Dr. Weston A. Price

It’s a question that has been asked frequently over the last few weeks among members of the Weston A. Price Foundation: What would Dr. Weston A. Price have made of the fermented cod liver oil mess?

Much like Christians wonder what Jesus would have thought about gay marriage. Or Buddhists wondering what the Buddha might have thought about the mindfulness craze sweeping the U.S. Or Jews wondering how Moses would have handled Israel’s occupied territories.

Certainly I doubt Dr. Price intended to be lumped with Jesus, the Buddha, or Moses. He wasn’t a religious leader, he was a dentist and a scientific researcher, but his research and conclusions about food and nutrition are taken as gospel by many WAPF adherents.

So what was Dr. Price’s take on cod liver oil? Remember, he wouldn’t have had a reaction to fermented cod liver oil because there was no such product in his days of assessing cod liver oil during the late 1920s.

As Jim Schmechel points out in a comment following my previous post, a recent article from Price Pottenger Foundation, a fore-runner to the Weston A. Price Foundation, which catalogues Dr. Price’s research, says this about the dentist’s approach to cod liver oil:

“During this time period (late 1920s), Dr. Weston A. Price was conducting numerous animal studies with cod liver oil. The results showed that some types of the oil were very beneficial to immunity and proper physical and mental development, particularly in regard to phosphorus and calcium metabolism regulation (positively affecting bone, dental, blood and brain health). Yet he found that it could also cause great harm, especially when overused.   He was careful to note ‘some dangers that are not usually recognized or properly emphasized in the literature.’ “

Especially pertinent to today’s controversy, the article continues:

“Freshness and storage of the oil is important, he continued. Even though an oil may have a high vitamin content, if it is oxidized or rancid, it will not have the desired effects. ‘The available evidence indicates that fish oils [including cod liver oil] that have been exposed to the air may develop toxic substances.… Rancid fats and oils destroy vitamins A and E, the former in the stomach.’

“Overdosing with cod liver oil (and other fish oils), he cautioned, can be detrimental, possibly resulting in depression or paralysis, and he warned that ‘serious structural damage can be done to hearts and kidneys.’ “

I found a similar warning I hadn’t seen before on the Weston A. Price Foundation site today, in searching out background about Dr. Price’s overall research. It states: “Weston Price prescribed cod liver oil to his patients but he also warned against giving too much. ….’In my clinical and technical investigations of the activators for inducing mineral metabolism, I have continually found evidence indicating that cod liver oil contains products that are very seriously toxic to humans and other land animals and can do much harm when given in large doses, even only as large as frequently advocated.’ ”

I don’t know about you, but I find these statements astounding in the context of the current FCLO mess. Here you have Dr. Price expressing concerns about fresh cod liver oil potentially being “seriously toxic to humans,” and expressing special concerns about possibly rancid cod liver oil, and what is the organization named after him doing about it?

-For starters, WAPF continues to heartily endorse fermented cod liver oil.

-It has condemned a report by one of its own officers showing convincing evidence of rancidity in the product of the main producer of FCLO, Green Pasture.

-It has thrown out of its upcoming conference a naturopath and longtime proponent of cod liver oil for making a connection to his own heart problems—a connection that Dr. Price specifically warned about.

-It has strongly suggested that people who become ill from FCLO have only themselves to blame for taking too much.

-It has discounted evidence that at least some of the Green Pasture product isn’t even made from cod livers, but from pollock livers.

So I wonder, how would Dr. Price have handled this current situation? Of course, we’ll never know, but I will hypothesize three reactions on his part:

First, he would have been shocked that his namesake organization so strongly endorsed a CLO product that disregarded his own warnings about the importance of freshness.

Second, and equally important, I think he would have been upset by his namesake’s refusal to push for serious ongoing primary research on this subject. Not analysis and endorsements by scientists on the WAPF payroll, but real research on animals and people—the kind Dr. Price himself did—to figure out whether the concerns that have been expressed about illness from FCLO are for real, and what’s behind them.

Third, I suspect that Dr. Price would have been upset and angry that his namesake is essentially disregarding complaints and concerns from users, and thus flouting basic tenets of public health. WAPF should be distancing itself from Green Pasture, issuing cautionary warnings to its members about taking this product, and calling on Green Pasture to conduct serious testing with serious labs, to begin to get at what problems there might be with the product. At least two distributors of cod liver oil have taken steps to eliminate or reduce their involvement with fermented cod liver oil–Dr.Ron’s, which is owned by naturopath Ron Schmid, discontinued selling the Green Pasture product; and Beeyoutiful has said it won’t re-order after selling out its existing stocks of Green Pasture.

Today, Kaayla Daniel, the WAPF vice president who carried out the study on fermented cod liver oil, said on her blog that she has heard from a number of people complaining about potentially serious physical problems associated with FCLO. “Since the publication of my special report Hook, Line and Stinker on August 23, many people have shared stories of atrial fibrillation, abnormal rhythms and related heart problems that appeared subsequent to FCLO consumption and that have disappeared with the removal of FCLO from their diets.  Dr. Ron, it seems, was not alone.”

Keep in mind that I am writing this as if the decision-making on the FCLO mess rests entirely with the WAPF and Green Pasture. Time may be running out on that. The decisions on this may shift before very long to the legal and regulatory systems.