What is the difference between taking fish oil and cod liver oil?

When you’re looking to top up your levels of omega-3, naturally a fish oil supplement seems like the obvious choice, especially if you know you’re not eating enough oily fish (we should all be aiming for at least one portion a week)1. But while it is often thought that fish oil and cod liver oil are one and the same, it is important to recognise that they are actually very different supplements, with different uses and benefits.

What are they?

The main difference between the two is what they are made from. Fish oil is usually made up from the flesh of a variety of fatty fish such as herring, tuna, anchovies, mackerel and salmon. And, as the name suggests, cod liver oil comes from the livers of cod – usually Atlantic or Pacific cod.

What do they contain?

Both contain high levels of EPA and DHA – omega-3 fatty acids. Cod liver oil also contains Vitamins A and D.

What do they do?

EPA and DHA are extremely important for the body. While DHA supports normal brain function2 and vision3, they both help maintain normal heart function and normal blood pressure4.

Are they for everyone?

Fish oil supplements are not suitable for everyone5 – however omega-3 fats DHA and EPA have known physiological effects in the body and care should be taken when taking these supplements with medication or existing health conditions.
It is best to stick to fish oil when pregnant to avoid any risk of taking too much Vitamin A in the form that at high levels (over 800 micrograms) can be harmful to unborn babies6.

What is the recommended dose?

It is recommended that we eat at least one portion of oily fish a week – such as salmon, trout and mackerel. A portion is roughly around 140g, but this could also be made up of two to three portions across the week7.
1. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/fish-and-shellfish-nutrition/#how-much-fish-should-we-eat
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24470182
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5931260/
4. https://heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol-and-diet/low-cholesterol-diets-and-foods/omega-3-fats
5. https://www.nhs.uk/news/2011/05May/Documents/BtH_supplements.pdf
6. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-a/
7. https://heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol-and-diet/low-cholesterol-diets-and-foods/omega-3-fats



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