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Suffering from an ear infection? Stress? Malfunctioning ticker? Turn, then, to the cloying amber fluid detested by children through the years. And yesterday it emerged it can defeat arthritis. Michael McCarthy reports: They’re not yet saying it can enable you to stop a bullet or leap tall buildings but it’s not far short of that.

Yet another medical triumph for cod liver oil was announced yesterday (accompanied by the rather forward claim that the later life of the Queen Mother would have been quite different, had she only imbibed a daily spoonful as a girl).

Yes, you name it – ear infections, impaired cardiovascular functions, insulin resistance, high cholesterol levels, allergies, learning disorders, stress, manic depression – cod liver oil can help, various studies show.

No one seems to have mentioned ingrown toenails but it can only be a matter of time. The latest success for the viscous amber fluid from deep in a fish’s insides is with osteoarthritis, that most cripplingly painful of degenerative diseases.

Scientists released data yesterday showing it really is effective in slowing the destruction of joint cartilage in osteoarthritis sufferers. Cartilage is the "gristle" that cushions bones and prevents them from grinding against each other and it is the loss of it which brings osteoarthritis on; it is a condition that caused more than two million people in the UK to visit their GP in the last year and is the main reason for joint replacement surgery.

The groundbreaking clinical study, led by Professor Bruce Caterson and Professor John Harwood of Cardiff University, and Professor Colin Dent, orthopaedic consultant at the University of Wales College of Medicine, looked at the effect of taking – and not taking – the oil on 31 patients on an NHS waiting list.

Half of the patients, who were recruited 10 to 12 weeks prior to total knee-joint replacement surgery, were given two daily capsules containing 1000mg extra high strength cod liver oil, and half (poor them!) were given placebo capsules. At the time of surgery, samples of cartilage and joint tissue were taken from the knee joints and subjected to analysis.

The trial showed, the scientists said, that 86 per cent of the patients who took cod liver oil capsules daily had absent or significantly reduced levels of the enzymes that cause cartilage damage, compared with 26 per cent of those given the placebo oil capsules. In addition, the result showed a marked reduction in some of the enzymes that cause joint pain, in those patients taking the real stuff.

Well there you are. The researchers suggested yesterday that the findings could hold the key to reducing the number of knee and hip replacements carried out in the UK each year, thereby shortening NHS waiting lists for joint replacement surgery. The estimated direct cost of arthritis to the health and social services is approximately

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