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Fish oil, cod liver oil and flax seed oil. What’s the difference?

By Aimee Raupp, MS LAc

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Through Aimee's clinics, coaching, online programs and her best-selling books– she has helped thousands of women on their path to optimal health & vitality- healing autoimmunity, improving fertility naturally and guiding them to live their best life. 

We all know that omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFA's) are great for our health but, what is the best source of them?

As a seasoned clinician who has been practicing for almost 16 years and a best-selling author , I'd prefer that we all ate a diet rich in omega 3's (and low in omega 6's) as these EFA's help reduce inflammation(the type that causes pain, acne, arthritis, certain digestive disorders, really any disease state), balance our hormones, prevent cardiovascular disease, beautify our skin from the inside out, make our joints more flexible, our moods more balanced, our concentration more focused and they even improve our sex drive.

The best dietary sources of EFA's are:

* Walnuts
* Eggs
* Seafood such as herring, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, oysters and salmon
* Flax seeds (the seed, not the oil! I'll explain…)
* Pumpkin seeds

However, eating a serving of each of these foods per day may not give you all the EFA's your body desires. So, I also recommend supplementing with an EFA.

This is where the fun begins. When you walk into the health food store there are probably 50 EFA touting supplements to choose from…flax seed oil, fish oil, cod liver oil, EPA/DHA… the list goes on…

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Let's break it down for you.

Flax Seeds. These little guys are a great source of omega 3's. However, most people prefer to swig down the oil to eating the seeds. Here's the thing: once the seeds are made into oil, they lose some of their health promoting luster. The oil lacks the fiber and the lignans that are present in the seeds. There is even argument that flax seed oil is an unstable oil (which is why it's not recommended for cooking) and has great potential to go rancid inside our bodies (causing more harm than good).

The other big factor with getting your omega 3's from flax is that flax doesn't directly contain EPA or DHA– it contains ALA (which is a precursor to EPA and DHA). So, your body has to take in this ALA and then metabolize it into EPA and DHA. If it sounds like more work, it is.

Bottom line, if you want to get omega 3's from flax, you need to eat the seeds, not the oil. Get some whole seeds, grind them in your coffee bean grinder and sprinkle them on your salad or yogurt. But, don't pop that flax seed oil pill or swing it down. And, don't count on flax alone to be your major source of omega 3's.

Fish oil and Cod Liver oil. Both are also a great source of omega 3's. And, both oils unlike flax contains EPA and DHA. There's no extra work required here.

Now, the difference between fish oil and cod liver oil is that cod liver oil is rich in both vitamin's A and D. Both vitamin A and D are important in bone health (by working in conjunction with calcium),help boost the immune system, regulate hormones and maintain the health of your heart.

In my practice and with my coaching clients, I recommend people take cod liver oil over fish oil.

The biggest issue with taking either cod liver oil or fish oil is whether or not its contaminated by the likes of mercury and heavy metal (because our poor fish are swimming in such toxic waters these days). So, make it your business to stick with oil that comes from deep-water fish and only take certain tried and true brands that adhere to strict extraction and distillation processes and keep their oil clean and toxin-free.

Here are my favorite brands:

Don't worry, I've done the work for you. The best brands out there are:

* Green Pasture's Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil
* Garden of Life Olde World Icelandic Cod Liver Oil
* Carlson's Cod Liver Oil

Personally, I take a daily dose of the Green Pasture's Fermented Cod Liver Oil as the fermentation process makes this oil easier to digest (and it shouldn't repeat on you). Plus, I just love the Green Pasture's company.


Aimee Raupp is a licensed herbalist, natural fertility expert and acupuncturist in NYC, offering natural health treatments, care & coaching solutions to anyone in need of health rejuvenation!  Heal autoimmune diseases and feel better now with Aimee's online courses & coaching solutions. Aimee and her team are experts in Chinese Medicine, & Eastern Nutrition and they are excited to work with you at one of the Aimee Raupp Wellness Centers in NYC, Nyack, or CT.  Achieve optimal health & vitality, and take control of your health!

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Aimee Raupp, MS, LAc, is a renowned women’s health & wellness expert and the author of the books Chill Out & Get Healthy, Yes, You Can Get Pregnant, and Body Belief. A licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in private practice in New York, she holds a Master of Science degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and a Bachelor’s degree in biology from Rutgers University. Aimee is also the founder of the Aimee Raupp Beauty line of hand-crafted, organic skincare products. She has appeared on The View, and has been featured in Glamour, Allure, Well + Good, GOOP, Shape, and Redbook, and has received endorsements from Deepak Chopra, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Arianna Huffington, and Gabby Bernstein for her work in helping thousands of women to improve their vitality, celebrate their beauty, and reconnect to the presence of their optimal health. Aimee is also an active columnist for media outlets such as Thrive Global and MindBodyGreen and is a frequent speaker at women’s health & wellness conferences across the nation. She engages her large community worldwide through her online programs and with her website,


  1. Hi there! I realize this is an older post, so you may not respond – but I'll give it a go!
    I so appreciate your post, which made it easy to see the difference between cod liver oil and flax oil. I am wondering, however, if I have a serving each of the foods you listed as containing EFAs per day (walnuts, eggs, etc.), should I still take the full serving of cod liver oil as listed on the the bottle?
    Thanks in advance!

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