Cod Liver Oil For Kids: Benefits, Dosage And Possible Side-Effects

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Cod liver oil for kids is a nutritional or dietary supplement derived from the liver of the codfish. It contains essential nutrients, such as vitamin D and omega-3 fats, which help children grow and develop healthily. But since most healthy children can get all the nutrients from a well-balanced diet, feeding them supplements isn’t usually necessary.

Dietary supplementation may become essential if you suspect your child’s dietary intake is insufficient or they have medical issues that interfere with digestion and absorption of nutrients. Consulting a pediatrician is necessary to know the right brand and dosage of cod liver oil suitable for your child. Read on as we tell you about the possible health benefits of cod liver oil for children and the side effects that they may cause.

What is Cod Liver Oil?

Cod liver oil is available in oil and capsule forms

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Cod liver oil is the oil extracted from cod fish’s liver. Cod is a type of fish that belongs to the genus Gadus and is a good source of nutrients such as vitamins A and D, omega-3 fatty acids, namely EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) (1).

Cod liver oil is categorized based on its method of extraction and processing. The following are the two types of cod liver oil:

  • Regular cod liver oil: Oil is extracted, processed, and refined at a high temperature. It is available in the form of supplements after synthetic vitamins are added to it.
  • Fermented cod liver oil: It is extracted without heat and is fermented for 6-12 months. It is a natural product and is taken as food.

Cod liver oil is available in oil and capsule forms. Both these forms contain 10% EPA and 10% DHA (2). This constitution profile makes it healthy and worthy of attention. But can cod liver oil be part of children’s diet?

Did you know?
Fermented cod liver oils are prepared by fermenting the cod liver rather than cod liver oil. Also, they are fortified with health-promoting elements, such as antioxidants (3).

 

Is It Safe To Give Cod Liver Oil To Kids?

Cod liver oil can be used externally to heal wounds and rashes

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Cod liver oil is usually safe for children when taken orally and in the right amounts (4). It can also be used externally to heal wounds, burns, and rashes.

There is no recommended cod liver oil dosage for children. So, it is best to take the doctor’s opinion before giving it to them. Doctors usually prescribe cod liver oil for children only if they think that the supplement is required.

Nutritional Value of Cod Liver Oil

The table below lists the different nutrients and their value per 100g of cod liver oil (5).

NutrientNutritional value
Energy902 kcal
Vitamin A, RAE30000µg
Retinol30000µg
Vitamin A, IU100000 IU
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)250µg
Vitamin D10000 IU
Fatty acids, total saturated22.608g
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated46.711g
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated22.541g
Cholesterol570mg

When taken as directed by the physician, cod liver oil can offer certain benefits to children.

What Are The Potential Benefits Of Cod Liver Oil For Kids?

Cod liver oil offers several benefits to children, some of which are mentioned below.

  1. Vitamin D helps prevent rickets: Rickets is a condition that occurs due to the deficiency of vitamin D in children. Its symptoms include bowed legs, projected breastbone, and thick wrists and ankles. A teaspoon of cod liver oil provides the recommended daily intake of 400IU of vitamin D. Giving this to your children may prevent vitamin D deficiency (6).
  1. Might prevent upper respiratory illness: According to a study, intake of cod liver oil decreases the bouts of upper respiratory diseases that are prevalent during winter and spring (7).
  1. Reduces ear infections: When taken with a multivitamin supplement, cod liver oil may help reduce ear infections in children. It might also be helpful in managing allergic rhinitis and ocular disease (8) (3).
Cod liver oil may help reduce ear infections in children

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  1. Vitamin A is good for eyesight: Vitamin A helps in maintaining eye sight and night vision as well as fighting infections (9).
  1. Omega 3 might help ADHD symptoms: Omega-3 fatty acids present in cod liver oil may help in reducing the symptoms of ADHD in children aged seven to 12 years (10).
  1. Lower risk of type-1 diabetes: A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003, proposes that intake of cod liver oil during the first year of life may help lower the risk of type-1 diabetes (11).
Did you know?
Cod liver oil was traditionally used to treat and prevent rickets in the US (12).

While we learn about the benefits of cod liver oil, we must also know about any side-effects it might have.

What Are The Side Effects Of Cod Liver Oil?

Cod liver oil may cause heartburn and nausea in children

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The side effects of cod liver oil are usually mild. Any side-effects that the child may experience usually resolve on their own. Some of the common side-effects include (13):

  • Bad breath
  • Heartburn
  • Burps that smell fishy
  • Loose stools
  • Nausea

Also, severe reactions may occur if the child is allergic to seafood or the dosage is inappropriate. So, consult a doctor before starting cod liver oil supplements for your child.

Children who are sensitive to cod liver oil could have (14):

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Urticaria (a kind of rash that causes itchiness and swelling, and red welts)
  • A combination of the symptoms mentioned above

Children having eczema and asthma might have their condition aggravated. Besides allergic reactions, the effects of an overdose of vitamins A and D could be seen in children.

  • An excess dose of vitamin A (> 1500μg/day) can increase the risk of bone fractures (15)
  • An overdose of vitamin D causes build-up of calcium in blood (hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. Symptoms might progress to bone pain and kidney problems, such as the formation of calcium stones, or increased levels of calcium in the blood serum can lead to bone loss and fractures (16).

All said and done, cod liver oil has a smell and taste that children may not like. Here are a few tips for feeding cod liver oil to kids.

How To Make Your Child Take Cod Liver Oil?

Add cod liver oil to smoothies or acidic juices

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Cod liver oil has a fishy smell and taste, which makes children reluctant to take it. Drinking a spoonful of cod liver oil as it is can be difficult. However, you can make it easier to consume.

  • Try cod liver oil supplements, which are available in the form of chewable tablets.
  • Try the flavored brands of fermented cod liver oil, where the flavor masks the fishy smell and taste.
  • Add it to their favorite foods or smoothies, or acidic juices made of lemon or grapefruit
  • Blend it with honey or sugar syrup.

Never force the children to take this oil, as they may throw up or choke on it if they find the smell or flavor repulsive. Consult your doctor immediately in the case of any side-effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. At what age can a baby take cod liver oil?

Babies can begin taking cod liver oil by seven months. However, you must consult your doctor before introducing it to them (17).

2. What dosage of cod liver oil is suitable for children?

Cod liver oil is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). According to the European Food Safety Authority, children aged seven to 24 months need 100mg of DHA per day, while those over two years need 250mg of EPA/DHA per day (17).

Cod liver oil is a dietary supplement that should only be administered in case of deficiencies. It is a rich source of healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D. Hence, an appropriate intake of cod liver oil for kids can cure rickets, reduce the risk of contracting infections, help manage ADHD symptoms, and improve eyesight. However, excessive intake could cause nausea, loose stools, and heartburn. Hence, administer cod liver oil to children in the recommended quantities only after consulting your pediatrician.

Infographic: Alternatives To Cod Liver Oil For Vegetarians

Cod liver oil may not be an acceptable option for vegetarians. However, that does not mean they must miss out on the nutrients found in cod-liver oil. Go through the infographic below to know what else may provide the same national benefits.

alternatives to cod liver oil for vegetarians [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Cod liver oil is rich in vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids. It is available in liquid or capsule forms.
  • It is usually safe for children, but a doctor’s prescription is advisable.
  • The supplement is beneficial for preventing bone and eyesight-related disorders, ear infections, and more.
  • It may cause loose stools and fishy burps as side effects.
  • Cod liver oil should not be given to children with seafood allergies.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. George T. Griffing; Mother Was Right About Cod Liver Oil; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2008)
2. Leslie G Cleland et al.; Fish oil: what the prescriber needs to know; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2006)
3. Fermentation: Enhancing favourable health properties of cod liver oils; Research Outreach
4. Cod Liver Oil, Medline Plus,U.S. National Library of Medicine (2018)
5. Fish oil, cod liver, SR Legacy 173577; Food Data Central; USDA
6. Carol L. Wagner et al,; Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents; American Academy of Pediatrics (2008)
7. Linday LA; Cod liver oil, young children, and upper respiratory tract infections; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2010)
8. Geetendra Singh Dhanawat; Rhinitis, sinusitis and ocular disease – 2100. New Approach To Treat Allergic Rhinitis with Vitamin E, Cod Liver Oil and Vitamin C with Use of Nasal Steroidal Spray; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2013)
9. Vitamins; Kids Health from Nemours;The Nemours Foundation
10. E. Derbyshire; Do Omega-3/6 Fatty Acids Have a Therapeutic Role in Children and Young People with ADHD?; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2017)
11. Lars C Stene et al.; Use of cod liver oil during the first year of life is associated with lower risk of childhood-onset type 1 diabetes: a large, population-based, case-control study; Oxford University Press (2003)
12. Linda A Linday; Cod liver oil, young children, and upper respiratory tract infections. National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2010)
13. Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth; National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health;National Institute of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2018)
14. Ray M. Balyeat, Ralph Bowen; Cod Liver Oil Sensitivity In Children; American Medical Association
15. Marleen A.H. Lentjes, Ailsa A. Welch, et al.; Cod Liver Oil Supplement Consumption and Health: Cross-sectional Results from the EPIC-Norfolk Cohort Study; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2014)
16. M G Vogiatzi et al.; Vitamin D Supplementation and Risk of Toxicity in Pediatrics: A Review of Current Literature; Oxford University Press (2014)
17. Cod liver oil; The Health and Food Supplements Information Service
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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different...
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Jyoti Benjamin

(MS, RD, CSO, FAND, CD)
Jyoti Benjamin has 25 years of experience as a clinical dietitian and currently works in Seattle. She focuses on teaching people the value of good nutrition and helping them lead healthy lives by natural means. Benjamin has a masters in Foods and Nutrition, and has been a longtime member and Fellow of AND (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) and the...
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