Take a stroll down any supplement aisle and you’ll find a sea of fish oil supplements (pun definitely intended). But upon closer look, you’ll notice there are cod oil supplements in addition to fish oil. 

Does this distinction matter or is it just a marketing ploy?

Both typically come in capsule or liquid forms and can help you increase your omega-3 fatty acid intake. But the main difference between cod liver oil and fish oil is where they’re derived from. As the name implies, cod liver oil comes purely from codfish (a breed of large marine fish). On the other hand, fish oil can come from any combination of fish species.

However, that’s not the only difference. Cod liver oil may offer several advantages over blended fish oil, especially when it comes to its micronutrient content. 

Keep reading to learn how cod liver oil differs from fish oil, which is healthier, and who should consider adding these supplements into their daily routine. 

4 Differences Between Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil

Let’s break down four key differences between cod liver oil and fish oil so you can make an informed decision on which is best for you.

1. Source

The primary difference between cod liver oil and fish oil is where they’re sourced. Cod liver oil is derived from the livers of codfish—usually Atlantic cod and Pacific cod. These fish get their omega-3 fatty acids by eating phytoplankton, which absorb microalgae, the original source of rich omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish oil, on the other hand, can be extracted from the flesh of several breeds of fatty fish, such as:

  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Tuna

2. Vitamin Content

Cod liver oil has a higher concentration of specific vitamins compared to regular fish oil. Specifically, cod liver oil is rich in vitamin A and vitamin D, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids.

On average, one teaspoon (about 5 ml) of cod liver oil may contain up to 5,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A and up to 1,000 IU of vitamin D.

While regular fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), it doesn’t have the same high levels of vitamins A and D as cod liver oil.

3. Omega-3 Content

Cod liver oil comes from the liver of the codfish, which tends to be less fatty than other fish, such as tuna and mackerel. Accordingly, cod liver oil supplements may offer a lower dose of omega-3s.

The specific omega-3 content can vary widely depending on the type of fish, processing methods, and type of supplement you take, so it’s always important to read the nutrition facts before you buy either type.

4. Price

Pure cod liver oil may be more expensive than standard fish oil. However, prices can vary depending on the brand, quality, and where you buy your supplements.

Which Is Better: Cod Liver Oil or Fish Oil?

Cod liver oil pills.

Whether cod liver oil is “better” than fish oil depends on your specific health needs and goals. Both offer significant health benefits due to their omega-3 fatty acid content. However, cod liver oil has the advantage of containing higher levels of vitamins A and D, which can be beneficial for bone health, immune function, and vision. 

Regular fish oil, on the other hand, might be ideal if you’re specifically looking to increase your omega-3 intake without the higher levels of vitamins A and D. Fish oil supplements are often more concentrated in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional to determine which supplement suits your needs.

Fish Oil FAQs

Let’s cover some common questions about fish oil.

What Are the Benefits of Cod Liver Oil?

Between its omega-3 and vitamin content, cod liver oil offers several health benefits, including:

  • Decreased inflammation
  • Immune system support
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased in HDL, the “good cholesterol”
  • Preventing plaque buildup in arteries
  • Maintaining bone density
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Maintaining joint health

What Are the Health Benefits of Fish Oil?

Although regular fish oil doesn’t have the same vitamin content, it still offers plenty of health benefits thanks to its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Support brain function
  • Skin health
  • Liver support
  • Reduced inflammation and pain from arthritis
  • Prevent mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

How Much Fish Oil Do You Need?

General guidelines suggest that adults should aim to get at least two servings of fatty fish per week—about 500 milligrams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) per day.

However, the recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids can vary depending on your age, sex, and overall health. 

Are Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil Safe?

Cod liver oil and fish oil are generally considered safe, but there are some potential side effects to be aware of:

  • Fish allergies: Fish oil supplements can trigger fish or shellfish allergies.
  • Stomach issues: Fish oil supplements may cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Blood Pressure: Some research suggests that omega-3s might lower blood pressure. If you take blood pressure medication, talk to your doctor before taking these supplements.
  • Blood Clotting: Omega-3s can affect blood clotting. If you have clotting disorders or bleeding disorders, consult a doctor before supplementing with fish oil.

Who Should Take Fish Oil Supplements?

If you don’t eat the recommended 2-3 servings of non-fried fish per week, taking fish oil or cod liver oil supplements can be an efficient way to boost your omega-3 levels.

The Final Word on Fish Oil vs. Cod Liver Oil

Cod liver oil and fish oil supplements are both effective at ensuring you get enough omega-3 fatty acids. However, if you’re looking for a vitamin boost, cod liver oil may be the better option. In addition to delivering more micronutrients, it also comes from a single source so you know exactly what you’re getting.