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Is Cod Liver Oil an Anti-Inflammatory?

By Emma Cale ; Updated August 14, 2017

Cod liver oil contains EPA and DHA, two important omega-3 essential fatty acids. The body cannot synthesize these nutrients on its own, so it must secure them from the diet. Recent research links omega-3 essential fatty acids with significant anti-inflammatory activity that minimizes the risk of serious chronic illnesses such as heart disease. Speak to your doctor or health care provider about the anti-inflammatory benefits of cod liver oil supplementation.


EPA and DHA stand for eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid respectively. One tablespoon of cod liver oil provides 1 g of EPA and 1.5 g of DHA. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, EPA and DHA reduce the chronic inflammation associated with heart disease. Cod liver oil also decreases inflammation in autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.


Cytokines are a species of proteins activated by the body's response to inflammation; these include tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1, interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein. High levels of C-reactive protein often present in patients with coronary heart disease. According to Artemis P. Simopoulos, M.D., F.A.C.N. of the Center for Genetics in Washington, D.C., omega-3 fatty acids suppress the expression of cytokines; this action occurs because EPA and DHA stop white blood cells from producing inflammatory proteins.

Vitamin D

Cod liver oil also provides a good source of vitamin D, an important vitamin that produces anti-inflammatory effects, according to recent research. One tablespoon of cod liver provides 338 percent of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D. A June 2011 study conducted by Iranian researchers found that the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein was much higher in subjects with low levels of vitamin D in their blood compared to subjects with normal levels of vitamin D. The results of this study were published in the journal “Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapies.”


The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil sometimes produce side effects such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. Omega-3 fatty acids also act as anticoagulants; if you have a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia, or if you tend to bruise easily, cod liver oil may worsen your symptoms. Cod liver oil can also interact negatively with certain medications, particularly blood thinners such as warfarin and clopidogrel, brand names Coumadin and Plavix respectively. Seek medical clearance before you supplement cod liver oil for inflammation.

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