Why We're Hooked on Cod Liver Oil

Cod liver oil has come a long way, baby!
Liquid cod liver oil and small capsule of cod liver oil on white background
© Can Stock Photo / jirkaejc

Forget everything you think you know about cod liver oil! Erase those images of gag-inducing, foul-tasting medicine being forced down the throats of unwilling children and replace them with something much more agreeable. That’s right: cod liver oil has come a long way, baby!

Cod liver oil is exactly what it sounds like: oil extracted from the liver of a cod. And, unsurprisingly, it does indeed taste like fish. Considered a delicacy in Norway and Scotland for centuries, and used for many non-medicinal purposes throughout history—like lamp fuel, soaps, and even in the red paint that adorns homes in fishing villages along the shores of the Northern Atlantic—it wasn’t until the late 1800s that cod liver oil’s health benefits began to be discovered and explored. Found to be successful in the prevention and treatment of rickets and rheumatism, thanks to its rich source of vitamins D and A as well omega-3 acids (specifically EPA and DHA), cod liver oil quickly became a household saviour to mothers of yore and a bane to their grossed-out offspring.

Cod liver oil those immune system gears!

While, thankfully, Canadian parents don’t have to worry as much about rickets, cod liver oil still has a valuable role to play in a family’s health regimen. Its high concentration of vitamin D makes cod liver oil an excellent supplement as an immune system booster and as a bone strengthener. We all know how important vitamin D is for our health, especially for those of us living in northern latitudes where sun exposure is minimal during winter months, and its supplementation is frequently recommended!

Cod liver oil also contains plenty of vitamin A—an essential vitamin that isn’t often talked about but carries with it some very substantial health benefits. Like vitamin D, A also plays a key supporting role in immune system function by both helping to maintain the body's natural defenses and in aiding the production and function of white blood cells. As a bonus, vitamin A does wonders for eye health and helps preserve those peepers (night blindness is one of the first symptoms of vitamin A deficiency!) and also supports skin health, particularly in acne control.

And let’s not forget about the mighty omegas and their role in brain function and reducing inflammation! Like vitamins D and A, omega-3s also play a big role in immune system support!

Floundering over which oil to buy?

When choosing a cod liver oil, go for one that doesn’t contain fillers or additives and look for brands that offer wild-caught, extra-virgin, and even fermented (which promises more bioavailability for your buck!) options. And worth keeping in mind while scanning the label is that while there isn’t a set daily dosage for cod liver oil the recommended daily intake (RDI) for combined EPA and DHA is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 250-500 mg (see your healthcare provider for a specific dosage for you!). Some cod liver oils will include a natural extract like peppermint or lemon to mute the fishy taste, but you can also hide unflavoured cod liver oil in a smoothie, a little applesauce, or by adding your own flavour additions like cinnamon or a squeeze of citrus.
Although cod liver oil can be taken at any time of the day, it is best taken with a meal, particularly breakfast, as the oil helps slow the breakdown of carbohydrates, stabilizing blood sugar levels—especially important for school-aged children in order to avoid the sugar spikes and crashes that can interfere with the learning day.


Cod liver oil should not be consumed by everyone. Avoid if you have fish allergies, are pregnant, asthmatic, or take anticoagulants/blood thinners such as warfarin.

As with any new supplement program, check with your healthcare provider first to see if it’s a good fit for you and your family!