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A Conversation with Dave Wetzel of Green Pasture Products

If you spend much time on DrDeborahMD.com, you're almost certain to come across references to fermented cod liver oil (FCLO). I consider it a crucial ally in restoring health and maintaining optimal wellness. One of our writers (Marty Paule) recently spoke with Dave Wetzel whose Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil products have had an enormously positive impact on the health of many of our patients and friends. We spoke to Dave at his Nebraska farm.

Marty (MP): What led you to begin producing fermented cod liver oil in the first place?

Dave Wetzel: I've had an ongoing interest in traditional and sacred foods for many years.  There are references in the Catholic Bible's Book of Tobias as well as in Roman and Viking historical texts about the medicinal the use of fish viscera. The Romans packed fish guts in drums and stored them in caves for about six months to ferment them. The liquid that was gathered from the bottom of these drums was a condiment called garum that was consumed throughout the Roman Empire. The oil that rose in the barrels was considered an elixir and was reserved for Roman troops and the nobility. It was said that Roman soldiers refused to march without their supplies of this oil.

MP: What was the connection between the Vikings and fish oil?

DW: The Viking diet included fish as a staple and cod livers were actually used as a form of payment. Every home had a barrel of these livers fermenting outside the door. They used it as a condiment, as a cooking oil, and as fuel for their lanterns.

Moving forward into the 19th century, doctors considered cod liver oil an essential part of their medicinal repertoire. Every mother kept a bottle on hand and regularly dosed her children with it. Even governments recognized its benefits. In England prior to WWII, kids would line up before school to receive a dose of cod liver oil along with a cup of orange juice. They'd get a shot of it every day.

MP: What was the thinking behind this ritual?

DW: It was just something you did. They didn't need to know how many IUs of this or that it contained-you just took it when you were under stress. Around 1850 in Norway, it was discovered that by rendering cod liver oil using heat, the yield could be doubled and the production time could be reduced from six months of fermentation to a single day. Rendering also produced a clearer liquid. But by rendering, they were breaking the molecular bonds, creating free radicals. This also resulted in a less stable product that would turn rancid more easily.

During WWII the U.S. government began stockpiling large quantities of vegetable oils as a hedge against dwindling supplies of diesel fuel. These oils went unused, and after the war new methods of hydrogenating and filtering them resulted in a product that was colorless, odorless, and tasteless-but also nutrient-less. But that wasn't an issue since the concern was marketability rather than nutrition. And that's the way all fish oils are produced today-it's highly processed and industrialized. Recognizing that cod liver oil was traditionally valued for its vitamin A and D, manufacturers then began throwing in synthetically produced vitamins.

MP: So the resulting product didn't really resemble the traditional preparations you spoke of earlier?

DW. Right. Though it still was called cod liver oil with all the nutrition that implied, it was a very different product.

MP: On your website we noticed that you don't provide assays of the content of your fermented cod liver oil.

DW: That right, because that's not the real question. Naturally produced cod liver oil contains thousands of molecular structures. Our understanding of their nutritional functions as well as our ability to measure them is very limited due to a huge variety of metabolites in FCLO that we don't understand. Vitamin D is a hormone and it's very difficult to pinpoint its role in human nutrition. Until we more completely understand these things, just take it. When we're under stress, take a bigger spoonful. Let's not try to turn this traditional food into a drug. Even trying to establish the level of vitamin D in our blood is a difficult question. I recently saw a report where a blood sample sent to 10 different labs produced widely varying results.

MP: It seems that you're less concerned with quantification of the ingredients in your FCLO and more concerned that it be prepared in the traditional manner that has served humans for millennia.

DW: Exactly right. There are so many factors that can affect vitamin D serum levels-thyroid function for one. It's said that 50 percent of us have underactive thyroids. And of course exposure to sunlight is very important. Even hygiene can be an issue-frequent showering can reduce the oils on our skin. Our ability to metabolize vitamin D is still not well understood due to the subtle ways in which our endocrine system affects the process. It's my opinion that consuming traditional and sacred whole foods that have not been subjected to industrial processes is the way to stay healthy and deal with the stresses of modern life.

The DrDeborahMD store will soon offer a complete line of Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil products.

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