Cod liver oil is a nutrient-dense oil made from the livers of several species of the cod fish.

It contains large amounts of vitamins A, D, and omega-3 fatty acids, and has been used for centuries to promote immune system health and prevent rickets. Rickets is a bone condition in children caused by lack of vitamin D. But the health benefits of cod liver oil may not end there. The powerful nutrient-dense composition of cod liver oil also is thought to reduce inflammation, promote brain function, improve eyesight, and boost the immune system.

While eating the fresh livers of the cod fish probably won’t be appetizing to your kids, many parents still think it’s important to benefit from cod liver oil’s health-boosting effects. Read on to find out the most promising benefits of cod liver oil for your children and more importantly, how to get them to take it.

What Is Cod Liver Oil?

Cod is the common name for fish from the genus Gadus. The most known species are the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and the Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus). The cooked flesh of the fish is a popular dish throughout the world, though the cod fish is more well-known for its liver.

Cod liver oil is exactly what it sounds like: the oil extracted from the liver of the cod fish. The oil is known in traditional folklore as a remedy for a wide range of different health issues. Research has found it to be one of the richest sources of vitamins A and D, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The Health Benefits

1. Preventing Rickets

At one point in time, rickets was a common disorder of the bones caused by a severe deficiency of vitamin D. In rickets, the bones fail to mineralize, which leads to soft bones and skeletal deformities in children, including:

  • bowed legs
  • thick wrists and ankles
  • projected breastbone

The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, but people who live in northern latitudes often don’t get a lot of sun during the winter months. Before the discovery of cod liver oil, many children suffered from deformed bones. Once mothers began including cod liver oil in their child’s daily routine, incidence of rickets dropped dramatically.

In the 1930s, people in the United States began fortifying their dairy milk with vitamin D. Vitamin D drops for children are also widely available. Along with the use of cod liver oil, these changes have made rickets a rare disease in the United States, but a few cases are seen today. Rickets is still a major public health concern in many developing countries.

2. Lowering Risk of Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that usually occurs in children, but its exact cause isn’t known. A research study conducted in Norway has shown that taking cod liver oil in the first year of life may be associated with a lower risk of type 1 diabetes. The effect may be attributed to cod liver oil’s high vitamin D content.

A meta-analysis of 11 different studies found that children who took vitamin D supplements during their first year of life, including cod liver oil or a supplement with vitamin D, had a significantly lower risk of type 1 diabetes.

Other studies point to the mother’s vitamin D deficiency as a culprit in type 1 diabetes. In one article, researchers found that the odds of type 1 diabetes were more than two times higher in children whose mothers had the lowest levels of vitamin D, compared to children of mothers with high levels of vitamin D.

Although limited research has been conducted, all of the above studies show possible associations. There’s not yet enough evidence to show that vitamin D deficiency is definitely linked to type 1 diabetes or that cod liver oil can reduce the risk. More research is needed.

3. Preventing Infections

Cod liver oil could mean fewer bouts of the cold and flu for your child, and fewer trips to the doctor. It is theorized that an immune system boost comes from the oil’s high content of vitamin D, though research has not yet shown this. In research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, cod liver oil supplements decreased trips to the doctor for upper respiratory illnesses by 36 to 58 percent.

4. Protecting Eye Sight

Cod liver oil is rich in vitamins A and D. Both of these vitamins are essential for maintaining healthy eyesight over the long term. Vitamin A is especially important for preserving normal vision. It’s also an antioxidant and could prevent the damage that leads to glaucoma. Glaucoma is an eye disease that can damage the optic nerve. It can lead to vision loss or even blindness. Scientists are exploring the relationship between cod liver oil supplementation and glaucoma.

It is thought that the high omega-3 fatty acid content of cod liver oil could help improve blood flow to the eyes, keeping your kids’ eyesight strong and healthy for a long time.

5. Reducing Depression

Cod liver oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in people suffering from major depression. A large study in over 20,000 people in Norway revealed that adults who regularly took cod liver oil were roughly 30 percent less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who did not. Research also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may improve overall mood and brain function.

Getting Your Kids to Take It

Now that you know the possible benefits, here comes the tricky part: getting your kids to take it. Fish isn’t exactly a favorite food for most kids, but you just need to find what works for you and your family.

Try these tips and tricks for getting your children to take cod liver oil:

  • Try chewable cod liver oil tablets.
  • Buy a flavored brand. Hints of licorice, ginger, cinnamon, or mint can help mask the fishy flavor.
  • Mix it in a smoothie or a strong acidic juice.
  • Blend it with honey or a dab of maple syrup.
  • Add it to homemade salad dressings.
  • Take it with your kids! Making it a family routine can help persuade your kids to give it a try.

Where to Buy It

Cod liver oil is a pale yellow and translucent liquid with a fishy smell. Manufacturers often add fruit flavors and peppermint to make it more appealing. You can buy cod liver oil in most pharmacies and drugstores as well as online. It’s manufactured in liquid forms, capsules, and kid-friendly chewable tablets. Check out the following products on Amazon for your kids:

Risks

Cod liver oil can thin the blood, so people taking anticoagulants or any other medications that thin the blood shouldn’t take it due to the risk of bleeding. Don’t take cod liver oil if you’re pregnant.

Cod liver oil is generally regarded as safe as long as your child takes it in the recommended amounts, as specified on the product label. Always speak to your doctor and read product labels thoroughly before taking a new supplement. Side effects of cod liver oil include bad breath, heartburn, nosebleeds, and belches that taste fishy (“fish burps”). Never try to force and infant or toddler to take an oil-based supplement, as they might choke and breathe it into their lungs.

The Takeaway

Cod liver oil is a unique package of vital nutrients. From strengthening bones, to preventing autoimmune diseases and infections, to improving your child’s vision, some feel that the benefits of cod liver oil are too important to pass up.

Since a typical child’s diet often falls short of getting adequate levels of vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids, cod liver oil could be the missing factor in your child’s health. As with any supplement, however, speak to your child’s pediatrician before giving cod liver oil to your child.