nutrition

Battle of the Fish Oils: Cod Liver Oil vs. Fish Oil

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

7 min read

Finding the right supplement for your health requires knowing your options. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between cod liver oil and fish oil.

The good news is that both cod liver oil and fish oil are good sources of omega 3s. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential meaning they cannot be made in the body. These “essential fatty acids'' have two well known families called omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. From the families, EPA and DHA are important components found throughout the whole body. This also means that either food or supplements need to be consumed to get adequate levels for optimal health. Although there is no official recommendation for a daily intake of omegas, general research suggests 1-4grams of Omega 3 intake for those with heart issues and 250mg-500mg for healthy individuals.

It is essential to know the differences between cod liver oil and fish oil supplements, whether you want to use them as health supplements or are merely curious about the two types of oils. Fish oil comes from various parts of several types of fish. On the other hand, pure cod liver oil comes entirely from cod liver.

Finding the right supplements for your health requires knowing your options. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between cod liver oil and fish oil.

Cod Liver Oil vs. Fish Oil

There are many differences between fish oil and cod liver oil. For example, as mentioned before, cod liver oil usually comes from a single portion of a fish, whereas fish oil comes from various parts of different fish.

Therefore, it goes without saying that the nutritional benefits and vitamins of cod liver oil and fish oil differ. This, of course, will affect your decision about which supplement will work best for you. Furthermore, the health benefits and nutrient profile of fish oil vary slightly from those of cod liver oil.

What Is Cod Liver Oil and Where Does It Come From

Cod liver oil is made from Atlantic cod livers. It is often used as a nutritional supplement and is high in nutrients. The only source of cod liver oil is the liver of a cod fish. It has a higher concentration of vitamin A and vitamin D, but a lower level of omega-3 fatty acids than standard fish oil.

It is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as alpha linolenic acid (ALA), and has high levels of vitamins A and D. The breed of cod, or Gadus, from which the oil is extracted determines the exact level of nutrients found in cod liver oil.

Cod liver was initially used to support joint and bone health. It was commonly given to children during the 1930s to help prevent vitamin D deficiency.

What Is Fish Oil and Where Does It Come From

Fish oils are derived from the tissues of fish that live in cold water. Fish oils are derived from fish considered to be fatty or oily, such as salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines.

Health Benefits of Cod Liver Oil

Scientists have performed numerous studies on the benefits of cod liver oil. They have found it to be a good source of vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega 3s. Vitamin A is known to be a key factor in the immune system, bone and cell growth, as well as reproductive organ function (think testicles and ovaries). Vitamin D is known to support bone health and immune function while additional studies also allude to the potential influence of vitamin D in other areas like muscle function and blood sugar regulation. that may also have some health benefits.

Benefits of Fish Oil Supplements

A critical difference between cod liver oil and fish oil lies in their health benefits. While these two vitamins both contain omega 3s, they may have different health advantages.

In the following sections, we'll discuss some ways cod liver oil and fish oil may help your health.

Bone Health

Cod liver oil is a very popular supplement that can help support bone health. In this study, mice that were deficient in vitamin A were given cod liver oil which restored bone thickness better than retinoic acid (a form of vitamin A). The results imply that cod liver oil may have synergistic nutrients that ensure optimal absorption. The main theory suggested was that the results were due to the whole food source of vitamin D, vitamin A, and omega 3 content naturally found in cod liver oil.

Fish oil can also support healthy bones by maintaining optimal bone mineral density depending on the EPA and DHA content. According to this study, initial results from animal studies illustrate the potential of fish oil to manage certain cytokines and enzymes that can increase with age and contribute to bone issues as a normal part of aging. Another study suggests the use of calcium with fish oil to enhance the potential benefit on skeletal health.

Fish oil has shown initial promising results as an ingredient for promoting joint health. A 12 month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that patients taking 2,600mg of omega-3 per day experienced more joint comfort than those taking a placebo.

Age-related Eye Health

Some researchers found that omega-3 fatty acids may benefit eye health. This study demonstrates the beneficial effect of orally administered omega 3 fatty acids in alleviating dry eye symptoms, decreasing tear evaporation rate and improving Nelson grade in patients suffering from computer vision syndrome related dry eye.

Deficiency in vitamin A can contribute to eye issues. Cod liver oil naturally contains vitamin A which can support eye health.

Heart Health

Omega 3s from fish oil have been extensively researched for heart health benefits. The American Heart Association recommends consuming at least 2 servings of fish weekly and if that is not a part of your diet, then supplementation may be the next best thing. Studies have shown fish oil helps maintain healthy triglyceride levels already within normal range along with other heart health related markers.

Brain Health

A meta-analysis done in 2018 found that taking omega-3 supplements was generally linked to better brain function, especially in people with low levels of fatty acids.

In a 2005 clinical study, omega-3 supplementation was associated with an improvement in attention and mood for the omega-3 group versus the placebo group. A population-based study performed a year earlier found that people who consumed more fish in their diet performed better on cognitive battery tests.

Safety Concerns of Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil

Based on the vitamin A content in cod liver oil, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid supplementing to prevent potential toxic levels of vitamins. Keep in mind that cod liver oil has vitamin A and D in addition to the omega 3s. High doses of vitamin A during the first trimester of pregnancy is a known teratogen which can negatively impact the pregnancy. The upper limit of vitamin A in pregnancy is 3000 mcg RAE and the upper limit of vitamin D is 4,000 IU or 100mcg.

If taking any blood thinning medication, always discuss supplementation options with your healthcare provider. Potential symptoms people report with either of the oils tend to be discomfort related to the digestive system. So the best way to prevent symptoms is to have the oil with food or right before bed.

Forms of Fish Oil and Cod Liver Oil Available:

Both Cod liver oil and fish oil are available in softgels and liquid form. The nutrient content depends on the source and dose.

Quality is very important to us. Here at Care/of we make fish oil through a cold pressed extraction method similar to olive oil which allows for the most nutrients to be present in each fish oil softgel. Our fish oil is derived from wild Alaskan salmon harvested in sustainable fishing areas in the North Pacific. The pristine environment and short lifespan of salmon ensures they are naturally free of pollutants and heavy metals. This is in contrast to fish oil supplements created from anchovies and sardines.

Take Care of Your Body Because There Is Only One of You!

The nutrient content of cod liver oil and fish oil supplements is a major difference between the two. Many nutrients in both fish oil and cod liver oil are beneficial to health. As we have discussed above, omega-3 fatty acids are the primary component of both cod liver and fish oil, however vitamins A and D are also present in cod liver oil.

This may seem like a minor distinction, but it has far-reaching implications for your health. That's why comparing fish oil and cod liver oil is essential before committing to either. What is best for you depends on your health needs and goals. Fish oil may be best if you are already supplementing with Vitamin A and D from other sources.

You're unique.
Your supplements should be too.

Take the quiz