A hundred years ago, it was said that a good mother always sends her children to bed at night with a spoonful of cod liver oil. Below, a late 19th century ad touts the benefits of Scott’s Emulsion of Pure Norwegian Cod Liver Oil:
“It restores the flagging energies, increases the resisting powers against disease; cures Consumption, Scrofula, General Debility, and all Anemic and Wasting Diseases (especially in Children), keeps coughs and colds out, and so enables the constitution to hold the fort of health.”[i]
While we don’t hear much about cod liver oil today (though it’s still available), we have been bombarded with advertising about our need for omega-3 fatty acids—those particularly found in fish oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for health and a variety of body functions including: controlling blood clotting, building cell membranes in the brain, and a variety of other potential benefits.[ii] Of the omega-3’s, the two we’re most concerned with are: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).[iii]
DHA and EPA are two primary fatty acids found in the “fatty” fishes, krill, calamari, green-lipped mussel, and marine algae. Other non-marine sources of DHA and EPA include: flaxseed oil, canola oil, soy oil, and walnut oil. But the body can only convert a limited amount of those oils to DHA and EPA.[iv]
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Prevention against heart attack and stroke:
Although once thought to aid in the prevention of heart disease and stroke, numerous studies have produced little evidence of this. However, DHA and EPA do offer some results that can improve the health of our heart. Reducing blood pressure, thinning the blood and lowering triglycerides are three of those benefits.[v]
But to date, there is no evidence that taking fish oil supplements will reduce the chance of heart attack or stroke. In fact, there may be more benefit from eating two or more portions of fish per week than taking a fish oil supplement when it comes to living heart-healthy.[vi]
Prevention and relief of arthritis and other inflammatory diseases:
Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids is known to reduce some forms of inflammation.[vii]
Prevention and treatment for cancer:
Some evidence links DHA and EPA with reducing the risk of colon, rectum and breast cancers. However, greater amounts of these omega-3 fatty acids have possibly been associated with an increase in prostate cancer. But the jury is still out on this one. The good news is that fish oil may help prevent weight loss during chemotherapy treatments of cancer patients.[viii]
Prevention of eye disease:
Higher intake of DHA and EPA has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of age-related eye disease and age-related macular degeneration.[ix]
Relief of psychiatric, mental disorders and depression:
For reasons yet to be discovered, fish oil appears to offer some relief to people with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety.[x]
Due to the need for DHA for normal development of the brain and retina in babies, pregnant mothers and infants may benefit from fish oil.[xi]
Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease:
One study has demonstrated that daily consumption of a fish oil supplement significantly reduced the severity of acne among men and women from 18 to 33 years old.[xiii]
Sources and Dosages of Fish Oil
Fish oil is available in three basic forms: softgel capsule, liquid, or “on the fin.” Additionally, enteric-coated softgels are designed to pass through the stomach undigested to alleviate the burping of fish flavor. Primary concerns when choosing a good omega-3 supplement are: the concentrations of DHA and EPA, the quality of the product, cost, and possibly the size of the softgel.[xiv]
The concentrations of DHA and EPA vary greatly among the various brands available. There is no official FDA recommended dosage, but generally between 300 and 500 mg of combined DHA and EPA taken daily should suffice.[xv]
As for the quality of the produce, Consumer Labs has done this work for us, so I would recommend that you check out their review of 30 different brands.
Whether in softgel form or liquid from a bottle, cost can also vary from one cent to 24 cents per serving depending on the source and other factors. Softgels come in a variety of sizes from ½ inch long to over an inch, so if you have trouble swallowing large pills this may be an important factor for you.[xvi]
If you prefer consuming your DHA and EPA “on the fin,” you can do so eating just two servings of 3 oz. of “fatty” fish per week. Those “fatty” fish include:
Be aware of where your fish is coming from. For instance, farmed salmon may contain greater amounts of PCBs than wild salmon. Also, albacore tuna and fresh water fish may contain enough mercury that you shouldn’t eat more than six ounces per week.[xvii]
Finally, what 19th century mothers did not know is that cod liver oil and other fish liver oils contain high amounts of vitamins A and D. Those vitamins can be toxic, so you’ll want to know how much of those vitamins you are getting.
Ad for Scott’s Emulsion around 1884[i]
By: Joe Barton
Joe is the founder of Barton Publishing, Inc., a leading natural health company specializing in publishing cutting edge reports that show people how to cure and treat themselves using safe, natural, and proven remedies. He is also a contributing writer, helping thousands of people who suffer from acid reflux, diabetes, high blood pressure, gout, and 20+ other disease and ailments enjoy healthier lives.
[i] Diane Wendt, Chemical Heritage Foundation, “The Man with a Fish on His Back: Science, Romance, and Repugnance in the Selling of Cod-Liver Oil,” http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/media/magazine/articles/28-1-the-man-with-a-fish-on-his-back.aspx?page=2.
[i] Nutrivize, “Synthetic VS. Natural Vitamins: We Have No Idea What’s Better,” 2012, http://nutrivize.com/blog/general-health/synthetic-vs-natural-vitamins-we-have-no-idea-whats-better/.
[ii]Dr. Frank Sacks, Harvard School of Public Health, “Ask the Expert: Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3/.
[iii] Consumer Lab.Com, “Product Review: Fish Oil and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements Review (Including Krill, Algae, Calamari, and Green-lipped Mussel Oil), 2014, https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/fish_oil_supplements_review/omega3/.
[iv] Consumer Lab.Com.
[v] Consumer Lab.Com.
[vi] Consumer Lab.Com.
[vii] Consumer Lab.Com.
[viii] Consumer Lab.Com.
[ix] Consumer Lab.Com.
[x] Consumer Lab.Com.
[xi] Consumer Lab.Com.
[xii] Consumer Lab.Com.
[xiii] Consumer Lab.Com.
[xiv] Consumer Lab.Com.
[xv] Consumer Lab.Com.
[xvi] Consumer Lab.Com.
[xvii] Consumer Lab.Com.
[xviii] Diane Wendt, Chemical Heritage Foundation, “The Man with a Fish on His Back: Science, Romance, and Repugnance in the Selling of Cod-Liver Oil,” http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/media/magazine/articles/28-1-the-man-with-a-fish-on-his-back.aspx?page=2.