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Cod Liver Oil History: How This Supplement has been Used Over the Years

Several centuries ago, fishing communities began using cod liver oil in Greenland, Norway, Iceland, and Scotland. In these communities, the people were exposed to rigorous cold temperatures, and they found that a great way to protect their health was by supplementing their diets with cod liver oil.

This oil was made through a long fermenting process– the fishermen would throw the livers of the cod into a large wooden barrel, add seawater, and allow the mixture to ferment over time. This natural fermentation process could take as long as a year, and the communities continued to use fermented cod liver oil on a regular basis because of the health benefits that they experienced from the oil.

Malnourishment and Rickets

Historically, information about rickets has been recorded as early as the 17th century, and some historians even suspect that rickets was present as early as the 1st or 2nd centuries– because some ancient medical writings talk about bone deformities and other symptoms similar to rickets. Even though this health condition had not been identified for many years, no one understood a proper treatment plan, because they didn’t know the cause of the problems. Cod Liver Oil is good for a healthy heart.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the United States was experiencing an epidemic of malnutrition. The poor children in the industrialized cities of the US were prone to rickets, which we now know as a health condition caused by malnutrition (specifically a vitamin D deficiency) that weakens and softens the bones. It is estimated that as many as 9 out of 10 children during that time had rickets, and society was not aware of a solution to improve the children’s health.

The early 1900′s was a time when researchers began suspecting that a nutritional deficiency may be the cause of weakened bones. Multiple researchers recorded various studies that found a link between diet and bone health, and eventually, it was discovered that improving nutritional levels could reduce the risk of rickets and strengthen the bones. Some of these research studies even began to look at the levels of sunlight exposure, and how they affected the risk of rickets.

By the 1930′s, it was discovered that rickets was a direct result of a lack of vitamin D, and this vitamin could be obtained by increasing sunlight exposure and/or improving nutrient intake. Cod liver oil began to be an option for rickets treatment because it was an excellent source of vitamin D, which made cod liver oil a treatment method of choice to help children with rickets.

This discovery allowed the nation to nearly eradicate rickets at the time. Today, there are rare cases of rickets, mostly in young children that are brought to the United States from underdeveloped countries. Because we have a better understanding of the treatment method, it is much easier to prevent rickets and treat this condition if it does occur.

Research relating to cod liver oil continued over the years, and in the 1950′s it was found that the essential fatty acids in cod liver oil could be used for a variety of health conditions. Researchers looked at Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and also some of the other nutrients in cod liver oil.

They found that using cod liver oil on a regular basis could supply the body with higher levels of these essential fatty acids, which in turn could help with numerous health conditions. The benefits of other nutrients were also researched, and it was discovered that nutrients such as vitamin A and vitamin D could be very beneficial for a number of health conditions, and high levels of these vitamins were available in cod liver oil

Changes in Cod Liver Oil Production

Cod liver oil has been sold throughout the world, and it is most popular as a nutritional supplement in Europe– although the popularity of this supplement is increasing in the United States as well.

Because the oil became so popular, manufacturers looked for faster and more economical ways to produce the oil. The year-long fermentation process took too long, and they wanted a product that could be produced fast. Manufacturing plants began creating cod liver oil by processing the cod liver through heat and refining methods, which decreased the costs of production and made it more available.

But, there were problems with these new production methods because of the fact that the heating and processing were negatively impacting the nutrients within the oil. When the cod liver was heated at such a high level, some of the most beneficial nutrients such as vitamin D were stripped from the oil… and the manufacturers made up for the differences by adding in synthetic vitamin D.

This refined oil continues to be sold all around the world, but the health benefits of refined cod liver oil are minimal compared to the health benefits of fermented cod liver oil. In fact, refined cod liver oil can actually cause additional health problems of vitamin toxicity, because synthetic vitamins have lower bioavailability which makes it harder for the body to absorb the nutrients. Also, the refining process reduces the number of micronutrients that are available, and the thousands of micronutrients in fermented cod liver oil are very beneficial to contributing to the health benefits that can be experienced from the oil.

Even though there are many brands that sell refined cod liver oil now, there are also a select few products that still contain all of the nutrition benefits that were available in the original cod liver oil that the fishermen used hundreds of years ago. Some companies still utilize the fermentation process to produce cod liver oil in order to maintain the highest level of nutrition.

Modern Cod Liver Oil Usage

The use of this supplement is increasing as more people are beginning to understand the numerous health benefits of fermented cod liver oil. Now, some people use the oil simply as an everyday health boost– they don’t necessarily have any specific symptoms in mind that they are trying to treat.

Other people turn to natural remedies such as cod liver oil because they want a solution to decrease specific health conditions that they are experiencing. Medical professionals who focus on natural, alternative remedies suggest using cod liver oil for health conditions such: as rheumatism, arthritis, heart disease, circulatory problems, depression treatments, brain development in children, autism treatments, and many other things.

The advantage to using cod liver oil is that it can be beneficial for the specific health condition that is being treated, and there are often other positive health benefits that are experienced as well. It is common for a person to notice an increase in energy, improvement in mood, and an overall feeling of health and well-being.

If you want to experience the maximum benefits of cod liver oil, then it is essential that you only buy fermented cod liver oil and avoid the oil that has gone through the refining process. These quality oils only need to be used in small doses, but the nutritional benefits are extensive and many people experience positive health benefits when they are using the oil on a daily basis.


Cod Liver Oil,

Vitamin D, Cod-Liver Oil, Sunlight, and Rickets: A Historical Perspective, Pediatrics Digest