Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Review - Healthspan Cod Liver Oil

photo credit - Telegraph
Mention "cod liver oil" to some of my friends and they will remember spoonfuls being given by the school nurse.  Alternatively do you remember those awful bottles of malt and cod liver oil dispensed by your Mother?  Do you remember that taste?  Can you remember the smell?  Those experiences are almost enough to put most of us off for life but I am now thinking we could be missing a trick here.  We could be missing out on an inexpensive supplement which could, over time, make significant improvements to our health and provide protection against a number of conditions.

Why I'm interested in this

You know I'm a 50-something runner, cyclist and vegetarian.  I like to stay in good shape - both physically and mentally - I need to do this for my own sake and, most importantly, for my family.  A few years ago I pulled myself back from the edge just in time, and I can tell you it's been incredibly rewarding.  

Although I take care of myself and like to think I'm eating the right things, perhaps it is a little bit of a gamble.  You see, while I make sure I eat a wide variety of food from vegetarian sources, I even eat some fish but to be honest, I don't enjoy it or probably have enough.  Also I know that I put my body under some pressure, especially with running and I'm running Milton Keynes Marathon once again so it's important I have the right foods to allow my body to repair itself and maintain my good health: taking these supplements now could be good timing for me.

Why Cod Liver Oil?

Different sources of Cod Liver Oil might provide slightly different ingredients, so for the benefit of this post I am concentrating on Healthspan.  Traditionally many people use it to maintain healthy joints; Cod Liver Oil provides high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids as well as being a rich source of Vitamins A and D.  Having done a little research into this, this is a particularly useful supplement as it contains:

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docasanexaenoic acid) which are both forms of Omega 3 fatty acids.  More on this below.
  • Vitamin D - required for teeth, bones and a protective effect.  Potentially we can be deficient through a lack of sunlight on our skin
  • Vitamin A - often known for helping our eyes work well in the dark but this essential vitamin has a wide range of other functions.  Unlike vitamin D, it's important to remember we cannot produce Vitamin A and we rely on what we consume to provide sufficient quantities.
  • Vitamin E - useful for protecting your arteries and helping on-going tissue repair
It could be argued the main benefits are derived from the Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are for my cardiovascular health, or at least that's the main attraction for me.  Studies and various articles have shown fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart attacks.  This is particularly important as I'm uncertain if I consume sufficient amounts to give me the confidence I'm having enough.  I do have some in the form of ground flaxseed as part of my breakfast but this is a relatively low concentration.

There are articles around to suggest fatty acids reduce the risk of asthma, some brain functions (memory and depression) and possible protection against some cancers but these are not the drivers for me.  As a runner I know my knees and ankles take a pounding - a few days ago when I ran for a little over 10 miles non-stop, that is over 15,000 steps of my full body weight landing on one foot at a time, so I am wanting to help protect myself with these vulnerable areas.  Omega 3, some say, help the health of our joints and some sufferers who have rheumatoid arthritis might benefit too.  Although my legs were a little achy after that run, they were fine for the next day's run so I must be doing something right!

Taking supplements

In my view, it is important to remember these are supplements.  That is supplements to our normal healthy diets and are helpful in filling gaps.  Even with the utmost care with our diets, Vitamin D can be hard to come by especially in the winter months away from sunshine.  Even with Healthspan's 1000mg dose (which is a very sensible daily dose) the Cod Liver Oil is contributing to the Recommended Daily Allowance of the Vitamins - it is not a substitute for good healthy food or topping up our Vitamin D from natural daylight.  

The NHS has published a useful document on supplements (click here) which helpfully keeps things in perspective.  While it is a complex area, in an ideal world we should be able to derive all we need from our daily food.

I think of it as being like an insurance policy - a way of managing some of those risks which are almost certainly there in the background to some degree.  How do I know if my fatty acid intake is enough?  Shall I wait until I get a heart attack to find out?  Obviously the answer is NO.  

Another important consideration is recognising how medications can inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients.  Sounds crazy doesn't it?  It's true, you take a tablet for one thing and then it can cause another problem somewhere else.  I recently needed a course of antibiotics but that's the first time for several years I have ever needed a prescription at all.  So if you take medication for depression, statins for cholesterol, diabetes, pain relief, laxatives or tranquillizers ask your Pharmacist about them inhibiting you getting all the goodness from the foods you eat.

Dose.  It is natural to think you can gobble up the things that are good for you.  Don't do that with any supplements.  Period.  Our bodies need a gentle supply of nutrients, not blasting them with huge concentrated quantities - exceeding the dose might do you more harm than good.   Always it is sensible for individuals to talk to their Doctors regarding supplements and whether they should take them; in this case it is especially relevant for women who are pregnant.

A word about Healthspan

I'm quite impressed by the Healthspan website in general and the range of supplements they offer, with a good range of information there.   

Sometimes in our family we think twice about mail order owing to the hassle of going to the Post Office to collect packages that won't fit through our letter box.  Healthspan have been very thoughtful in the design of their packaging.  As you can see it is letter-box friendly and arrived quickly. 

Letter box friendly shape
The packaging itself is cheery (I like that!) and well presented.  I like the "open book" design and the slim design, so it doesn't take up much room in a kitchen cupboard.  

There has been some general criticism of Cod Liver Oil supplements around for a while, suggesting that they are not very pure, or they contain levels of pollutants.  It is therefore reassuring to read that they are sourced from the clear, clean waters around Iceland and the Government's tests have shown Healthspan's Cod Liver Oil to be the purest available in the UK.

Sometimes people will quibble about the price.  WAKE UP!  If you buy 240 of these, they work out at just £0.04 each.  What else can you buy for 4p that will be as healthy?

Wrapping up

As much as I might deny I am middle aged, I do need to take good care of myself.  I place real demands on my body through cycling and running but these are GOOD demands.  Each time I run for an hour or so, I break down the bones and joints a little - as I sleep my body repairs itself incredibly well and possibly even stronger - isn't that amazing?  Because of all this, it means getting the right nutrients is vital.

I think that because of the modern food production, we might not always get the benefit we expect from our foods.  That's one of the reasons why we take the trouble to eat as much good quality, organic wholesome fresh food as we can.  No matter how keen we are to do this, our hectic pressured lives mean we sometimes have to make compromises.

I sometimes think of myself in the future as being old, way into the future.  I imagine myself sitting in my rocking chair wearing my carpet slippers and cardigan - I am fearful of having regrets where I could have done something positive about.  This includes taking on a few challenges while I can - like Marathon running.  I know, plenty of 50 - 60 year-olds do this faster than me.  Little things like spending 4p a day on Cod Liver Oil could play a part in making these things more possible and preventing illnesses and diseases. 

NB: a fee has been received for this blog post.


  1. Hi, Doug Dont wish to stir up a wasps nest, but if you are vegetarian, cod liver oil is "fish". I use Linseeds/Flax instead, I am a bit of an extremist though, I enjoyed reading your articles on smoking, drinking and obesity, I wrote a paper on obesity 15 years ago now, not much change really!! Eat less, move more, relax!! (without legal/illegal drugs)
    All the best, Mark

  2. Hi, Doug, I have about 2 tablespoons of linseeds a day, in food; eg porridge, homemade veggie burgers, quinoa etc. The problem with suppliments (capsules and tablets in particular) is they are "extra". People like you and me, who take reasonable steps to eat a balanced diet on a regular basis are probably over doing it.
    Most people in the west get far too much omega 6 as it is, the ratio of 0mega 3 to 6 is important also. Obviously a capsule of fish oil a day is not going to hurt at all.

    You and me are obviously similar in thought, which is rare for me.

    Thanks again Doug.

    PS: A couple of websites which may be of interest to you are:- No Meat Athlete and McMillan Running.