Cod Liver Oil, the Remedy that Changed the World
from an ear infection? Stress? Malfunctioning ticker?
Turn, then, to the cloying amber fluid detested by children through the years.
And yesterday it emerged it can defeat arthritis. Michael McCarthy reports:
They're not yet saying it can enable you to stop a bullet or leap tall
buildings but it's not far short of that.
Yet another medical triumph for cod
liver oil was announced yesterday (accompanied by the rather forward claim that
the later life of the Queen Mother would have been quite different, had she
only imbibed a daily spoonful as a girl).
you name it - ear infections, impaired cardiovascular functions, insulin
resistance, high cholesterol levels, allergies, learning disorders, stress,
manic depression - cod liver oil can help, various studies show.
No one seems
to have mentioned ingrown toenails but it can only be a matter of time. The
latest success for the viscous amber fluid from deep in a fish's insides is
with osteoarthritis, that most cripplingly painful of degenerative diseases.
released data yesterday showing it really is effective in slowing the
destruction of joint cartilage in osteoarthritis sufferers. Cartilage is the
"gristle" that cushions bones and prevents them from grinding against
each other and it is the loss of it which brings osteoarthritis on; it is a
condition that caused more than two million people in the UK
to visit their GP in the last year and is the main reason for joint replacement
groundbreaking clinical study, led by Professor Bruce Caterson
and Professor John Harwood of Cardiff University, and Professor Colin Dent,
orthopaedic consultant at the University of Wales College of Medicine, looked
at the effect of taking - and not taking - the oil on 31 patients on an NHS
Half of the patients, who were recruited 10 to 12 weeks prior to
total knee-joint replacement surgery, were given two daily capsules containing
1000mg extra high strength cod liver oil, and half (poor them!) were given
placebo capsules. At the time of surgery, samples of cartilage and joint tissue
were taken from the knee joints and subjected to analysis.
trial showed, the scientists said, that 86 per cent of the patients who took
cod liver oil capsules daily had absent or significantly reduced levels of the
enzymes that cause cartilage damage, compared with 26 per cent of those given
the placebo oil capsules. In addition, the result showed a marked reduction in
some of the enzymes that cause joint pain, in those patients taking the real
there you are. The researchers suggested yesterday that the findings could hold
the key to reducing the number of knee and hip replacements carried out in the UK
each year, thereby shortening NHS waiting lists for joint replacement surgery.
The estimated direct cost of arthritis to the health and social services is
approximately £5.5bn a year.
"Patients resort to joint replacement surgery
when the symptoms and pain of their arthritis becomes unbearable," said Professor
Dent. "Cod liver oil can counteract these symptoms and if you can switch
off the cartilage destruction and pain, then surgery may not be
Caterson said the findings represented a "hugely
significant" breakthrough. "The data suggests cod liver oil has a
dual mode of action, potentially slowing down the cartilage degeneration
inherent in osteoarthritis, and also reducing factors that cause pain and
inflammation," he said.
"By taking cod liver oil, people are more
likely to delay the onset of osteoarthritis and less likely to require multiple
joint replacements later in life." And he added: "To put this into
perspective, it is highly likely that if the Queen Mother had taken cod liver
oil as a young adult, she may have needed her first hip replacement much later
on in life."
Perhaps. But what
certainly seems to be true is that the gooey stuff that mothers used to force
down the unwilling throats of their offspring - "because it will do you
good, so take it!" - is an old wives' tale come true.
Research is showing
that it is genuinely effective in treating a whole range of ailments. Children
used to hold their noses when they swallowed it and be unaware of any real
benefits but perhaps because it prevented rather than cured.
the mid-19th century it had certainly been found to be an efficacious treatment
for rickets, a childhood disease of weak and softening bones caused by the
sufferer not getting enough vitamin D.
liver oil has bags of vitamin D, and even more vitamin A - more of the latter
per unit weight than any other common food, more than three times as much, for
example, as the next richest source, beef liver - and it is also a huge source
of omega-3 fatty acids. It seems to work on a variety of maladies.
for example, is otitis media, the infected
"runny ear" so often suffered by children. In a study at the New York
Eye and Ear Infirmary, investigators found that youngsters prone to otitis media had lower than normal levels of EPA (an
anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid), vitamin A, and selenium. When they gave
the youngsters cod liver oil, a multivitamin, and selenium, they found the
children suffered fewer ear infections.
studies have shown that the elongated omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil
improve brain function, stress response, allergies, memory and learning and
many behavioural disorders. It is counselled in everything from digestive
troubles to sleeping problems. Yet it has had the odd piece of bad publicity of
more than one occasion, tests have shown high levels of potentially
cancer-causing chemicals, such dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), to
be present in unacceptable levels in cod liver oil being sold.
Two years ago,
such levels were found in cod liver oil sold by Superdrug
and the health food chain Holland & Barret, - the
Food Standards Agency (FSA) asked both firms to remove the oil from sale.
FSA said the oil concerned contained more than twice the recommended daily
intake of the chemicals, which were not considered to be harmful to health
immediately, but were a matter of concern over potential damage from long-term
FSA tested 33 samples of branded fish oil supplement on sale across the UK.
Most of the dioxin levels found were low, apart from the two recommended for
Dr Jon Bell, the FSA's deputy chief
executive and head of food safety, said at the time: "While there have
been measurable improvements in dioxin levels in fish oil supplements, there is
scope for additional action by the industry to reduce levels still further. The
agency has initiated discussions with retailers and industry about ways to
continue to reduce levels of potentially harmful dioxins."
chemicals are in the oil because the chemicals are in the sea and can
eventually accumulate and become concentrated in marine organisms. (It has been
estimated one third of all the PCBs ever produced are now in the oceans.) But
in totting up a balance, the benefits of taking a daily spoonful seem
liver oil probably works in two different ways in preventing arthritis. It is a
rich source of vitamin D and of n-3 fatty acids - these substances modify
immune reactions in the body and help to prevent the body being attacked by itself in what is called an autoimmune reaction.
is one of several diseases that have been found to occur as a result of
deficiency of vitamin D. Some vitamin D is obtained from eggs, butter, and meat
and, for those who eat it, oily fish, but we obtain 90 per cent of our vitamin
D from the sun.