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What Is the Difference Between Cod Liver and Fish Oils?

Cod liver oil and fish oils are both rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, cod liver oil offers vitamins A, D and E.
What Is the Difference Between Cod Liver and Fish Oils?
Omega 3 fish oil capsules

Have you ever wondered about the difference between various fish oils? Some readers have asked about krill oil, which is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Recently, a reader asked about cod liver oil, a very old-fashioned remedy.

How Does Cod Liver Oil Differ from Other Omega-3 Supplements?

Q. How is cod liver oil different from omega-3 fish oil supplements? I find the omega supplements are good for my skin and hair. Sometimes I notice a fishy smell, though. You can find cod liver oil in pill form, so you can avoid the horrible taste cod liver oil is famous for.

A. Fish oil is isolated from the tissues of oily fish such as mackerel, tuna, or herring. Not surprisingly, cod liver oil is extracted from the livers of cod fish. It does contain omega-3 fats just as other fish oils do. Now doctors can prescribe purified omega-3 fatty acids such as Vascepa that have been shown to improve cardiovascular health (Methodist DeBakey Cardiovascular Journal, Jul-Sep. 2019). One particular omega-3 fat, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), can lower triglycerides and dampen blood vessel inflammation (Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, May 2020). 

One of the big differences between cod liver oil and other fish oil supplements are the other nutrients it contains. Cod liver oil is rich in vitamins A, D and E. As a result, some people consuming cod liver oil might even exceed their recommended daily requirements (Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, Dec. 2015).

What Are the Dangers of Too Much Cod Liver Oil?

If a pregnant woman takes in too much vitamin A, it could increase the risk for birth defects. Too much vitamin A can also lead to liver damage, especially in children. Older people getting too much vitamin A may end up with weaker bones. Consequently, if you take cod liver oil, don’t exceed the recommended dose.

Learn More:

Would you like to know how much vitamin A or D you should be getting? Do you know what foods contain these vitamins? You can learn much more about vitamin and mineral supplements from Dr. Tieraona Low Dog’s informative book, Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More. Your local public library may have a copy. We also sell the paperback edition here in our online store.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Kris-Etherton PM et al, "Recent clinical trials shed new light on the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fatty acids." Methodist DeBakey Cardiovascular Journal, Jul-Sep. 2019. DOI: 10.14797/mdcj-15-3-171
  • Mason RP et al, "Emerging mechanisms of cardiovascular protection for the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid." Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, May 2020. DOI: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.119.313286
  • Lentjes MAH et al, "Contribution of cod liver oil-related nutrients (vitamins A, D, E and eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) to daily nutrient intake and their associations with plasma concentrations in the EPIC-Norfolk cohort." Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, Dec. 2015. DOI: 10.1111/jhn.12271
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