven't tried the more expensive capsules.
There is a wonderful history behind CLO and I was surprised to learn of how extensively it was used before penicillin and sulfa antibiotics. The first record of its use was from Hippocrates. I think my favorite story is of the patient who had rheumatism way back in 1766. She was in an infirmary where cod liver oil was used as a balm. But for whatever reason, she ate her balm. Twice, she cured herself of her rheumatic symptoms by doing so. Thereafter, the infirmary, (The Manchester Infirmary), used 50-60 gallons a year to treat patients!
CLO has been used to treat rickets, eye diseases, TB, measles, puerperal fever and even to deter industrial absenteeism. Unfortunately, today's 'mainstream' physicians don't always smile upon it, perhaps with the thought that the pharmaceuticals they are familiar with don't include it as a medicine. Still, many naturopaths and homeopathic physicians, as well as educated consumers and yes, some medical doctors, are appreciative of it's natural ability to afford us protection against, and recovery from, sickness.
Finally, I would like to briefly cover some misconceptions about cod liver oil:
- "It is a good source of vitamin D" - Well, maybe. It really does depend on how it's manufactured. Modern processing causes most of the natural D to be lost.
- "CLO has too much vitamin A"- It depends. A and D work together and there needs to be a particular balance between them. A lot of A can cause D deficiency if D isn't in the diet. Many brands of CLO have very small amounts of vitamin D. It is very important that we use brands of CLO that have at least one unit of vitamin D to ten units of A.
- "If the CLO has more units of vitamin D than A, it's the best." - Nope. CLO in its natural state has 2-10 times more vitamin A than vitamin D! Unfortunately, some manufacturers are taking out the majority of the A then adding synthetic D3, under the mistaken belief that the A is toxic. This manipulation of the product can lead to symptoms indicative of vitamin A deficiency.
- "CLO contains mercury and other toxins". -CLO is tested for toxins and all processing methods used today remove these toxins.
- "Fish Oil is better for you than CLO." -Most fish oils come from farm-raised fish that have been processed with heavy chemicals and solvents and at high temperatures. Most have low amounts of vitamin A and D and their beneficial fatty acids are often degraded by the processing methods used.
I will not cover the recommended dosages here but instead refer the reader to the additional CLO information found at The Weston A. Price Foundation.
You may be surprised at the cost of genuinely good cod liver oil, but with it, you will not want to be taking additional vitamins/herbs containing vitamins A or D. You may find that you are taking less ibuprofen or acetaminophen and other aids for stiff or hurting joints. ...And you may actually find you get sick a lot less.
That's all money saved. In the end, you may not only 'even-out', you may just find yourself far ahead.
All information supplied by Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, and The Weston A. Price Foundation.
*Docosahexaenoic acid, an essential fatty acid, important for infant development, particularly eyes and brain. DHA is present in breast milk. It is an omega-3, naturally polyunsaturated, 22-carbon fatty acid.