Norway: EVs and cod liver oil

If you watched the 2021 Super Bowl, you probably saw the funny ad for General Motor’s electric vehicles. Apparently Norway is outselling the US in electric vehicles (EVs) on a per capita basis. GM wants to change that metric. Which got me thinking about another product outselling in Norway: cod liver oil.

Eleazar Albin: Wikimedia Commons

Turns out Norway has not been as slammed with Covid as some other European countries have. There are probably plenty of reasons for this, considering Norway is a small and geographically easy-to-isolate place, bordered by fierce ocean on one side and jagged mountains on the other. But there’s also a long-standing devotion to cod liver oil.

Covid severity has been linked to vitamin D insufficiency and run-away inflammation. Cod liver oil is packed with vitamin D, along with vitamin A and omega-3 fats, both of which play critical roles in immune function. If you’ve been taking cod liver oil most of your life, your immune system is well-fortified and ready to deal with a viral infection.

More than 20 years ago, a study of over 37,000 middle aged women in Norway found that almost 45% took cod liver oil. Imagine if 45% of women in the U.S. took cod liver oil! An entire aisle of the grocery store would be devoted to cod liver oil to meet the demand. Well I exaggerate slightly. To meet current low demand, you have to search for it in a refrigerated case in a back corner. It takes up maybe 2 square feet.

Cod liver oil was a “thing” in the U.S. in the mid-20th century, promoted for health benefits. It came as the straight stuff, oil in a bottle, taken by the spoonful. Not very pleasant-tasting and not at all appealing to kids. 21st century cod liver oil can be flavored to make it more palatable, or put into capsules.

Cod liver oil is a concentrated source of several nutrients. According to the USDA food database, 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil has:

caloriesvitamin Avitamin DEPA omega-3DHA omega-3
404500 IU450 IU310 mg494 mg

That’s an impressive amount of omega-3 fatty acids from just one teaspoon of cod liver oil. It’s also an impressive amount of retinol, which is the active form of vitamin A. Vitamin A is fat soluble. Excess intake can be stored in the body. Too much stored vitamin A can result in toxicity. The Tolerable Upper Intake for an adult is 3000 mcg per day. A tablespoon (3 tsp) of cod liver oil would put you over the top for that amount. So with cod liver oil, more is not better. Luckily intake is somewhat self-limiting. A tablespoon of cod liver oil would be hard to take.

You could avoid the whole oil-on-a-spoon issue by taking capsules. You’d need about 4 capsules/day to get the equivalent of 1 tsp of actual oil, which would end up a more expensive solution, not to mention you’d need to remember to take all those capsules.

Whether you take capsules or straight oil, take with a meal that contains fat to enhance absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients. And store cod liver oil in the refrigerator.

Should you take it?

Back to Norway, where researchers are investigating the impact of cod liver oil use on Covid infection and severity. The researchers plan to recruit 70,000 people; half will get cod liver oil, half will get a placebo. They will be evaluated for infection with coronavirus and other seasonal viruses such as flu, to see if cod liver oil is protective.

If you want to try cod liver oil, I’d suggest the oil form, just a teaspoon/day. Flavored varieties, such as lemon or orange, are more palatable. Store in the refrigerator and take with a meal that contains fats. And don’t expect miracles. Nutrients do not behave like drugs. They support health long term. Cod liver oil has been part of life in Norway for hundreds of years. Perhaps that explains the lower infection rates from this particular virus. It’s admirable for people in other countries to try to catch up on electric vehicle use. Perhaps catching up on cod liver oil use is a good plan, too.

Copyright: All content © 2021 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.