Ask a group of senior citizens about their experience with cod liver oil and you are likely to see them wrinkling their noses at the distasteful memory. People of a certain age were frequently dosed as children with cod liver oil in the winter time.
Going back hundreds of years, mothers in northern climates such as Norway, Sweden and Scotland relied on cod liver oil to keep their families healthy when the weather turned bleak. They may not have understood why this foul-tasting oily liquid seemed to be beneficial, but their powers of observation told them that children given cod liver oil were less susceptible to colds and flu.
Although this practice has fallen out of favor, scientists are now confirming that the old wives might have been on to something. Old-fashioned nasty-tasting cod liver oil contained vitamin D along with vitamin A and omega 3 fatty acids. The vitamin D might have been key against infection.
A study from Sweden just put vitamin D to a stringent test. People with impaired immunity were recruited for a year long trial (BMJ Open, Dec. 13, 2012). These people had spent at least 42 days of the prior year ill with respiratory tract infections, averaging more than four infections a year. The 140 volunteers were randomly assigned to take 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily or a look-alike placebo.
The results were encouraging. The researchers used a score to summarize the number of days sick, symptoms, complications and need for antibiotics. Those getting the vitamin D3 supplement had significantly lower scores on average than those on placebo.
They also needed substantially fewer antibiotics–16 days on antibiotics for those taking vitamin D3 compared to 33 days for the placebo group. Vitamin D3 was also associated with fewer ear infections, sinus infections and overall sick days, as well as secondary infections due to Streptococcus aureus and the fungi Candida and Aspergillus.
The Swedish study subjects were adults, but there have also been studies in children. Japanese investigators conducted a double-blind trial a few years ago in which schoolchildren were given 1200 IU of vitamin D3 or placebo daily for four months (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2010). The scientists were interested in how many of the youngsters came down with influenza A. In this case 10.8 percent of the children getting vitamin D caught the flu, compared to 18.6 percent of those on placebo. The vitamin-treated children also had fewer asthma attacks.
Many health professionals doubt that Americans need vitamin D supplements. But deficiency in this critical nutrient may be more common than they realize. A study of 4495 Americans revealed that more than 40 percent were seriously depleted of vitamin D (Nutrition Research, Jan., 2011).
To learn how to tell if you are low in this important nutrient and how much supplementation is optimal, you may wish to consult our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency. It could offer a path to a healthier winter season.

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  1. CW
    Reply

    I gave it to my oldest, now 28, when she was a little girl, and she was very smart! I remember her smacking her lips, she liked it so much. I take it now for the omega 3’s, but I supplement the vitamin D, as the brand I have is way higher in vitamin A than D proportionately.
    I wonder if overfishing of codfish also led to the decline in people taking cod liver oil. I just read an article today about a possible connection with lack of vitamin D and autism. Vitamin A is very important in both preventing and treating measles, and for protection of the vision during measles, I have read.

  2. pauline
    Reply

    I took it daily as a child during WW11 in England. It was given out by the government.. It was mixed with malt and was almost like a treat, so good. I am 79 now and still very active and flexible.

  3. VJ
    Reply

    I took it as a child in England, and thought it disgusting. Then I got older… A few years ago I started back on it to hopefully slow down or prevent the aches and pains that seem to jump on you as the years go by. This is how I take it, Pour out a small amount of orange juice, get a tablespoon and fill with cod liver oil. Take a mouthful of orange juice and swish around and swallow. Then put the spoon of cod liver oil in your mouth and immediately follow with a mouthful of OJ.. swallow at once and then drink the rest of the OJ.
    I get only a trace taste of the oil that way, plus no aftertaste. It is better than the nasty taste that most cough syrups leave. I do not take the pills as I feel there is not enough in them to do any good.
    I credit the CLO with keeping me flexible and in great health at 72. In a store, I can go into a crouch to read labels on the bottom shelves and then return to standing without using any support whatsoever, I know people in their 20s that can not do that.

  4. cpmt
    Reply

    I think not everyone absorbs vit. D the same way. I was always low in this vit. and always needed some cold liver oil.

  5. cpmt
    Reply

    Castor oil? For what is it good for?

  6. RF
    Reply

    In the early 1940s, my sister and I were given our daily dose of cod liver oil and we both loved it. I never understood why so many people had bad memories of it. I have since learned that it was flavored with peppermint to make it more appealing. The flavoring seemed to do the trick.

  7. JB
    Reply

    I too remember getting cod liver oil when as a child I did not feel well enough to go to school….I still remember the yuk taste after 70 years!

  8. pjd
    Reply

    YUCK! I remember my mom giving us Castor Oil! Just saying the name makes me “yuck”. I am now 69 and how funny that just saying castor oil still makes me want to upchuck. This has to be a psychological unpleasant memory…….

  9. DS
    Reply

    I’d like to hear more. My mother got capsules that I could NOT swallow as a child. They seemed the size of marbles to me at age seven. So my mother stuck a pin in the capsule and squeezed it onto a spoon. Plan B was ever worse! I think she gave up.

  10. Diane
    Reply

    During WWII I was in London, England. Started when I was 3 years old and ended when I was 9 years of age…. since there was shortage of food the Government issued cans of Cold Liver Oil and Malt and it was delicious! It was the Malt that gave it that flavour and the high-light of my day was when my Mum gave me my daily tablespoon…. I drool to this day thinking about it!

  11. Betty
    Reply

    Well, I know it helped me not to skip school. If I didn’t want to go to school I would say to mother in the morning “I don’t feel good” and she said “well, stay in bed then.” It worked once. The second time she said “okay, I will give you a dose of cod liver oil and you can go back to bed.” I went to school, and I never tried that trick again.

  12. elaine f
    Reply

    Now here’s a topic and is near and dear to my heart:
    My Father grew up on a small island in Norway, in the 1930’s and 40’s. Every day in the Winter the teacher in their schoolroom (yes a one room schoolhouse) would have each child drink a tablespoon of cod liver oil. They didn’t know if it prevented polio, but they always took the cod liver oil and the island had no cases of polio. That possible correlation between the two was a good enough reason to not mess with fate and keep the tradition going.
    When my Father told this story, he remarked at how beautiful and radiant the wood floors in that school were. They shone with the oil kids managed to “accidently spill” off their spoons every day!
    When I was growing up in Ohio, you guessed it — each Winter my Dad made me take a tablespoon of cod liver oil. Why mess with tradition? Boy was I mad the day I was in a store and found out that they made cod liver oil in easy-to-swallow tablets!
    Elaine F.

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