Fermented Cod Liver Oil–What’s All The Hype and Is It Really Nasty?!

In my line of work, I see omega 3 fatty acid deficiencies every day. Skin conditions (sunburn, rashes, bumps on the back of the arm, etc.), ADHD, postpartum depression and postpartum brain fog; excessive earwax, the list goes on. The influx of vegetable oils into our food supply over the last few decades has been storming the world with these EFA (essential fatty acid) deficiencies left and right. I am always recommending and sharing the importance of fish/cod liver oil (in addition to eliminating vegetable oil consumption) to both treat and prevent symptoms stemming from this deficiency.

And after reading about fermented cod liver oil, I knew that this supplement would top all other cod liver oil supplements. So I wanted to try it for myself. Now that I have, I want to share with you a few things:

1. Why cod liver oil is necessary and what its benefits are;

2. How fermented cod liver oil is different; and

3. How to take it and how to get kids to take it!

I will do like I always do and strive to make this information as easy-to-understand as possible, so you won’t have to have a science degree to understand it and how it pertains to your health!

Before I continue, I have to cover my disclaimers since conventional allopathic medicine wants to monopolize the health industry:

1. Claims and health benefits contained herein should be used at the readers’ discretion, and

2. Green Pastures was kind enough to supply me with a sample bottle of fermented cod liver oil in my attempt to research the best cod liver oil supplements. I am receiving no financial compensation for writing this review, nor am I under any obligation to promote their products.

Okay, now down to business!

1. Why is cod liver oil necessary?

If you look on the ingredients label of at least 90% of store-bought food, you will see vegetable oil in some form listed on there: corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, etc. Our foods are filled with these oils. And as healthy as the name “vegetable” oil sounds, these oils neither come from vegetables nor are they healthy for everyday consumption.

There are many omega fatty acids found in various foods. While vegetable oils do contain the healthy omega 3 that everyone talks about, it contains a lot more omega 6. And while omega 6’s aren’t necessarily bad, the disproportionate ratio of these two that they contain is actually causing essential fatty acid deficiencies which lead to a multitude of health problems.

Originally, ratios were believed to be 1:1 of omega 6’s to omega 3’s. Now, the Standard American Diet makes that ratio more like 15:1 or even 20:1.

Why is this a problem? Omega 3 fatty acid deficiency caused by this improper ratio of omegas has been linked to many things, including:

Preeclampsia during pregnancy
Heart disease
Cancer, including colon and breast cancers

(Full information on studies showing link between these conditions and EFA deficiency, as well as further explanation on how each of these is specifically impacted by EFA deficiency, can be found here: http://www.mercola.com/beef/omega3_oil.htm)

On the other hand, fish and cod liver oil supplementation have been proven to be extremely beneficial in many cases, including those listed above and even:

Rheumatoid arthritis
Ulcerative colitis/IBS/Crohns

In fact, some NICU’s are recognizing the benefits of cod liver oil for bowel problems and are giving it to their preemies with related complications. Research is also proving that it can help prevent and reverse retina damage, especially in preemies, as well as reduce the need for liver transplants in preemies.

Supplementation of fish/cod liver oil helps to restore this EFA deficiency and provides both therapeutic and medicinal benefits.

According to The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC 2009,

A lower ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids is more desirable in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies.

As you can see, fish and/or cod liver oil supplements are extremely important and sadly overlooked.

2. How is fermented cod liver oil different from conventional cod liver oil supplements?

First off, I should note that the main difference between fish oil and cod liver oil is just that cod liver oil contains vitamins A & D in addition to the EFA’s while fish oil contains just the EFA’s. Conventional cod liver oil products have vitamins A & D added back into them after the extracting/refining process removes them. (The only unfermented conventional cod liver oil that still retains some of the original vitamin D & A is Garden of Life’s cod liver oil.)

There is the first benefit to fermented cod liver oil.

Synthetic vitamins are easy to test and measure; naturally-occurring nutrients that have not yet been studied fully are much more difficult to put into this “box” of classifying its nutritive content. This makes it difficult to explore and calculate all of the nutrients found in fermented cod liver oil.

Additionally, as stated by the Weston A. Price Foundation, “fermented cod liver oil contains many co-factors that may enhance the body’s uptake and usage of vitamins A and D.”

As with just about any fermented food, fermented cod liver oil also contains the added bonus of vitamin K, the nutrient responsible for clotting our blood and helping with good gut health.

As an added bonus, Green Pastures also offers fermented cod liver oil with butter oil. Why is this important? In the 1950’s, Dr. Price always gave cod liver oil along with high-vitamin butter oil, extracted by centrifuge from good quality spring or summer butter. He found that cod liver oil, combined with high vitamin butter oil, produced excellent results. The butter oil contains what he called Activator X, now considered to be vitamin K2, which works synergistically with vitamins A and D.

(If you still believe butter is unhealthy, then I’m going to have to allow you to jump ship now since that would be a whole ‘nother post!)

So basically, not only does the fermentation process prevent nutrient loss, but it actually increases it. This traditional way of preparing cod liver oil goes back many centuries, including how the Romans used it to help keep their soldiers strong and healthy. Around those times, making cod liver oil was a normal procedure. The innards of the cod-fish were left to ferment in a barrel of water and sea salt, the fermentation process pulling out the oils of the liver.

(For further information about the fermentation process used in fermented cod liver oil and how it is different, as well as its history, check out this article from the Weston A. Price Foundation: http://www.westonaprice.org/cod-liver-oil/update-on-cod-liver-oil-manufacture )

(If you are looking for additional information regarding particular concerns such as mercury, dioxins, toxic levels of vitamin A, etc. they are all addressed here: http://www.westonaprice.org/cod-liver-oil/2008-dec-clo-update1 )

Additionally, Nourishing Treasures has a great article listing the brands of cod liver oil containing soy (ugh!) which you will not find in fermented cod liver oil. http://www.nourishingtreasures.com/index.php/2011/10/31/cod-liver-oil-brands-containing-soy/#

The final difference you will note between standard cod liver oil and fermented cod liver oil is the price. While one bottle of conventional cod liver oil from brands such as TwinLabs and Carlsons can run from $15-$30/bottle, fermented cod liver oil (with butter oil) is closer to $50/bottle (less if you get it without the butter oil). This was the factor preventing our family from taking advantage of the health benefits of fermented cod liver oil.

Until I saw this article, that is! http://www.nourishingtreasures.com/index.php/2012/01/24/fermented-cod-liver-oil-why-you-need-it-how-to-take-it-without-gagging-and-how-it-saves-you-money/

In this article, the author weighed out the cost of fermented vs unfermented cod liver oil. Comparing it to buying either watered down soap or soap concentrate, Lea points out that fermented cod liver oil contains a much higher concentration of vitamins, meaning that you would take less of it than other cod liver oils. She goes on to say:

You see, in just 1/2 teaspoon FCLO you get 4400 IU’s Vitamin D and 3672 IU’s Vitamin A for $.37. It would take six teaspoons of Carlson’s to get roughly the same D & A, costing $1.56. It’s pretty plain to see liquid FCLO is not only highest in quality, it’s economical. Consider FCLO a concentrated form of CLO. More punch in less volume = less $.


3. How to Take It (And more importantly, how to get kids to take it!)

I planned on writing this post mostly to encourage people to take it despite the taste. My mind wandered to the story of native Canadian tribes who would amazingly prevent scurvy during long seasons of having no produce available containing vitamin C by eating the adrenal glands of a moose. Every time they would hunt moose, the family leader knew that unless he cut out a specific part of the moose (not knowing exactly what it was but knowing it was important), and portioning it out to each of his family members, they could get sick and die. Of course, they did not know what vitamin C was or that the adrenal gland is the most concentrated source of it; they only knew that it was necessary to prevent what we know as scurvy.

I can imagine that moose adrenal glands do not have a pleasant taste nor texture! But before the world of refined sugar, MSG’s, and other flavor enhancers, people ate to live, not lived to eat!

So here’s where I went with taking fermented cod liver oil. I mentally prepared myself and prepared my children, telling them that while it may taste even worse than our cherry-flavored cod liver oil we were taking, it would be necessary to become accustomed to taking it.

I ordered the fermented cod liver oil/butter oil combination in the Cinnamon Tingle flavor* (see update below). When I opened the jar, it smelled like cinnamon gum and brought me back to the days when I used to chew gum!

I watched the following video from Sarah The Healthy Home Economist in preparation for taking my fermented cod liver oil.

I planned on taking it like that–as a pill that I would swallow down with water. For my older children that are accustomed to swallowing vitamin D pills, I gave them the same instructions. (My daughter who is 8 years old is the youngest one that can swallow pills.)

Down the hatch it went for those of us who could swallow it like a pill! And I waited, waited for that nasty taste. It never came. I’m sorry folks, but after doing this for days, I don’t get what all the fuss is about! I have not had a single fishy-tasting burp. I did with the conventional, unfermented cherry-flavored cod liver oil from TwinLabs all the time! I guess it might be because of the cinnamon flavor and because it contains butter oil?!

(Even so, I recommend that you prepare yourself mentally; consider it like taking moose adrenal glands!)

So how did the little ones take it? My 6-year old took it straight off the spoon, chewed it a little, and swallowed. Then he asked for more! And he continues to ask for seconds every time. (In all fairness, I should note that this is the same child who will drink plain beet juice, carrot juice, plain unflavored kefir, etc.)

Now the 2-year old is a different story. He has not been able to overcome either the texture or the cinnamon flavor. I will caution that cinnamon flavors can come across as extremely “spicy” for very young children. Some children (and adults) may have issues with the texture as well; it is more of a gel than anything else. Apparently, this was never an issue for my 6-year old or the rest of us who swallowed it like a pill. I think its gel-like structure made it easier to swallow without tasting. But for those with texture issues, it may be necessary to buy cod liver oil in capsules or to put the gel into empty capsules themselves (which would be a more cost-effective way to go.) Additionally, you could purchase the fermented cod liver oil without the butter oil and it would have a more oily consistency.

Kitchen Stewardship has one of the best articles I’ve found on how to take fermented cod liver oil, including putting it in applesauce for the little ones. (I am going to have to try that with my 2-year old. But since he’s still breastfeeding and I’m taking the FCLO, I haven’t been as diligent to try and get him to take it.) http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/10/22/fermented-cod-liver-oil-our-experiences/

**UPDATE: 12/14/14: I have recently discovered that the cinnamon oil used to flavor the cinnamon fermented cod liver oil from Green Pasture is from cassia cinnamon. This is a very less-than-ideal source of cinnamon and is the variety most commonly pertaining to cinnamon allergies. After taking fermented cod liver oil for years, a couple of my children suddenly broken out in an instant rash around their mouth from taking it one night. Consequently, I no longer recommend the cinnamon flavored fermented cod liver oils. I did discuss this in a recent in-person meeting with the founder of Green Pasture and he is aware that this may need to change. For now, we are going to be taking the unflavored fermented cod liver oil. (We put it in a small amount of homemade kombucha so the taste is not really bad at all. None of my kids mind it that way!)

For more information, here is a list of FAQ’s from Green Pastures that addresses many great questions: http://www.greenpasture.org/public/FAQ/index.cfm#1

If the cost factor is still an issue for you, how about taking advantage of Green Pastures’ quantity discount. When purchasing 6 or more bottles, the FCLO/butter oil is $5 less. Do you have 5 friends that would order a bottle with you? If you have 11 friends that would (or 5 friends that would order 2 bottles each with you), then ordering 12 bottles will save you $10 per bottle!

So will I continue to use fermented cod liver oil? Yes, definitely. My diet during my pregnancy with my 2nd son was horrible and he displayed signs of EFA deficiency (excessive earwax, bumps on the back his arms, focus problems, etc.). My 3rd child, my one and only daughter so far, had skin problems when she was a toddler. And even though I began changing my diet during my pregnancy with my 4th child and especially with my 5th, cod liver oil contains too many benefits* to forgo! So in addition to keeping vegetable oils out of our diet, we will continue to take cod liver oil for a great source of vitamins A, D, and EFA’s.

(UPDATE 12/14/14: After attending a local event that the founder of Green Pasture spoke at and I asked lots of difficult questions, I am convinced this is a high-quality superior product and will continue budgeting for it so that my family can continue experiencing the health benefits from this product!)

And because a developing baby’s brain needs these good fats for proper brain development, I will continue to strongly recommend it to all pregnant moms. (I do, however, considering temporarily stopping supplementation with it during the last couple of weeks of pregnancy in the event that it could possibly thin blood. However, these nutrients are so important for baby’s growing brain in the last trimester of pregnancy that it would be helpful to make sure to continue it until the last two weeks and start again soon after birth.) 

And if you decide that cost is still a factor for fermented cod liver oil, or you would rather not purchase the fermented cod liver oil for other reasons, don’t give up on cod liver oil all together. This food/supplement provides way too many health benefits to avoid! This link provides the Weston A. Price Foundations brand recommendations from “Best” and “Good” choices: http://www.westonaprice.org/cod-liver-oil/cod-liver-oil-basics#brands

I would like to thank Dave at Green Pastures for giving me the opportunity to sample this wonderful product!

Have you tried fermented cod liver oil? How do you take yours? Leave a comment and share your experiences! (And if you’re one of my local friends, be sure to let me know if you want to go in on a quantity discount with me!)

Thanks everyone! Blessings of good health,

*Health benefits not substantiated by the FDA. Please also note that cod liver oil should not be used by people who are on blood thinning medications as it also thins the blood. It is, however, a great, safe alternative to blood thinning medications! Consult your health provider for more information.

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Comments & Responses

11 Responses so far.

  1. […] I spent hours researching the best cod liver oil because most cod liver oil companies have to put isolated vitamins A & D back into the product after processing because it is lost in the processing. So that is why I use and recommend Green Pasture’s fermented cod liver oil. […]

  2. […] But I’m hungry now! Nursing a 17-month old who still lives mostly off of mama’s milk takes a lot of calories! So I snack on some of the raw milk cheddar cheese we got from Azure. Quick check into Facebook and one of my local friends is adding to our group fermented cod liver oil order that I coordinate, so I jot that down. (Check out my post here about why we think fermented cod liver oil is so great!) […]

  3. […] In addition to prenatals and vitamin D, I also take fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures. More information on fermented cod liver oil, including where to get it, can be found on my post here Fermented Cod Liver Oil: What’s the Hype And Is It Really Nasty? […]

  4. […] clove of garlic on it at the onset of a cold. We also have vitamin D3, make raw milk kefir, fermented cod liver oil, and homemade elderberry syrup for keeping our immune systems strong, especially through […]

  5. […] For this reason, I strongly recommend fish/cod liver oil for children with ADD/ADHD symptoms. Carlson’s and Nordic Naturals are popular brands. My personal favorite is fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures. Find out how fermented cod liver oil is different than regular fish oils by reading my article on Fermented Cod Liver Oil […]

  6. Hi – I just wanted to offer one correction to your excellent article. You mentioned Garden of Life was the only un-fermented CLO that doesn’t remove the A & D and then add synthetics back in.

    Actually, Carlson’s is another brand (which I think is the highest quality on the market) that doesn’t remove and re-add the A & D. It also has the added benefit of being bottled immediately in Norway in a completely oxygen-free bottle using nitrogen. Many other brands press the oil and then have it shipped to be bottled in the USA.

    • sjpoff says:

      Hi Zachary! Thanks for your comment. I actually saw it from a couple different sources that they do this. That’s how they are able to list the exact vitamin A and D content of their products. If it was naturally-occurring vitamins, they would not be so easily measured. That said, I do believe that Carlson’s fish oils are another great product nonetheless!

  7. Andrea Davis says:

    I was wondering about the benefits for children who struggle with anger and possibly some ADHD-type behaviors. I would NEVER subscribe to the whole ADHD craze, and would never give my child medicine, but we are really struggling with him. He’s extremely high-strung and flares at anything. He’s just very difficult. I would also like to know if it helps with concentration, since I homeschool! 🙂 I have just recently started him on 1 tsp. liquid chlorophyll and 1/2 tsp. of vitality calm. I also try to get lots of unrefined coconut oil in them. He will also down a swig of Bragg’s Vinegar and actually enjoys it. The kid eats anything! Any feedback would be helpful…or other supplements that would help. THANK YOU! I love your site! 🙂

    • Hi Andrea, Have you looked into essential oils? Many people have had amazing results with their active children. doTERRA has a blend called InTune that was made just for this type of situation.

      A word about different brands of EO’s though. Most of the oils on the market (that you get from the health food store) are not pure essential oil. They have fillers included that bring down the quality and price. I would never recommend a brand that I as a Mom couldn’t stand behind. doTERRA is the only brand that is Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade and the only one I would use on my own children. I don’t want to go crazy here about all the differences but you can read more on our website about the difference as well as becoming educated about essential oils in general. http://www.modern-wellness.com

      I hope you are able to find something that works for your family!

  8. Angie says:

    Thanks for this post! We have taken Green Pastures’ FCLO for a couple of years. I started while pregnant with my daughter and she has taken it every single day of her life. She takes it mixed with just about anything – applesauce, egg yolk, smoothies, yogurt, etc. And the butter oil…I LOVE it! Taking that chunk right out of the jar is the highlight of my morning. Mmmm…

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