While many believe the practice of nutritional supplementation to be a strictly contemporary phenomenon, this is actually far from the truth. Cod liver oil, for instance, has been advocated for its bone-building and joint-feeding effects for more than a hundred years, and some of us may even remember being plied with a daily spoonful of this stuff when we were young. However, cod liver oil’s popularity has waned of late, largely as the result of the stiff competition it has faced from a growing number of pills and potions that cram the shelves of health food stores and pharmacies. It seems that cod liver oil’s reputation as a stalwart supplement has been somewhat diluted by the wash of natural remedies that vie for our patronage and pound.
Despite its sinking standing in the natural remedy ranks, I believe there is much about cod liver oil that is worthy of our attention. It’s chief ingredients are the so-called omega-3 fats, specifically docosohexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Within the body, DHA and EPA have the ability to thin the blood, reduce the level of unhealthy blood fats known as triglycerides, raise levels of ‘healthy’ high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and help reduce blood pressure. With such a plethora of beneficial effects on the blood vessels and circulation, it comes as no surprise that studies have linked goodly omega-3 consumption (either from fish or fish oil supplementation) with a reduced risk of both heart disease and stroke.
Another effect the omega-3 oils have is to quell inflammation in the body. Interestingly, there is mounting evidence that inflammation is an important underlying mechanism in heart disease and stroke. There is some thought, therefore, that the natural anti-inflammatory effect of the omega-3 fats play some part in their apparent ability to keep circulatory disease at bay. However, its potential to dampen inflammation means cod liver oil may also offer considerable benefits as an anti-arthritic agent too. In one study, daily cod liver oil supplementation for three months brought about significant reductions in the stiffness and pain caused by the inflammatory joint condition known as rheumatoid arthritis.
There is also evidence cod liver oil may be useful in the treatment of osteoarthritis ” a condition characterised by ‘wear and tear’ in the cartilage that lines and cushions the joints. In addition to its rich catch of omega-3 fats, cod liver oil also offers useful quantities of vitamin D which plays an important role in the health of the bones and joints. Research shows that those individuals with the highest intake of vitamin D have the lowest risk of suffering from degeneration in their joints. Vitamin D has also been linked with some protection from other conditions as well, including cancers of the breast, colon and prostate.
Most of our needs for vitamin D are met by the action of sunlight on our skin. However, as the days shorten and our need to wrap up increases, the opportunity to make sufficient vitamin D from the sun declines. For this reason, cod liver oil makes an ideal supplement for use from the autumn until spring. 2 ” 3 teaspoons (10 ” 15 mls) of cod liver oil each day (perhaps mixed into a little orange juice to disguise the taste) will give useful quantities of health-giving omega-3 and vitamin D. Even in the swelling sea of supplements, I reckon cod liver oil remains a very big fish indeed.