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Side Effects of Cod Liver Oil Capsules

Updated April 17, 2017

Cod liver oil is extracted from the liver of cod fish. As a source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and other vitamins, cod liver oil is a beneficial nutritional supplement. However, as with most supplements, it also has some potential side effects.

Function

The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil benefit numerous bodily functions, such as reducing triglyceride levels (one factor in total cholesterol) and aiding in general cardiovascular health. Other potential benefits of omega 3s include reducing cancer risk, aiding in cognitive function and assisting in weight loss. Cod liver oil is also a major source of vitamin A, essential for a healthy immune system and bone growth, and vitamin D, which helps build and maintain strong bones.

Side Effects: Omega-3s

Although low-to-moderate doses are usually safe for healthy adults, cod liver oil may cause minor gastrointestinal upset. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that excessive doses of omega-3 fatty acids may increase the risk of bleeding---from nosebleeds or blood in the urine to a stroke (hemorrhagic bleeding). Fish oil may also "interact with certain medications, including blood thinners and drugs used for high blood pressure."

Side Effects: Vitamins

The NIH also warns against taking fish oil supplements in higher amounts and/or for prolonged periods of time because "fish liver oil products (such as cod liver oil) may increase the risk of vitamin A or D toxicity." The NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements reports that high storage level of vitamin A can result in birth defects, liver abnormalities, reduced bone mineral density that may result in osteoporosis, and central nervous system disorders. Excessive vitamin D can result in symptoms ranging from nausea, weakness and weight loss to hypercalcemia, which can lead to cognitive dysfunction, kidney stones or failure. Individuals taking multivitamins regularly or in high doses should inform their physician.

Expert Insight

Up to 3g per day of omega-3 fatty acids is generally regarded as safe by the Food and Drug Administration. However, if you are diabetic, pregnant, have high blood pressure or cholesterol, or are sensitive or allergic to fish or foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as nuts, consult with your doctor about taking cod liver oil.

Mercury

People concerned about the mercury levels in fish need not worry about mercury levels in cod liver oil supplements. Supplements contain almost no mercury, compared to fresh fish such as shark, swordfish or tilefish.

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About the Author

Kristan Nolan has been a freelance writer and editor since 2003. She has written for various media outlets such as "Solano Magazine," "Celebrates," "Our Wedding" and chamber of commerce guidebooks. Her writing interests primarily include lifestyle, health and medicine, pets and personalities. Nolan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of California at Davis.