Icelandic cod liver oil is a form of cold water fish oil that comes from the seas of the far northern hemisphere. It can have many colors, depending upon the manufacturer and type of processing, but it is usually presented on the shelves of American health stores and groceries in pale yellow capsules. Modern processing also eliminates much of the traditional fish aroma and taste that characterized the cod liver oil that many consumed in earlier times, whose parents believed that ingesting this oil daily would help build strong bones and immunity.
Along with other oils which are fish liver extracts, Icelandic cod liver oil is well known to contain high levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin D, essential vitamins needed for building strong bones and teeth. This oil is one of the types of fish oil recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — USFDA, or FDA — as an optimal source of Omega-3 fatty acids, as it is now generally recognized by nutritionists that fish living in cold ocean water produce a higher Omega-3 content than fish living in warmer waters. The Mayo Clinic also recommends cold water fish, including salmon and herring, as a source of the “healthy fat” — Omega-3 — because it helps to lower harmful triglycerides, or fats in the bloodstream.
Healthy fats — the fats containing high amounts of Omega-3 — can also be obtained from sources other than fish, such as flax seeds, or nuts. An important fact to consider, however, is that the Omega-3 fatty acid chains are shorter in flax and other plant-based sources than the longer chains existing in fish. Current research has indicated that the shorter chains — ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid — in flax may not be used as efficiently by the body as the longer chains found in fish oils, such as Icelandic cod liver oil, which would make this a more dependable source for essential fatty acids.
In addition to being a traditional folk remedy used by people all around the North Atlantic area, modern clinical testing has substantiated many of the benefits that cod liver oil is felt to provide. For example, medical journals regularly report studies showing the benefits of fish oil for cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association has also endorsed this type of oil as a nutritional supplement, along with routinely eating fish, in order to obtain enough Omega-3, an essential fatty acid needed by the body that must be obtained from external sources.
Traditionally, cod liver oil, including Icelandic cod liver oil, has been extracted from the livers of fish from the North Atlantic regions around Iceland, Norway, and Denmark. Now this oil is also obtained from fish in other parts of the world, such as the waters along Peru and Chile. Other types of cold water fish oils are also coming onto the market, including salmon oil from Norway and Alaska. China is also contributing to the fish oil market, with industry news sources reporting it now supplies large percentages of imports of fish oil.
Imported fish oils are labeled according to their country of origin according to standards that have been established by different national and international laws. While these standards widely differ among different countries, and many products are now shipped from combined distribution points, certifying the quality of food supplements can be difficult. High certification standards for fish oil have been set by the Norwegian Medicinal Standard and the European Pharmacopoeia Standard, which include evaluation of smell, taste, and toxin content — in this regard, Icelandic cod liver oil is generally felt to meet some of the highest standards now available for fish oil supplements.