Once upon a time a man went on a quest that touched every corner of the earth: a quest to find out what made folks healthy. The man was Weston A. Price and he came back from his journey with a clear idea of how nutrition can affect our health. He put these ideas into print in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Price is known for recommending grass-fed butter, real whole milk, offal and fresh seafood. But perhaps he's most well known for recommending daily doses of high vitamin cod liver oil.
There are many folks who tout the benefits of quality cod liver oil, but today I thought we could hear a little straight from Price himself, courtesy of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
Cod Liver Oil, Fertility and Fetal Development
Price emphasizes that prenatal nutrition does have an impact on fetal development and beyond. He first demonstrates just how tremendous this impact can be on fertility by referencing an interesting study done on pigs:
"Swine did not reproduce when fed barley and salt, but did so when cod liver oil was added to this food."
It's humbling that such a simple therapy could yield such a drastic result. Price also spoke of pigs whose diets were deficient in Vitamin A giving birth to litters with severe deformities, but cod liver oil wasn't specifically mentioned (the good news was that the deformed pigs were able to give birth to healthy young once fed a nutritious diet with adequate vitamin A).
And while pigs aren't humans, Price makes a good point in saying this:
"If pigs need several months of special feeding in order that the mothers-to-be may be prepared for adequate carrying forward of all of the inheritance factors in a high state of perfection, surely human mothers-to-be deserve as much consideration."
I would think so.
In Chapter 21, Price then describes a case where a mother ate a deficient diet during the pregnancy of her first child and a nutritious diet during the second. The first child was currently ten years old and was clearly less healthy than her younger, more robust sister. Price notes the striking differences in the two pregnancies and births as well:
"The history of these pregnancies is of interest. The duration of labor for the first child was fifty-three hours and for the second three hours. Following the birth of the first child the mother was a partial invalid for several months. Following that of the second child the experience of childbirth made but slight impression on the strength and health of the mother."
Why the dramatic difference? Price has an explanation:
"During the first pregnancy no special effort was made to reinforce the nutrition of the mother. During the second pregnancy the selection of foods was made on the basis of nutrition of the successful primitives. This included the use of milk, green vegetables, sea foods, organs of animals and the reinforcement of the fat-soluble vitamins by very high vitamin butter and high vitamin natural cod liver oil."
Was this a fluke? Perhaps... or perhaps not. But Price certainly didn't think so. He implies this is a common experience when he next says:
"It is a usual experience that the difficulties of labor are greatly decreased and the strength and vitality of the child enhanced where the mother has adequately reinforced nutrition along these lines during the formative period of the child."
Cod Liver Oil for Treating Tooth Decay
While Price certainly recommended a nutrient-dense diet to patients who needed to fight tooth decay, he also considered high vitamin cod liver oil to be a crucial supplement to this diet. From Chapter 16 on curing tooth decay:
"The program that I have found most efficient has been one which includes the use of small quantities of very high vitamin butter oil mixed in equal parts with a very high vitamin cod liver oil."
But how much is needed? For treating tooth decay, Price says:
"The quantity of the mixture of butter oil and cod liver oil required is quite small, half a teaspoonful three times a day with meals is sufficient to control wide-spread tooth decay when used with a diet that is low in sugar and starches and high in foods providing the minerals, particularly phosphorus."
If you don't have active tooth decay and simply want to take preventative measure, Price noted that even less is needed:
"A teaspoonful a day divided between two or three meals is usually adequate to prevent dental caries and maintain a high immunity; it will also maintain freedom from colds and a high level of health in general."
Sounds good to me! Bear in mind this is a teaspoonful of the mixture of equal parts high vitamin cod liver oil and butter oil. So basically a total of one half teaspoon of each for preventative care.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Even Price understood the implication of having too much of a good thing. He knew from experience that more is not always better when it comes to cod liver oil. Here is what he says on page 267:
"It is important that I emphasize here some dangers that are usually not recognized or properly emphasized in the literature. When fish oils including cod liver oil are given in too large doses to some patients they experience quite definite symptoms of depression."
Interesting. Price goes on to explain:
"The available evidence indicates that fish oils that have been exposed to the air may develop toxic substances. My work and that of others with experimental animals has demonstrated that paralysis can be produced readily by over-dosing. Serious structural damage can be done to heart and kidneys. I have reported this in considerable detail."
Fortunately, Price explains that smaller doses much safer and can still yield fantastic results. He notes:
"My investigations have shown that when a high vitamin natural cod liver oil is used in conjunction with a high-vitamin butter oil the mixture is much more efficient than either alone. This makes it possible to use very small doses."
And so the mantra of moderation in all things prevails once again.
Final Thoughts on Weston A. Price and Cod Liver Oil
One thing is clear from reading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: though Price certainly recommended supplementing with cod liver oil and butter oil, he obviously believed the foundation of health is made with nutrient-rich food. And he meant for these to be used in conjunction with each other to reap the real benefits.
Want to read more about what Price said? Check out: What Price Said... About Carbs and Grains