Too Much of a NOT so Good Thing

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Dr. Ron SchmidThree years ago this summer, I experienced increasingly severe shortness of breath and swelling of my lower legs, symptoms I had been noticing for a couple of years. It got so bad that on July 11, 2012, I went to the hospital emergency room. I was admitted and quickly diagnosed with advanced heart failure.

I was stunned. An old saying has it that only a fool has himself for a doctor. I was that fool. Despite the obvious signs, I’d never imagined my heart could be failing. Now I could only think: Why? How had this happened?

My doctors were stumped. They assumed I had clogged coronary arteries, but tests showed the circulation to my heart was perfect. I did have a severely enlarged heart, rapid heartbeat, an abnormal rhythm, and an ejection fraction of 30, indicating severe heart failure (normal is 60 or more).

Now, one thing about me is that I am disciplined to a fault. While still in naturopathic medical school in 1979, I read Weston Price’s work and discovered that cod liver oil was a wonderful healing agent. I followed Price’s dictum to recommend small amounts to patients, typically up to one teaspoon daily, and agreed with him that it often worked wonders. However, I gradually increased the amount I personally took daily, and soon was taking a regimen of one or two tablespoons every day. I reasoned (if you can call it that) that if a little was good, more was better. A lot more…., and this went on for some 31 years. I rarely missed a day. I took Carlson’s brand for over 20 years, and after 2000 Green Pasture’s and Dr. Ron’s Norwegian Cod Liver Oil.

In 2006, I began taking fermented cod liver oil, one to two tablespoons daily, sometimes even three, buying into the notion that it was a superfood and that large doses were beneficial. Over the next six years, I gradually developed symptoms of edema in my legs and shortness of breath. I attributed my symptoms to Lyme disease; I had been diagnosed in 2002 and thought I still had it (once hospitalized in 2012, I learned that I no longer had Lyme disease, but rather a failing heart).

About two weeks before going to the hospital, I stopped taking fermented cod liver oil. I was feeling so poorly I didn’t feel like eating much or taking any supplements. I also had an intuition that the cod liver oil was not helping me. I was turned off by the idea of taking it any more. Then, on my sixth day in the hospital, desperate for an answer as to why my heart was failing, I recalled that years ago I had heard about articles that linked high doses of cod liver oil to heart abnormalities in mice. The warning signals I had ignored now rang clear. I decided to investigate.

An internet search of “heart failure” + “cod liver oil” turned up the 1930 Acta Pediatrica article “The Appearance of the Electrocardiogram in Heart Lesions Produced by Cod Liver Oil Treatment.” I discovered that researchers in that era, when cod liver oil was universally given to both children and adults with a wide variety of ailments, had induced heart failure in mice by giving them doses comparable proportionally to what I had taken for years. My desperation turned to joy, as I realized that, in time, I might recover my health.

I have indeed largely recovered. My heart has gradually become more and more normal. I’ve become more and more able to do all of the things I’ve always loved, including walking three or four miles daily and playing tennis several days a week.

Dr. Kaayla Daniel, PhD, author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food, Vice President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and 2005 recipient of the Foundation’s Integrity in Science award, has recently published an e-booklet titled, “Hook, Line and Stinker: The Truth About Fermented Cod Liver Oil.”(www.drkaayladaniel.com).

I suggest that you read this carefully if you wish to fully understand the role fermented cod liver oil played in my heart failure. Here is a summary report on Dr. Daniel's research.

Weston Price was clear in his warnings about cod liver oil, and that rancidity could easily become a problem in cod liver oil. In her report, Dr. Daniel writes that, “He regretted that research studies were ‘limited’ and chose to emphasize some ‘dangers that are not usually recognized or properly emphasized in the literature’ and stated that most of what was known about toxicity from CLO came from clinicians who observed ‘severe and striking’ effects. The adverse effects he found included physical and mental health problems, most notably depression and ‘serious structural damage’ to the heart and kidneys.”

Dr. Daniel also states that her rigorous laboratory testing makes it clear that fermented cod liver oil is rancid. She writes of “…the rancidity, putrefaction and low fat-soluble vitamin content found in the fermented cod liver oil product” and states that “several lab managers said FCLO was the most rancid oil they’d ever tested.” And much more. I have published a Summary Report of her e-booklet here on our website.

As indicated above, I took an excessive amount of unfermented cod liver oil for some 25 years before my heart problems began. Then, in the six years I took fermented cod liver oil, I went from running ten miles a day to being barely able to walk across the room. My cardiologist, a world renowned physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital named Mark Marieb, was at first skeptical of my theory that cod liver oil had caused my heart problems. But as he has followed what he calls my “miraculous recovery” from advanced heart failure (the usual prognosis is death within three to six months, and when first admitted at Yale-New Haven, I was seen by the Heart Transplant Team), he has gradually accepted that the cause of my heart failure was excessive amounts of cod liver oil.

I continued to recommend fermented cod liver oil, in small amounts, until I read Dr. Daniel’s report. I still recommend unfermented cod liver oil, as did Dr. Price, up to a teaspoon a day but more typically a half teaspoon a day – to my former patients (I am retired from practice) and our customers. I continue to believe, as Weston Price did, that cod liver oil often does work wonders for those who lack certain critical nutrients. But I’ve told my story here to issue a warning about the dangers of rancidity in cod liver oil, particularly if excessive amounts are used.

I apologize to all of you, our customers, for not doing more sooner to discover the problems we have discovered. I have learned some lessons. I will make every effort in the future to bring you only the finest and purest products.

I’m thankful to all who have helped me toward a more balanced life. That includes the naturopathic and medical doctors who have helped me recover, and the many of you who have sent me your stories over the years. I’m always happy to hear from you.

I’m especially thankful to Dr. Kaayla Daniel for her perseverance and courage. Please read her report carefully, and if you are convinced as I am that she is correct, stand with her as we do our best to convince the Weston A. Price Foundation and others of the correctness of her conclusions.

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