Many of us have heard of cod liver oil, perhaps through a story of childhood woes related by our grandparents or great-grandparents that went something like: “Every day my mother would make me take a spoonful of cod liver oil before I walked the five miles through the snow to school.” What this story doesn’t tell you is how lucky they were to have been given this historical super food. Yes, cod liver oil has been around for a long time.
You could even say it is the stuff of legends or, rather, the stuff legends were built on. The Roman soldiers were known to take fermented cod liver oil, Garum, on their marches across Europe. In the same vein, every Viking family had a barrel of cod livers fermenting by their front door and would take a spoonful of the oil upon leaving the house every day because they recognized its contribution to their vitality.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that the benefits of cod liver oil became better understood. Doctors in the 1920s recommended feeding children cod liver oil in order to prevent rickets (a crippling affliction caused by vitamin D deficiency, most notably endured by President Franklin D. Roosevelt). Studies have shown this nutrient-dense food (it is really more of a food, though we take it supplementarily) to contain high concentrations of naturally occurring vitamin A and D. DHA and EPA, two essential fatty acids particularly important for brain health and hormone production, respectively, are also found in cod liver oil. The importance and inherent practicality of consuming a food like this as a supplement is in the synergism of the components. Since vitamins A and D are fat-soluble, our bodies require fat to absorb them. The natural fatty acids in the cod liver oil act as the liaison for the absorption of A and D in your body, much as they did for the cod.
Although there has been some research indicating the possible toxicity of vitamin D and A that can occur from consuming large quantities, many cases are attributable to supplements created from synthesized A and D. This basically means the vitamins are not quite usable by the body (take D2, for example) and require your body to convert the supplement to a more usable form. Taking a supplement that requires your body to do more work seems counterproductive when there are nutrient-dense foods and supplements that can give you what you need without the extra bodily hassle. In addition, the unconverted portion of the synthetic supplement has nowhere to go but to build up in your body fat and create toxic concentrations that will lead to other problems.
As to the benefits of a daily dose of fermented cod liver oil, there are many. Research has shown that daily consumption of cod liver oil in northerly latitudes (particularly in the winter time when sun exposure is reduced) can improve vitamin D levels (thereby attenuating the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that plagues so many of us), as well as increase bone density. A study in the Journal of Neurology looking at people living in the Arctic, found that supplemental cod liver oil taken during childhood may be protective against developing Multiple Sclerosis later in life. In addition, breastfeeding mothers taking cod liver oil show significantly higher levels of DHA and EPA in their breast milk. These higher levels have been shown to greatly benefit the developing fetus and baby. In “a double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed the use of cod liver oil during pregnancy and lactation to increase the child’s IQ at the age of four years. In this study, the control received the same amount of fat-soluble vitamins as the cod liver oil group, so the effects are most likely due to the DHA. In Norway, use of cod liver oil during pregnancy was associated with a 70 percent reduced risk of type 1 diabetes.”
I am an avid believer in the benefits of fermented cod liver oil because I have been using it myself over the last few years. At the beginning, I was not consistent, and although I suspected some benefits, I couldn’t be precise about what they were. During the summer, when I am outside more often, I take less simply because I feel that I get enough sun exposure and do not want to over-do my vitamin D levels that are already being accommodated by the sun and my skin. When the days get shorter and I am more bundled up during the cooler months of the year, I increase my intake, and make sure I am consistent. This Fall and Winter were the first that I have been consistent with my daily dose, and it is also the first year that SAD has not knocked on my door.
As a nutritionist, I believe that eating real foods, prepared using time-tested traditional methods is the only way to eat for vital health and well-being. In my ideology, fermented cod liver oil is an important part of building vital health, particularly for people who do not live in tropic zones of the world, where sunlight exposure is high. My preferred brand is Green Pasture because of the high quality of the livers (only wild caught fish livers from fish caught in clean Arctic waters are used), the high quality processing of the oil (using traditional fermentation methods), and the efforts in sustainability the company employs (they only work with companies that are certified members of the Marine Stewardship Council)
Luckily, this product is available at Rebecca’s, and costs less than ordering it online from Green Pastures or Dr. Ron’s. But, no matter how you get it, I highly recommend you do and start your daily dose of what your great-grandmother always knew was best!
Caitlin Howell, MS (Human Nutrition)
Assistant Grocery Manager
Rebecca’s Natural Food, Charlottesville VA
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Regarding that “Stanford Study”, the good people at Austin’s Sustainable Food Center writes to say..
On September 3, 2012 the New York Times published an article about a Stanford University study that allegedly dispels the nutritional advantages of organic food. The response from the sustainable agriculture community regarding this study has been tremendous. Below we have provided links to articles we feel provide the best response to the claims made by this study.
Internal Documents Reveal USDA Dietary Guidelines Panel Dominated by a Profession Under Fire
Washington, DC–December 15, 2011–Under pressure from the Healthy Nation Coalition, the USDA recently revealed the identities of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines “Independent Scientific Review Panel,” which is credited with peer-reviewing the Guidelines to ensure they are based on the preponderance of the scientific evidence available. Seven out of the eight panel members are Registered Dietitians (RDs), chosen according to the USDA, “for their knowledge in nutrition communication and dietary guidance.”
At the same time, RDs across America are reeling from the news that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will not reimburse them to provide intensive behavioral counseling for obesity. While the Federal government appears to be relying on RDs as experts in the midst of America’s obesity crisis, it doesn’t want to pay them to help people lose weight. This news comes as the American Dietetic Association (ADA)—the professional organization for RDs—is under scrutiny for its ties to food and pharmaceutical industries.
“An ongoing investigation by Congress recently revealed that the ADA receives over $1 million a year in payments from pharmaceutical companies and an undisclosed amount from companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Hershey. In addition to receiving payments from industries with obvious conflicts of interest, earlier this year the Alliance for Natural Health-USA revealed that ADA’s continuing education courses for RDs are being taught by the Coca-Cola Company’s Beverage Institute,” stated Darrell Rogers from Alliance for Natural Health-USA. RDs have voiced their dissatisfaction with the ADA’s corporate ties, with members indicating that the ADA’s relationship with corporate sponsors has a negative impact on the public image of RDs and undermines the credibility of the profession.
Credibility has been further undermined by the lack of evidence that the methods RDs use to treat obesity are effective. The ADA’s own Evidence Analysis Library contains few studies that demonstrate that dietitian-led dietary interventions result in meaningful weight loss.
As a result, many insurance companies, and now CMS, do not reimburse RDs for its treatment. Tennessee’s state insurance doesn’t cover seeing a dietitian for weight loss. Why? “There’s really no evidence to support the fact that providing those services would result in a decrease in medical cost, certainly not immediately, and even in the longer term,” according to Dr. Wendy Long, chief medical officer of TennCare.
This lack of evidence may be due in part to the limited scope of dietetic education and practice. The ADA relies on the USDA as a scientific authority and follows its lead in most matters of nutrition, limiting the training of RDs to USDA-approved diet recommendations.
Valerie Berkowitz, RD, Director of Nutrition at the Center for Balanced Health and author of the award-winning nutrition guide “The Stubborn Fat Fix” states: “Registered Dietitians lack education and practice in manipulating macronutrients [protein, fat, and carbohydrate] to switch fuel sources from carbohydrate to fat burning. It is unfortunate that educators do not acknowledge the therapeutic value of lower carbohydrate consumption at least as an additional tool to increase the success of medical nutrition therapy for obesity prevention and treatment.”
The ADA not only limits the training of RDs, it is sponsoring legislation in New York and multiple other states that would essentially restrict the practice of nutrition to RDs, and outlaw highly-qualified non-RD nutrition professionals from practicing. If successful, this would restrict consumer choice of nutrition professionals to those trained to follow USDA recommendations.
Given the ADA’s close ties with the food and drug industry and the lack of effectiveness for USDA-approved dietitian-led interventions for obesity, the public should be concerned about the dominant role that RDs and other ADA members played in the creation of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. In addition to the Independent Scientific Review Panel being comprised primarily of RDs, ADA members were also one-third of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the group of experts that creates the Report that guides the writing of the Dietary Guidelines. The majority of the USDA and HHS staff members who worked with the Committee or on the Dietary Guidelines are also RDs.
According to Adele Hite, Director of the Healthy Nation Coalition and lead author of a 2010 peer-reviewed article examining the limitations of the Dietary Guideline process, “The ADA is an industry-friendly organization. The USDA appears to rely on the dietetics focus of ADA-trained Registered Dietitians to confirm their own industry-friendly guidelines. The self-supporting relationship between the ADA and the USDA does not benefit either the credibility of RDs or the health of Americans.”
The Healthy Nation Coalition is an organization dedicated to improving the health of Americans through reforming national food and nutrition policy and does not solicit or accept contributions from the food or pharmaceutical industry.
Media Contact: Kimberly Hartke, Publicist
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The Standard American Diet (SAD for short) has been linked to the explosion of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and even some forms of cancer. At the same time, many Americans are lacking in numerous critical nutrients including Vitamin D, Omega-3 and a wide range of minerals.
Heavily-processed foods are full of chemicals, salt, sugar and unhealthy fats and lacking in wholesome nourishment. We are slowly starving even as we become fatter. And more sick.
Recently, Michael Pollan (Food, Inc., Omnivore’s Dilemma) appeared on Oprah and discussed many of these same issues. We think that’s a fine place to start.
Please join with us in encouraging Oprah to continue the dialogue and effect real change. Be part of the Real Food Revolution!