As a mom fighting for my family’s health, I want to share what I’ve learned over the past weeks about fermented cod liver oil, and why we will never take it again. Dr. Kaayla Daniel’s study was much needed, so I am thankful she went through the trouble. And let’s be clear, it was a lot of trouble.
In Hot Water
So, if this report caused so much trouble, why would Dr. Daniel put her reputation and career on the line in order to make her findings public? When I spoke with her recently, she simply said “I’m a mom, too, and that’s why I did this.” This doesn’t sound like someone who is in it for greed or fame. No, let’s consider who has something to gain… and something to lose in this situation:
Dr. Daniel, currently VP of the Weston A. Price Foundation (as of August 2015), became concerned when hundreds of moms contacted her with doubts about the fermented cod liver oil. Their kids were breaking out in hives and having other reactions. When Daniel took these concerns to the WAPF, as she detailed in her report, she was told to leave the science to the scientists and drop it. But, thankfully, she continued digging. Using a number of different labs, she confirmed what many feared: fermented cod liver oil was not only NOT fermented, but it was just plain rancid.
Dr. Daniel herself does not have monetary connections to any cod liver oil companies. However, the WAPF, and those heading it, do. The foundation has praised and pushed Green Pasture products for years, even going so far as to tell users to take copious amounts, which we now understand would never have been recommended by Dr. Price himself. I, like other self-respecting “crunchy,” natural moms bought in and have spent hundreds, if not thousands, on this fermented cod liver oil. After all, Dr. Daniel told me, “Everybody has been told to give it to their kids; that’s what you do if you’re a good mom.”
Why We Stopped Taking It
It was a little while back that I began to hear about the problems with fermented cod liver oil… was it rancid? Oxidized? Did it cause inflammation? Because I lacked an understanding of these concerns, and because I had believed for so long that this was a good product, necessary for my family’s health, I ignored the questions and placed another order. After all, thousands of people take this cod liver oil, it is promoted by the Weston A. Price Foundation, and many, many holistic health care professionals recommend it.
I increased my son’s dosage, as directed by our practitioner, to 2 tsp a day (it should be noted that our practitioner does not push a certain brand of cod liver oil). I experimented for a while, giving it to him a few days in a row, then backing the dosage down, as well as skipping it for a few days at a time. I was having a hard time figuring out whether it was helping or hurting, based on his behavior. Finally, I was able to put two and two together and realized that the days he took it, my son had rather crazy behavior. I decided to stop giving it to him for the time being.
Soon, I learned more about it and gained an understanding of its high histamine content, which was confirmed by Dr. Daniel’s study. Because we take GutPro probiotic, which actively reduces histamines, taking the two combined was counterproductive. Another reason to forgo taking the fermented cod liver oil.
Finally, I learned that the fermented cod liver oil is flavored with essential oils. The label merely reads “natural cinnamon flavor,” without revealing where the cinnamon comes from. I am not a fan of internal essential oil usage, so that was strike three. I was not going to give my family a product internally every day that contained essential oils.
About a week or two after I stopped giving my family the fermented cod liver oil, Dr. Daniel’s report was made public and I, for one, was glad to be ahead of the curve. Now that it was more than just a hunch, I had to let my family and friends, whom I had encouraged to take the fclo, know that it was unsafe and that they should throw it away. Talk about eating crow. I felt (and feel!) terrible that we had all been wasting our money and taking something that wasn’t good for us. Do I feel foolish for giving my kids fermented cod liver oil? No, I feel foolish for feeding my kids sugar and food dye before I knew better. When I gave my kids fclo, I was following the advice of a well-respected health foundation.
Now that the report is out, we know that fermented cod liver oil is:
- not really fermented (duh, oil can’t ferment)
- not really cod
- rancid, putrid, and rotten
- bad, stinky stuff (oh wait, your kids already told you that? Mine too.)
I don’t want to rehash the entire report here, because you can read it yourself, but it does confirm what I didn’t want to believe to be true: fermented cod liver oil, the gold standard of healthy supplementation, not only lacks the benefits it’s been purported to carry, but causes damage to health. Indeed, it effected my son’s behavior, and once I took him off of it, persistent symptoms I had been unable to rid him of (tics) began to subside.
The Green Pasture Rebuttal
I still receive emails from Green Pasture, so when I received one a few days after Dr. Daniel’s report came out, detailing their own reports that would serve as a rebuttal, I, of course, read it right away. These two documents show lab testing which proved that rats fed the fclo had higher vitamin A and D levels than those fed other supplements. First of all, this doesn’t tell us much. It is noted that the fermentation method uses “salt, fish broth starter, and livers.” I have no idea what a fish broth starter is, but I’ve definitely never used broth as a starter. If broth sits out too long at my house, you know what happens to it? It spoils.
As for the vitamin levels, I have two notes on that. 1. I was under the impression, because it had been pounded into me for so long, that fclo was a good source of vitamin D, and that I shouldn’t need additional supplementation. Our practitioner told us last spring that this is not the case, and when one is suffering from vitamin D deficiency, additional supplementation is needed. Which brings me to point 2. My son and I, who had been faithfully taking fclo for years, were both very deficient in Vitamin D. Now, we can argue about gut health and absorption, which we are surely working on in our bodies, but if fclo is as good of a source of these vitamins as we’ve been led to believe, how were we still lacking?
What About the “Blacked Out” Lab Names, Hidden Sources of Funding, and Refusal of Facility Tour?
There have been many who want to claim that Dr. Daniel’s report is untrustworthy because she does not disclose the labs she used for the testing. As she details here, this is common practice, as labs charge a great deal more to use their name for publication. Daniel goes on to explain why the funding sources haven’t been clearly identified, stating that many who helped fund the research are associated with the WAPF and don’t want to jeopardize their positions within the foundation. They, like her, wanted the truth, and many thought the research would prove that WAPF’s position on the matter was right all along: that fclo was, in fact, a healthy, fermented product. Many of them were just as shocked as the rest of us. Finally, Daniel says, she refused an all-expense-paid trip to the Green Pasture facility because “Doctors are frequently criticized for ‘educational’ trips paid for by Big Pharma — and for good reason! They learn exactly what the manufacturer wants them to learn, and there is a strong likelihood that their objectivity will be swayed by the hospitality.”
She goes on to say, “Last winter, I told Wetzel [owner of Green Pasture] I could not accept his all-expense paid visit, but would be willing to visit at my own expense. He then informed me that I could come but his lawyer would be present at all times. At that point, I decided not to travel because it would have cost me more than $2000 — $3000 if I brought a needed witness. I needed that money for lab testing. It was also totally obvious that I would see nothing that he did not want me to see. In terms of my ‘education’ about the Green Pasture process, I had already talked to Wetzel in depth on many occasions. And every time, without fail, my specific questions were met with evasive and vague answers, plus a lot of mumbo jumbo along the lines of ‘We know there are thousands of healing molecules in there that science struggles to find.'” [source]
On August 28th, 2015, Sally Fallon Morell posted a response on the Weston A. Price Foundation website entitled “Questions and Answers About Fermented Cod Liver Oil.” The post details why the WAPF did not choose to do the testing that Daniel requested (“the Board felt that the funds were better spent on vitamin testing…”), as well as plenty of scientific jargon detailing testing methods and the validity of the various methods.
As someone who is not a scientist or doctor, I don’t know a lot about the testing methods. This is clearly a hot topic and there are two distinct opinions on the matter, both of which have some scientific data to back up their position. Sounds an awful lot like another science/medicine battle that is popular these days. You believe the science you are inclined to believe. According to Fallon Morell, the testing methods detailed in Daniel’s report are a poor way to test for rancidity, and testing done at her request, and tests published by Green Pasture, show that the oil is not rancid. She goes on to say “…a lot of the discussion on rancidity is a question of semantics.”
She also notes her own consumption of the oil, crediting it with her increased vitamin A, which she attributes better night vision to. She says that her three grandsons, born to mothers who took fclo through their pregnancies, are “in wonderful health,” which she says is proof of the health benefits of the oil. I cannot make any claims or assumptions of her own experience with the Green Pasture products. I do know that fclo, the main supplement I took during my most recent pregnancy, was not sufficient supplementation for my pregnancy, and I found by the end of pregnancy that I needed to add a prenatal multivitamin.
Fallon Morell also claims she can leave her fclo out on her counter, rather than storing it in the refrigerator, and it does not change appearance, taste or smell. This is reminescent of what I have read about pasteurized milk: that it can sit out on the counter indefinitely without going bad because it is a dead food. It is, essentially, already “bad.” If fclo is a living, fermented food, I don’t understand how it can stay fresh on the counter indefinitely (Wetzel says it is shelf stable for four years!). When I ferment food at home, I place it in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process. If the fclo is, in fact, fermented, I wonder why it can sit at room temperature with no change.
Why Would You?
The fact that Daniel’s testing did show rancidity in the oil, whether Fallon Morell or others think it was an appropriate way to test, is enough to cast doubt on my own faith in the product. I don’t want to depend on “semantics,” I want to be certain about every product and supplement my family uses, and if there is enough reasonable doubt about a product, I’m not going to take any chances because I have other options. Not only are there other cod liver oils on the market, but there are ways to obtain vitamins A and D through diet. Grassfed, raw milk and milk products, liver and other organ meats, green veggies… these are all appropriate ways of obtaining these vitamins.
I know there are still die-hard Green Pasture Supporters. I get it. It’s hard to accept that something you believed for a long time to be true is, in fact, untrue. But, presented with the facts, I beg the question: why would you continue giving this to your family? When there are other options out there? When there are better options out there? It’s just not a risk I’m willing to take. Our families deserve the best, and as I learn and grow, I will always strive to give that to mine.
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If you would like to share your story about fermented cod liver oil and how it has affected your family or your children, you can email Dr. Daniel at email@example.com.
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