Published on November 3rd, 2015 | by DrKaayla


The Most Shocking Finding: Trans Fats in FCLO

Investigating Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil brought many surprises.1  The most publicized was my finding that it’s not cod liver oil at all, but pollock liver oil.  That’s fired people up, but it’s a labeling issue, an integrity issue and a consumer’s “right to know” issue, more than a health issue.   Given the product’s signature brown color and smell, I was saddened —  but not particularly surprised — to learn it was in an advanced state of  rancidity.

The shocker was finding trans fats:  

  • Trans fats of vegetable oil origin
  • Trans fats of the type exposed in the late 1970s and warned against by the late Mary G. Enig, PhD
  • Trans fats of the types linked to cancer,  heart disease, reproductive problems and numerous other health problems
  • Trans fats at 3.22 percent of total fatty acids, a level that exceeds the 2 percent limit allowed in food and supplements sold in Denmark and other European countries2
  • Trans fats that are NOT remotely similar to the healthy CLA trans fats found in dairy
  • Trans fats that the world’s leading marine oil scientists have never found in minimally processed fish liver oils.

But don’t take my word for it.

Here’s how a leading authority on fish oils, puts it:

No authentic raw or mildly processed cod liver oil will contain trans fats. There should also be none present if the cod liver oil is mildly refined. The presence of trans C18:3 indicates that another oil has been added to this oil. This other oil must obviously be in sufficient quantities to detect the presence of these trans fats.3

No authentic raw or mildly processed cod liver oil will contain trans fats. There should also be none present if the cod liver oil is mildly refined. The presence of trans C18:3 indicates that another oil has been added to this oil. This other oil must obviously be in sufficient quantities to detect the presence of these trans fats. 

How can that be?  First, a short chemistry lesson.  The cis configuration in a naturally unsaturated fatty acid has hydrogen atoms on the same side of the carbons, resulting in a kink in the fatty acid chain. Partial hydrogenation of an oil, on the other hand, places hydrogen atoms on opposite sides of the carbon in a so-called trans configuration, causing the hydrocarbon chain to be relatively straight. The different shapes of cis and trans fatty acids have different physical properties, with artificially produced trans forms known to adversely affect human health.

18.3 Trans

Of the total 3.22 percent trans fats found in Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil, 2.40 percent was identified by a leading laboratory as an 18.3 trans fat.4  This type of trans fat could be the results of damage to a natural 18.3 cis alpha linolenic fat, which would be typically found in pollock liver oil at levels ranging from 0.4 to 0.7. However, the level of 18.3 cis found in FCLO by two laboratories came in at only 0.448 and 0.59, respectively. 5,6 Both are on par with the level typically found in pollock liver oil, which the 1998 Eagle Fisheries report states range from 0.4 to 0.7 percent.7   

FCLO, however, contains 2.40 percent of 18.3 trans fat, a level that could only have been achieved by adding a thermally damaged vegetable oil.  If the trans fats occurred because of heat damage to the fish liver oil itself during “fermentation” or other processing, the levels would be no higher than the level of 18:3 cis alpha.

18.1 Trans

FCLO also contains 18.1 trans fat at the level of 0.781 percent.8 Pollock liver oil contains 18.1cis, which is a form of oleic acid, at 15.4 to 26.5 percent. Fatty acid testing at two laboratories showed 18.1 cis in FCLO at the expected levels of 27.6 percent and 21.46 percent respectively.9,10 This suggests the 18.1 trans fat found in the sample of FCLO could be coming either from high heat during the processing of pollock liver oil OR from the addition of a thermally damaged oil.

18.2 Trans

Finally, FCLO contains an 18.2 trans fat at the level of 0.184 percent.11 This would be derived from an 18.2 cis linoleic acid, which is typically found in pollock liver oil at levels ranging from 0.7 to 1.0.  Two laboratories testing for fatty acids reported the cis form at 1.12 percent and 0.94 percent respectively.12,13  This suggests it could be coming either from high heat during processing or from an added thermally damaged oil or from the 18.1 cis fat that is naturally present in pollock liver oil.

Is it from a vegetable oil?  The presence of 2.40 percent trans fats of the 18.3 type says, yes.  The presence of the 18.1 and 18.2 types of trans fats could be coming either from a vegetable oil or heat-damaged pollock oil.

Any way we look at it, no trans fats should be in FCLO

What does Chris Masterjohn PhD have to say about this.  Not much.  He begins by writing:

I think it is worth noting that the lab test does not seem to distinguish whether the 18:3 trans is all trans, or is conjugated with alternating cis and trans double bonds. I think further elucidating the nature of the fatty acid may help shed light on where it comes.14

On first reading, this sounds impressive.  But chemistry texts state that all eight trans isomers for 18.3 alpha linolenic acid result from the frying, deodorizing or partial hydrogenation of oils.15,16 

In other words, none of them would legitimately be found in a fish liver oil.

As for Masterjohn’s request for “further elucidating the nature” of the 18.3 trans fats found, the laboratory breaks them down as follows:17

    9T,12C,15T_18_3      9 trans, 12 cis, 15 trans of 18:3        trans-cis-trans

9C,12C,15T_18_3      9 cis , 12 cis, 15 trans of 18:3            cis-cis-trans

      9C,12T,15T_18_3      9 cis, 12 trans, 15 trans of 18:3        cis-trans-trans 

As stated above, all three of these are formed during the high heat processing or deodorization typical of commercial vegetable oil processing.

Could the trans fats in FCLO be the healthy CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) that has beneficial effects for weight management, immune function, cancer, diabetes, and atherosclerosis?  Fans of FCLO would like to think so, but the answer is “no.” CLA comes from cows and other ruminant animals, not fish.  CLA is also identified as C9 t10, t11 or t12, none of which are showing up in FCLO’s fatty acid profiles.  CLA is also not found in the extensive 1998 Eagle Fisheries report on pollock liver oil.18 

Then could these trans fats come from any other source?  Masterjohn offers the possibility of a trans fats produced by “fermentation” or microbial activity.19  To put this as politely as possible, this is far fetched — an explanation that could only serve his goal of exonerating Green Pasture and pleasing Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation and Masterjohn’s generous benefactor over the years.20 In the unlikely event that research ever shows 18.3 trans fats produced by fermentation or microbes, Green Pasture is not off the hook.  Why, after all would anyone want to take a fish liver oil that contains 18:3s identical to those found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils?

The Takeaway

The most shocking finding about FCLO was trans fats, most likely of vegetable oil origin. There is no evidence that the trans fat found in FCLO represents a unique and special form of trans fats produced by Green Pasture’s “fermentation” process.  Instead, the trans fats found match the trans fatty acids found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that have been linked through thousands of studies to cancer, heart disease and many other health problems.  The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine has concluded that the only safe level of such trans fats is zero.21   


*  *  *  *  *

Has FCLO had an impact on your health?   Please share.

Hook-Line-Stinker-Ka#CFF6D2Isn’t it time to read Hook, Line and Stinker: The Truth about Fermented Cod Liver Oil?  Learn how lab tests show this product is rancid, low in fat-soluble vitamins . . . and not even cod!  Click here to get your free download.









1. For laboratory data and full discussion, read my free report Hook, Line and Stinker: The Truth about Fermented Cod Liver Oil.

2.   Martin CA, Visentainer JV et al.  Fatty acid contents of Brazilian soybeans oils with emphasis on trans fatty acids.  Journal of the Brazilian Chemical Society, 2008, vol.19 no.1.

3.   Email correspondence with Dr. Gjermund Vogt, May 17 and July 6, 2015.

4.   Data from Lab #1 in the appendix to the report Hook, Line and Stinker.

5.   Ibid.

6.  Data from Lab #7 in the appendix to the report Hook, Line and Stinker.

7.  U.S. Market Prospects for Alaska Pollock Liver Oil. Eagle Fisheries, October 1998.

8.  Data from Lab #1 in the appendix to the report Hook, Line and Stinker

9.  Ibid

10.  Data from Lab #7 in the appendix to the report Hook, Line and Stinker.

11. Data from Lab #1 in the appendix to the report Hook, Line and Stinker

12.  Ibid

13.  Data from Lab #7 in the appendix to the report Hook, Line and Stinker.

14.  Masterjohn, Chris.  Weighing in on the Fermented Cod Liver Oil (FCLO) Controversy, August 29, 2015.

15. Juaneda P.  Utilization of silver-ion high performance liquid chromatography for separation of the geometrical isomers of a-Linolenic acid. Chapter 8 in New Trends in Lipids and Lipoprotein Analyses.  J-L Sebedio, EG Perkins, eds.  AOCS, 1995, pp. 75- 80.

16. Sebedio J-L, Christie WW.  Metabolism of Trans Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Formed during Frying, AOCS Lipid Laboratory.

17.  Trans fat breakdown provided September 3, 2015 by Laboratory #1 for Report Number: 1182753-0  Report Date: 27-Feb-2015 The Whole Nutritionist LLC. Project Id: WHOLE_NUTR-20150216-0001   Analysis of Fatty Acids.  Trans fat breakdown

18.   U.S. Market Prospects for Alaska Pollock Liver Oil. Eagle Fisheries, October 1998.

19.  Masterjohn.

20. In  his blog “Weighing in on the Fermented Cod Liver Oil (FCLO) Controversy,” Masterjohn acknowledges “potential conflicts of interest” because of his financial relationship with the Weston A. Price Foundation but he doesn’t give dollar figures.  In addition to ongoing payments for writing, speaking and consulting, Masterjohn was paid an unknown amount for a semester of college courses prior to beginning his PhD program.  He was also paid $89,000 for his post doc program at the University of Illinois, in addition to the $200,000 that went into the Burnsides Laboratory there.  Masterjohn also gained an additional $30,000 — or “whatever he needs” in the words of Fallon Morell — to help set up a laboratory at Brooklyn College. Masterjohn may well have “total creative control” — as he claims— over what he writes for the Foundation and on his own blog, but it’s rather evident that Sally Fallon Morell and WAPF have oiled his career.

21.  Letter report on dietary reference intakes for trans fatty acids.  Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 2002.

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8 Responses to The Most Shocking Finding: Trans Fats in FCLO

  1. sha says:

    further elucidating the nature-wait what? lol! whatever the intent was it sure worked….still have no idea what Masterjohn said, got dizzy from the dance, and am glad that there are people who can translate. this was one of the biggest concerns for me, that and the bait and switch cod/pollock ingredients.

  2. Jean says:

    I couldn’t find the names of the labs. Full transperancy is important to me, so it is great to know who did the research. Conflict of interest, reputation…that sort of thing. Can you help me find this info??

    • DrKaayla says:

      As discussed in Hook, Line and Stinker, the names of the labs were blackened out because I had to sign confidentiality agreements, which, unfortunately, is standard practice. I shared data from the leading marine oil laboratories in the world, including Covance, Eurofins, University of Stirling, Sintef Omega 3. For Vitamin K, my report also includes data from Maastricht University Vita K and D Research Center.

  3. Steve Tallent says:

    I’m really glad that you went into the fact that these trans fats are different from the good trans fats found in ruminant animals. I hadn’t seen that before, but was wondering. All I kept hearing from GPP crowd, David Wetzel, Masterjohn, and WAPF crowd was that “the trans fats are natural”, “we don’t even have vegetable oil in our kitchen, much less our manufacturing area”, and “there are trans fats in other cod liver oils”.

    In response I would like to say, 1) Show me that there are trans fats in the freshly cod cod livers. 2) Prove to me that the other CLOs are not putting veggie oil into their CLOs, (maybe the added vitamins are suspended in veggie oil). 3) Show me that these are the beneficial variety of trans fats.

  4. NS says:

    Thanks for posting this in depth look at the trans fat finding of the FCLO. Masterjohn’s post was such a distraction, and refusal to honestly address the issues you raised in your report. He has lost all credibility.

  5. Liz B says:

    It seems the early results are in from WAPFs follow up study. It seems all CLO brands tested showed small amounts of trans fat. Do you have more information about this? I haven’t seen a report yet to see the order of magnitude of “small amounts”. Bacteria in guts can produce trans fats – not sure how it gets into liver – or if it is a byproduct of processing. (Because face it, all CLOs are processed in some way to get them from liver to bottle.)

    Also interesting to see that FCLO didn’t have rancidity markers yet all other brands tested did. Did the Daniel’s report NOT test other brands? I think it would have been very valuable information and I’m curious why (if indeed other CLOs were not also tested).

    It’s clear, more research needs to be done before anyone can state anything conclusive on any of this. It disappoints me that our “truth seeking” and “independent thinking” food community has spiraled into a tizzy without all the facts. Human nature I suppose, can’t escape it even with a good diet.

    • DrKaayla says:

      I addressed the rancidity question in depth in my report “Hook,Line and Stinker.” In brief, high levels of Free Fatty Acids and high Acid Value show FCLO to be in a state of advanced rancidity. The markers of “early rancidity” in FCLO are low because it has progressed through that part of the oil’s life cycle and already entered late phase rancidity. In contrast, other fish oil and fish liver oil products on the market are bottled fresh and more appropriately tested for early stages of rancidity.

      FCLO is the only “fermented” fish liver oil on the market. I chose to test it because of heavy endorsement by Sally Fallon Morell and the Weston A. Price Foundation and the harm many members seem to have been experiencing.

      I discuss the trans fat issue in depth in the report and indicate why the great majority of the trans fats in FCLO are of vegetable oil origin.

  6. Leo G Younger says:

    Years ago, I tried Green Pastures’s FCLO. It was rancid, with bad taste & burning sensation in throat. Threw it away. The manufacturer was evasive. Lying by omission is deception. If Sally lives long enough, she’ll regret her actions regarding FCLO. Shame on those who deceive, knowingly or through wishful thinking. Ignorance is no excuse of natural laws.

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