Before there was krill oil, or shark oil or coconut oil there was cod liver oil. Cod liver oil is one of the few things from your great-grandparents time (1) that has navigated the winds of societal change and remained relevant. Today it’s valued for being a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids and for enabling a slew of potential health benefits.
Those include reducing the risk of heart disease, enhancing eye health, alleviating some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and reducing the aches and pains associated with inflammation.
Below we’ve brought together the 10 best cod liver oil supplements on the market today for your consideration.
1. Dropi Pure Icelandic Cod Liver Oil
Dropi makes much of the fact that their cod liver oil is cold processed: i.e. “virgin”. And they should. Cold processing occupies a middle ground between the high-heat, high-pressure processing of most commercial cod liver oil and fermentation, which retains the oil’s purity but shortens its shelf life.
Dropi virgin cod liver oil is derived from North Atlantic cod caught fresh off the coast of Iceland and is free of the supplemental vitamins A and D you’ll find in heat processed fish oils. The company goes to great lengths to ensure the integrity of the final product, even using a special dark brown glass to protect it from harmful sunlight. This is also liquid cod liver oil. So don’t expect to open the bottle and find gelcaps. This is a straight-up, old school, highly pure supplement that’s going to cost you a few extra bucks but is worth the stretch.
2. Carlson Cod Liver Oil
The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are at the heart of what makes cod liver oil such a resilient and important health supplement (2). Carlson understands that and provides an impressive 500 mg of DHA and 400 mg of EPA in every teaspoon. That makes it one of the most potent cod liver oil supplements on the market.
In fact 1/4 of the entire content of each bottle of this cod liver oil is omega-3 fatty acids. That’s the kind of potency we like to see in our supplements. Carlson Cod Liver Oil is free of all genetically modified organisms and is imbued with an agreeable lemony flavor that removes the chore aspect from the ritual of taking your cod liver oil. Another strong selling point here is that the 500 ml bottle provides 100 doses.
3. Solgar Norwegian Cod Liver Oil
Solgar is another company dedicated to producing a highly pure form of cod liver oil. They use a multistage distillation process that is said to remove nearly every last trace of contaminants. Once thus distilled it’s loaded into gelcaps that are free of gluten, dairy, wheat, sugar and sodium and sealed up without any flavors, preservatives or sweeteners being added.
One thing that is added after the fact however, are the vitamins A and D. This is done presumably because the distillation process removes some of the naturally occurring A and D in the cod liver oil. That said, the quality of the oil here is undoubtedly high. And while the amounts of DHA and EPA present aren’t going to break any records you can always take another capsule if you feel you’re not getting enough.
4. Garden of Life Olde World Icelandic Cod Liver Oil
Garden of Life is a well-regarded producer of dietary supplements with a reputation for purity and affordability. Their Olde World Icelandic Cod Liver Oil is yet anther example of why the company winds up on so many “best of” lists. Each teaspoon of their cod liver oil provides 594 mg of EPA and 447 mg of DHA on average, along with plenty of vitamin A and D to help facilitate the anti-inflammatory properties of the omega-3s.
Garden of Life also displays a welcome awareness of the taste issues surrounding cod liver oil and provide theirs with a natural lemon and peppermint essence that makes the medicine go down that much easier.
5. Carlyle Norwegian Cod Liver Oil
Carlyle Norwegian Cod Liver Oil is rich in crucial omega-3 fatty acids that enhance cardiovascular health and bolster your immune system. It’s sourced from Norwegian cod that occupy the icy waters of the Artic Ocean and distilled to a high level of purity.
Each teaspoon provides 320 mg of EPA fatty acids and 410 mg of DHA along with above-average amounts of vitamins A and D. Although the fish are caught in the icy cold waters off of Norway the oil is processed in an FDA certified facility in the US. So you can be certain it is subjected to stringent quality control protocols.
6. Nordic Naturals Arctic Cod Liver Oil
If you’re picking up on a bit of a Nordic theme in this list that’s because most cod liver oil is sourced from Atlantic cod which inhabit the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic. As opposed to their smaller cousins in the Pacific Ocean. Nordic Naturals sources their cod liver oil from wild cod caught off the Scandinavian coast.
It’s then processed in Norway and shipped to the US for bottling and distribution. There are no artificial ingredients here. No gluten or GMOs. Although there is a light orange flavor added to counteract the naturally unpleasant taste of the oil. The company prides itself on their sustainable fishing practices and that’s certainly to be commended. The real star of this show however, is the 1,060 mg of omega-3 fatty acids in every teaspoon of this cod liver oil.
7. Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil leans on the fermentation process to preserve the natural vitamin A and D levels in the oil and prevent the denaturing of the omega-3 fatty acids. This means that, unlike most cod liver oils, they don’t have to add artificial A and D after the fact and that the fatty acids have a higher level of bio-availability.
There are a couple of potential downsides to fermentation however. One is that the product doesn’t have nearly the shelf life of non-fermented cod liver oils. So be sure to always check the expiration date on the bottle. And the second is that the fishy aftertaste of fermented cod liver oil is often more intense than it is with non-fermented alternatives.
8. Barlean’s Organic Cod Liver Oil
Barlean’s Organic Cod Liver Oil comes in old fashioned liquid form. Each teaspoon of Barlean’s delivers an impressive 360 mg of EPA and 540 mg of DHA which ensures you always have an optimal amount of these beneficial fatty acids circulating in your system, safeguarding you against inflammation and host of other potential health issues. Barlean’s Cod Liver Oil is subjected to rigorous 3rd party testing for both potency and purity, which is what we want to see.
The high level of purity however, means its shelf life is limited to about 6 months. One thing you won’t have to worry about is a foul fishy aftertaste since Barlean infuses their oil with a surprisingly pleasant lemonade flavor.
9. Athelas Cod Liver Oil Capsules
Athelas produces a highly pure cod liver oil that is virtually free of the fishy aftertaste that plagues lesser competitors. Athelas Cod Liver Oil is meticulously distilled to reduce the presence of harmful toxins to undetectable levels and is completely free of flavor or color additives. Each capsule contains 110 mg of EPA along with 100 mg of DHA.
Together these omega-3 fatty acids work to improve your overall health in a variety of ways both obvious and subtle. With Athelas you only need to take 1 capsule per day to enjoy all the benefits of cod liver oil. And each bottle comes with a 100% money back guarantee if you’re not completely satisfied.
10. NOW Supplements Cod Liver Oil
NOW Supplements squeeks onto the end of our list for a couple of reasons. First, because their gelcaps are an important alternative to liquid cod liver oil and it’s often challenging taste and texture. And second, because they routinely produce high-quality, affordable supplements and their cod liver oil gelcaps are no exception. Each bottle contains 250 capsules.
They recommend you take 1 with each meal to enjoy maximum benefits. And given the rather modest omega-3 load in each that’s probably a good idea. NOW Cod Liver Oil capsules are produced in the US in a Good Manufacturing Practices facility to rigorous FDA standards and are free of GMOs, artificial additives, parabens, pesticides and MSG.
What is Cod Liver Oil?
Cod liver oil is gleaned from the liver of the cod fish. Your forebears likely took small amounts of cod liver oil to deal with their arthritis symptoms without knowing too much about the chemical compounds at the heart of the product. Today, however, we have a much clearer picture of what cod liver oil is composed of as well as the various mechanisms that enable it to produce the benefits it does. Cod liver oil gets high marks today primarily for being a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. These compounds, most notably EPA and DHA, are known to regulate cell activity and are instrumental in maintaining healthy cardiovascular function.
What are the Benefits of Cod Liver Oil?
Cod liver oil has a long history of providing relief for a variety of maladies. It’s also highly nutritious, with a single teaspoon providing virtually all of your daily requirement of vitamins A and D. Some of its many other benefits include:
- Relief from inflammation – Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response. But chronic inflammation can be a debilitating experience that’s both painful and limiting and which may increase a person’s risk for heart disease and other ailments (3). The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil can help reduce inflammation. They’re aided in their task by the aforementioned vitamins A and D, which are powerful antioxidants that counteract inflammation by neutralizing free radicals.
- Enhanced bone health – Most people begin to suffer loss of bone mass after they reach 30. Increasingly weak bones lead to an ever greater risk for debilitating fractures later in life. This is especially true for post-menopausal women. Cod liver oil is rich in vitamin D which is known to counteract the phenomenon of bone loss (4) by aiding in calcium absorption. Calcium is, after all, essential to building and maintaining health bones. So by getting plenty of vitamin D you’re enabling the calcium in your diet to work more effectively which promotes healthier, more durable bones.
- Enhanced eye health – People suspected that taking cod liver oil was good for their eyes long before there was clinical proof to support the notion. Today, however, the clinical proof is abundant and centers on the anti-inflammatory properties of the omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D in cod liver oil. Since chronic inflammation is now known to play a huge role in the development of age-related macular degeneration (5) regular doses of cod liver oil can help counteract that inflammation and reduce the risk of developing the condition. In addition, research has also found a link between consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and a reduced risk of developing glaucoma (6). So take your cod liver oil and enjoy better long-term eye health.
- Reduced pain from rheumatoid arthritis – With rheumatoid arthritis the body’s immune system inexplicably begins to attack healthy tissue in the joints. Over time damage to the joints becomes progressively worse and the pain associated with swollen joints and bone on bone contact can become excruciating. Research now suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil can actually work to reduce both pain and swelling in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (7) and can be used as a substitute for traditional NSAIDs by people who are sensitive to the effects of those medications.
- Reduced risk of heart disease – Heart disease claims the lives of nearly 18 million people worldwide every year. However, recent studies have shown that regular consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids contained in cod liver oil can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease (8). It is believed they do this by helping to lower blood pressure, reduce triglyceride levels in the blood and stave off the production of plaque in the arteries.
- Reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression – While research into the matter is still in its preliminary stages there are indications that inflammation may be a contributing factor to both anxiety and depression (9). Since the omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and D in cod liver oil are known to help alleviate inflammation it follows that taking cod liver oil capsules on a regular basis may indeed help reduce the symptoms of these enervating conditions.
- Enhanced gut health – In a somewhat surprising finding researchers discovered that cod liver oil helped heal gastric ulcers in laboratory rats (10). The big news in ulcer treatment broke in 1982 when it was revealed that most ulcers are caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics. However, some folks suffer serious side effects from antibiotics and 1 in 15 are allergic to them. As such the news that cod liver oil can potentially be used to treat gastric ulcers is very welcome news to many people who had been left behind by the 1982 breakthrough.
What Should I Look for When Buying Cod Liver Oil?
There are a number of things to consider when buying cod liver oil. In a nutshell those considerations can be reduced to the following:
Liquid or Softgels? – Cod liver oil typically comes in one of these two forms.
- Liquid – Liquid cod liver oil comes in a bottle and is typically taken by the teaspoonful or mixed with juice or other consumables. Liquid cod liver oil can be a good choice for those who have difficulty swallowing pills. In addition, the liquid form of the oil often tends to be a big higher in vitamins A and D. Be mindful though that some liquid cod liver oil needs to be refrigerated after being opened.
- Softgel capsules – Liquid cod liver oil was the only game in town for centuries, since the Vikings first began to consume it as a health supplement more than 1,000 years ago. But over the past couple of decades the development of the softgel has changed that. Softgels are typically less expensive, easier to store and provide precise dosages every time.
Added Flavors – To say that raw cod liver oil doesn’t taste very good is like saying that the smell of a garbage dump in the summer can be a bit unpleasant. Cod liver oil has always been tough on the taste buds so if you have an aversion to bad taste you should consider buying a cod liver oil product that has had its flavor enhanced. Orange, lemon and mint are common flavorings added to cod liver oil to make it more palatable.
Source – There is a lively debate over whether the cod from which cod liver oil is sourced needs to be caught in the wild or can be raised in a fish farm environment. Some argue that wild caught fish are actually less safe than those raised in captivity because they’re more likely to be exposed to toxins such as mercury in the ocean. Others however, dispute this notion. At the end of the day it’s up to you.
When Should I Take Cod Liver Oil?
There is no particular time of the day that is necessarily better than any other for taking cod liver oil. The omega-3 fatty acids are fairly slow acting and so taking it right before or right after a meal isn’t likely to make any difference when it comes to efficacy. Also, cod liver oil will stay in your system for several days. So your goal should be to attain a consistent level in your bloodstream. And you do that by taking it at the same time every day. But exactly what time that is is entirely up to you.
What are the Side Effects of Taking Cod Liver Oil?
For the most part there are no serious negative health concerns associated with taking cod liver oil. The fatty acids themselves are known to be very safe and virtually side effect free when taken as directed. A small percentage of people are known to be allergic to fish, however, and they may experience:
- Red, swollen skin
- Peeling or blistered skin
- Tightness in the chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the face
- Swelling of the tongue, lips or throat
Keep in mind that these are symptoms of a fish allergy and are not a direct side effect of taking cod liver oil. That aside, you may want to exercise caution when it comes to how much cod liver oil you take simply because excessive amounts of vitamin A may cause its own side effects (11), including:
- Hair loss
- Blurred vision
- Loss of appetite
It must be stressed however, that you would need to consume many, many times the normal recommended amount of cod liver oil in order to experience symptoms of vitamin A toxicity.
The Bottom Line
Cod liver oil has to be considered one of the original health supplements. And even today, more than 1,000 years after the Vikings pioneered its use, cod liver oil is still providing a wide range of benefits for the health conscious. Whether you take it in liquid or capsule form it’s the kind of no-nonsense supplement that gives old school medicine a good name here in the new school of the 21st century.