I have noticed that in recent years, confusion abounds when the topic of cod liver oil comes up. On the one hand, you have highly respected and reputable organizations like The Weston A. Price Foundation that urges a daily supplement of cod liver oil as necessary for health.
On the other hand, you have Dr. Mercola and his very popular alternative health website which urges people not to take cod liver oil. His primary reason? He maintains that the vitamin A in the cod liver oil works antagonistically with the vitamin D in the oil preventing its optimal absorption.
Cod Liver Oil Still the Number One Superfood
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to read all sides of an argument before coming to any conclusions. My conclusion after doing so is that Dr. Mercola is offbase on this one. I have concluded that, without a doubt, a daily cod liver oil supplement is necessary for optimal health and that the vitamin A and D work synergistically, not antagonistically!
But, not just any cod liver oil will do! Oh no. Like any supplement, how the oil is processed makes all the difference in the world!
To help clear up the confusion, Dr. Michael Teplitsky write a very clear, concise article about the benefits of cod liver oil that should set your mind at ease. The article also explains the difference between 99% of the cod liver oils on the market that are high heat industrialized oils (this is manufacturing word-speak for DEAD) and the fermented cod liver oil purified with no heat from Green Pasture Products, a health giving supplement used for many centuries.
Incidentally, all the fish oils on the market are high heat industrialized oils too. Green Pasture Products is the only fish oil – cod liver oil or otherwise – that I know of that is purified and extracted with absolutely no heat thereby preserving the delicate nutritional cofactors and the fragile, heat sensitive omega 3 fatty acids.
Bottom line? If you agree that a daily fish oil supplement is important to health, Green Pasture Products’ cod liver oil or skate oil is really the only brand on the radar screen.
What about Dr. Mercola’s krill oil that he markets on his website? It is my understanding that he has not been completely forthcoming about how much vitamin A and D (if any) are in this product and, more importantly, the details of how it is processed. Until then, this product is not an option for the savvy, health conscious consumer.
Ok, back to the main premise of this blog. After all, the title of this blog is not whether or not to take cod liver oil, but why I get midday sun AND take a daily dose of it!
Sorry for the digression, I just thought it would be helpful to have a brief discussion of why this supplement is important in the first place.
Cod Liver Oil Recommendations Were Very Different Just a Few Years Ago
So, why do I take a daily dose of cod liver oil (Green Pasture Products brand, of course) AND get frequent doses of midday sun?
To answer that question with any degree of sanity, I need to go back to when I first started taking cod liver oil in 2002. At that time, the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) was recommending only a teaspoon of high vitamin cod liver oil on a daily basis. The WAPF was the only organization out there at that time recommending cod liver oil – almost everyone else in alternative health related fields was on the fish oil bandwagon.
I had been taking fish oil since 1999, so it was an easy switch for me to start taking cod liver oil instead. After all, cod liver oil offers the same valuable omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), but it also offers natural vitamins A and D which plain fish oil does not.
Green Pasture Products didn’t even exist then and the only high vitamin cod liver oil on the market was from Radiant Life in California. This is the brand I took and I only consumed 1 tsp a day which for the Radiant Life brand, is only 1000 IU of vitamin D.
What’s more, I was careful to skip my dose of cod liver oil on days that I got midday sun. This pattern of behavior on my part was based on an article on the WAPF website by Krispin Sullivan called Cod Liver Oil: The Number One Superfood. In this article, Krispin Sullivan warns against getting sun and taking cod liver oil. At that time, there just wasn’t much research out there about what happens to vitamin D levels when a person gets sun and takes cod liver oil, so I was cautious to not mix the two.
Cod Liver Oil AND Midday Sun: Clearly the Way to Go
Fast forward to to this past Saturday where I got about 3 hours of late morning/midday Florida sun with NO sunscreen while doing a bunch of yard work. Did I skip my dose of fermented cod liver oil for the day?
Nope. I still took my daily dose of 1.5 tsp as usual which is about 4500 IU of vitamin D.
Some of you may be thinking, “Hey, that is a lot of vitamin D in a single day!” That is true considering that I got about 20,000 IU of vitamin D from the sun exposure on my skin alone! But, is it too much? I don’t think so – not by a longshot.
Since 2002, much more has been learned about vitamin D and its optimal levels. A lot of evidence has been gathered that getting sun and taking cod liver oil at the same time is not only not dangerous, but extremely beneficial.
For example, back in 2002, the optimal blood level of vitamin D using the 25(OH)D test was considered to be just 30-35 ng/ml.
This level has been shown to be far too low. Current thinking is that anything less than 50 ng/ml is deficient! Optimal levels are currently considered to be 50-70 ng/ml and for those with cancer and heart disease (or any other autoimmune disorder), the levels should really be at 70-100 ng/ml.
Why? Because vitamin D essentially acts as a natural steroid hormone in the body and reduces inflammation in the body wherever it may be.
Who needs to reduce inflammation? Uh, that would be everyone.
These vitamin D ranges would have been considered dangerous just a few years ago just because so little was known about the incredibly powerful, health giving benefits of higher vitamin D levels. We now know that higher is better and that to get into “overdose” range (above 100 ng/ml), you really would have to be taking prescription strength vitamin D drops or synthetic D2.
It seems virtually impossible to get into overdose levels using a whole food like cod liver oil. In fact, such a case has never been reported the last time I searched for such an instance.
Getting vitamin D from the sun and from cod liver oil on a daily basis appears to have no downside whatsoever based on current research.
In fact, it seems a rather dangerous proposition to health to not get sun and take cod liver oil!
Research Shows Vitamin D from Food Not Enough
I know from years of taking cod liver oil that I personally have absolutely no chance of getting my blood levels into optimal range unless I get frequent doses of sun AND take fermented cod liver oil on a daily basis.
Cod liver oil on its own won’t cut it in most cases. You need the sun too.
Dr. Reinhold Vieth of the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto cites 3 studies in a letter to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that show that maintaining even a deficiency vitamin D blood level of 32 ng/ml requires 4000 IU of vitamin D per day!
4000 IU vitamin D is about 1.5 tsp of fermented cod liver oil per day! That amount will only maintain your vitamin D at deficiency levels? If that doesn’t tell you to get some sun along with your daily CLO dose, I’m not sure what will!
It seems Nature knows what She is doing. 20,000 IU of vitamin D from a safe, sensible interlude in the midday sun with no sunscreen doesn’t really seem like too much after all! It’s exactly what we need for vibrant health!
If you think about it, this approach makes perfect sense. Traditional peoples in the tropics got plenty of sun on a daily basis and still ate plenty of vitamin D rich foods. It seems that building up vitamin D levels quite high in the warm months to take you through the winter months when you don’t get much or any sun (but still consume cod liver oil and other vitamin D rich foods) is the way to go.
An ebb and flow in your vitamin D levels seems natural and to stay in optimal range (50-70 ng/ml) all year round requires building to the upper end of the spectrum (70 ng/ml) in the summer and then falling back to around 50 ng/ml in the winter when sun exposure is minimal.
If you have any concern about taking cod liver oil and sensible, nonburning sun exposure (midday is best when the vitamin D rays are at their peak), I would strongly advise investing in the inexpensive, home vitamin D test after 90 days of actively seeking midday sun exposure and continue taking your daily fermented cod liver oil supplement. It takes a few months for vitamin D levels to rise which is why you need to wait awhile to take the test after you start getting sun exposure along with your daily cod liver oil.
Hopefully, I have convinced you in this post that it is really best to get sensible, midday sun exposure during the warm summer months while still consuming your daily cod liver oil supplement.
If you have any doubts, do both for 90 days and then order this inexpensive, finger pin prick home vitamin D test (you don’t even need a prescription to order one). I have yet to see or hear of anyone getting above 70 ng/ml (or anywhere close) with regular sun exposure and cod liver oil together. The danger of not getting your vitamin D levels into this optimal range are far more serious!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist