Effects of Cod Liver Oil on Joint Pain


woman massaging aching knee joint


Recent studies that used cod liver oil on arthritis show it may reduce pain and morning stiffness by lessening specific enzymes that destroy joint cartilage.

Our joints contain a spongy layer of cartilage between them. This cartilage acts like a cushion which helps to prevent your bones from rubbing against each other during movement.

When this cartilage breaks down or is eroded away, it can cause joint pain, stiffness and even effect your  range motion.

Osteoarthritis is a joint condition where the cartilage breaks down and rheumatoid arthritis involves an immune system response that causes inflammation in the joints. Both conditions can cause joint pain and stiffness.

In the past, people used cod liver oil for treating a number of different health conditions.  Aboriginal cultures used cod liver oil as a healing salve or poultice and doctors have used it to treat malnutrition and tuberculosis.

This article will take a closer look at the effects of cod liver oil on joint pain.


How Does Cod Liver Oil affect Joint Pain?

Cod liver oils contains the omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  Omega 3 fatty acids perform a number of important function in the human body. They’ve been shown to reduce inflammation in Crohn’s disease and can have positive effects during pregnancy by enhancing neurological function and visual acuity in newborn babies. 

Cod liver oils are also a natural source of vitamin D and vitamin A.  From a nutritional point-of-view, nutritionists and doctors agree that getting adequate levels of these vitamins can help your body produce stronger and healthier bone cells.

Emerging research now shows that cod liver oil may have a role in reducing symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis:

  • The Arthritis Foundation states that omega 3 fatty acids from fish may also modify inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis without the gastrointestinal side effects seen with some traditional treatments.

  • The Foundation went on to further state that “….according to the results of at least 13 studies involving more than 500 participants, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduced RA symptoms. Research also suggests omega-3s may help arthritis patients lower their dose of NSAIDs….”


cod liver oil pills with stethoscope


Review of Cod Liver Oil Joint Pain & Arthritis Studies

A number of these medical studies have shown cod liver oils can have a positive effect on joint pain, cartilage health and the amount of pain medication needed to manage symptoms.

The following is a brief review of some notable studies:


1. United Kingdom – In 2002, scientists released a study showing cod liver oils slowed down the destruction of joint cartilage in osteoarthritis.

In this particular study, researchers analyzed tissue samples of the patients’ cartilage and joint tissue from their knee joints.

Half of these patients had been taking 2 daily capsules of 1000 mg. extra high-strength cod liver oil and the other half received a placebo.

Researchers found 86% of patients taking cod liver oil had zero or significantly reduced levels of a cartilage-destroying enzyme.

Based on these results, researchers believe cod liver oil can reduce the enzymes associated with cartilage break-down and joint pain.


2. Cod liver oils may also help reduce non-steroidal drug usage in treating certain forms of arthritis. A study published in the May 2008 Rheumatology Journal showed omega 3 fatty acids in cod liver oils can be used as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug sparing agent in rheumatoid arthritis.

97 patients were randomized to receive either 10 grams of cod liver oils containing 2.2 grams of essential fatty acids or air-filled placebo capsules.

Researchers discovered that 39% of patients taking cod liver oil reduced their steroid medications by over 30%, whereas only 5% of the patients taking the placebo were able to reduce steroid usage.


3.  A study done at The Institute of Phytopharmaceuticals in Berlin, Germany concluded that cod liver oil can be recommended for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

When doctors gave rheumatoid arthritis patients 1 gram capsule of cod liver oil every day for 3 months they experienced a 52% decrease in morning stiffness and swollen joints. These same patients also felt their joint pain reduced by over 60%.


4. A Norwegian study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed cod liver oils may also reduce pain. A cross-sectional study using data from a 1985 Norwegian Health Survey showed people with musculo-skeletal pain experienced less pain when they took cod liver oil. Researchers found a 33% stronger association with the perception of less pain, compared to people that didn’t include cod liver oils in their diets.

The medical database, Pubmed.com also contains over a dozen published studies on cod liver oils and arthritis. These studies showed cod liver oil may offer the following benefits:

  • Could help reduce the enzymes that destroy joint cartilage.
  • May lower the amount of these enzymes that cause joint pain.
  • Can decrease ‘morning stiffness’ and swollen joints.
  • May help improve bone mineral density.



senior citizens joggingWhile this is only a small sampling of research studies, the overall data appears to be encouraging.

Cod liver oils appear to help relieve pain and improve range of motion in arthritis-like conditions.

What’s the best cod liver oil dosage for treating joint pain and arthritis-like conditions? There’s currently no standardized dosage due to the wide range of variables and results seen in the current research. At this point, many health care professionals consider cod liver oil to be an add-on therapy to traditional medical treatments.

Following a healthy diet and moderate exercise can offer some benefits to maintaining and strengthening your bones and joints.

People with ongoing joint pain should seek the attention and treatment from a qualified health care professional.



Research References:

Does dietary supplementation of cod liver oil mitigate musculoskeletal pain? Eriksen W, Sandvik L, Bruusgaard D. Department of Community Medicine and General Practice, University of Oslo, Norway. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1996 Oct;50(10):689-93

Effect of cod liver oil on symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Gruenwald J, Graubaum HJ, Harde A. PhytoPharm Consulting, Institute for Phytopharmaceuticals, Berlin, Germany. Advances in Therapy. 2002 Mar-Apr;19(2):101-7.

The association between parathyroid hormone, vitamin D and bone mineral density in 70-year-old Icelandic women. Sigurdsson G, Franzson L, Steingrimsdottir L, Sigvaldason H. Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital, Fossvogur, Reykjavik, Iceland. Osteoporosis International. 2000;11(12):1031-5.<


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Author Details
Author Details
Kevin is a full-time blogger with a passion for functional, whole food nutrition. A former Registered Respiratory Therapist with over 25 years experience in Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, he also has additional training as a Certified Natural Products Advisor. He enjoys a vibrant lifestyle that includes healthy foods, workouts focusing on core strength with flexibility and longboarding to stay fit and agile.