Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fish Oil

     If you think that taking a capsule or two filled (you think) with fish oil is going to extend your life or keep you from getting some awful health problem, you're crazy.
     First of all, none of us even knows what's really in those capsules (artifical fish-flavored palm tree oil?), because no one is regulating their production.  Second, it may be true that there are "studies" showing that fish oil reduces inflammation in the blood vessels or plays a role in preventing heart disease (does it?) but who believes those studies, anyway?  They're full of bias, and sometimes based on outright lies, and their research is funded by companies who stand to gain from the results.   Third, what difference does it make if a capsule or two extends your allotted days of life by five or ten minutes, if in the meantime your life is totally messed up?
     And the lives of most people in America are totally messed up.
     We haven't got a clue how to live.  We keep buying products and going to shamans and complaining about things we could do something about but are too chicken to do something about, and in the evenings we while away our time watching CNN and hoping someone will show up who will actually do those things, or save us in some other grandiose way.  Then, we have trouble falling asleep.
     Why is it that we are living in hundreds of thousands of towns that have no public transportation to other towns?   Why are we holed up in our cars, or at shopping malls, or at home enduring our private versions of grief, instead of out there on dirt and cobblestone roads like our forebears, talking to one another on the streets before dusk, sharing watermelons from local fields, drinking sangria over games of bocce ball with friends, or scrubbing clothes down at the stream while processing the latest village gossip?  Where are the regular intervals of public festivity, where everyone shows up and people accept the strange variety of our species, thereby helping, as a community, to contain oddities that might otherwise, without public nudging and support, turn into pathology that threatens us all?
     Who ever convinced us that St. John's wort or fish oil or Metamucil would save us from the despair that was announced by Albert Camus and has increased exponentially ever since?  What's the deal with gurus and yoga sessions, tai chi, Reiki, cardiologists, feng shui, and handfuls of supplements?  As a country, our lives are terrible, full of anxiety and wishfulness, lost, sad, solitary, and empty of content.
     We need community to contain us.  We all need to know that there is a human safety net that will catch and hold us if some devastation should befall one of us or our loved ones.  Maybe it's not a national health insurance plan, or unemployment compensation, or a stronger military, or more mindless jobs, or more or less government that will improve our national well-being, but being surrounded by groups of people we can trust, people who know how to have fun together, fun that doesn't exclude large populations for being different.  Living lives that are cut off from one another is destroying us as a nation. 
     When was the last time you witnessed someone experiencing joy?  When did you last feel joy?  Do you even know what joy feels like, these days?  Is it joy, to watch your favorite team win a football game?  Is it joy to eat a 7-piece fried chicken meal from a drive-thru?  Is surfing the net joy?  Is Facebook?  I don't even know.
     We are a stressed, sleep-deprived,  bamboozled, half-educated, dream-starved, cell-phone babbling society caught like insects in the sticky net of corporate promotions--and fish oil is just another one of those absurd promotions.  It's not our fault--not really-- that we don't know what to do with ourselves.  We live in a country that devalues community, promotes awful, corporate solutions to loneliness, and keeps holding onto the illusion that the next new thing will make us give up our addictions and feel better.   We are several generations removed from people who knew, instinctively, how to get along with one another and allay, in the process, deep anxieties.  
     Even if we wanted to step out into the street and share life with a community of like-minded others, we couldn't   Our towns aren't set up this way, not any more.  Even if we knew that raising a barn or two together with our neighbors would be the best thing for our health, how might we find a way to do it?  So, we take fish oil, and we guilt-trip ourselves into going to the gym.  We pay for pomegranates and blueberries, pump up our nervous systems with caffeine, take testosterone, jump out of airplanes for adrenalin rushes we hope will reboot our psyches, buy self-help books, and obsess over whether we might have failed our parents or our children or ourselves.  We follow one after another silly prescriptive--whatever is written up in the latest grocery-store magazine, or has been advised by our harried, heavily propagandized doctors--not admitting that products or habits that are supposed to prolong life and improve well-being will never be a substitute for lives that are meant, biologically speaking, to be communally lived.
     Forget about fish oil.  Forget about all those supplements, superfoods, faddish exercise regimens and oriental interventions you hear about, and find ways to reconstruct community life, for the sake of yourself and everyone around you.  Give up all those fatuous, quasi-spiritual beliefs in purist substances and paths that masquerade as miracles--because they won't save you from anything.
     Instead, join a community garden, or start a weekly poker group, quilting club, or hiking association.  Have some parties, arrange a family reunion, form a carpool or children's play group, cook with your friends, complain and cry on one another's shoulders, share your life with lots of other people, do your part to interact with others, and love them in all the strange ways people show love to one another, on a regular basis.  Be politically active, fight for public transportation and city inter-connectiveness, promote the use of tax dollars to foster a return to village life.  Do anything that increases your network of close contacts, nurtures community and reinforces the stress-relieving, life-sustaining connections we need, as a species, to survive.  This will save you, more than anything.  This will save us all, maybe, as Americans.


  1. I agree that Americans need to stay out of the malls. I don’t see how anybody could think that going from store to store is fun. Americans also need to spend more time outside and less time in front of a television.

    Americans work too many hours in a week thereby not having enough time or energy to pursue a better quality of life.

    Sounds like you have some great ideas about enriching your life; you just need to make it happen. Get out there and meet the people on neighboring farms. Give out some invitations.

    I find projects stimulating, don’t you? I might make an addition to the goat’s playground. A new goat house is currently in the design phase and collecting water bottles to construct a greenhouse is an ongoing project. Install a clothesline. Cut down a small oak tree and inoculate it with shitake mushrooms spores.

    Play with your animals. My dogs love to play ball. One of my dogs loves to take a spin in the ATV. He’s real serious about it. He cannot be restrained if the engine is running. He would bite anyone he found sitting in his seat. He keeps an eye out making sure the peddle is to the metal and he will get out and bite a tire if he’s not going fast enough to suit. One time while going around a curve he flew out and he landed in a ditch, but he caught up with me further on down the road. As you know, hanging out with the chickens is time well spent. There are several in my coop who are more than eight years old. They are free-ranged during the day and I put them up at dusk. The dogs love to hunt and eat chicken eggs. My parrots sing one vesus of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and they’ll talk up a storm. The horses always need to be brushed and combed. Throwing a saddle on their backs is good exercise for all. Working the baby horse, Sheza Brat, in the round pen can be exhilarating. Growing a garden, composting, beekeeping, and worm farming are daily chores but I love tending to it. Cookouts, lawn games, family, and friends make the best kind of fun, I agree. I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow.

    My great grandmother’s sister lives in a small farming community like you’re talking about. She enjoys a very social life with invitations coming her way everyday. The residents put out the effort needed to do get-togethers. She’ll tell me that Tillie baked a rhubarb pie and she was just on her way over there for a cup of coffee and slice of pie and later on the Fire Dept is making tacos for supper. The Fire Dept cooks something every week and it makes for an enjoyable evening out for the entire community.

    I think the key is to have the time and energy to get involved at home and in the community at large.

  2. All great advice. But the idea of community as a buffer against anxiety is key. In addition to fears that we won't have health insurance, or help, if we get sick, or that there will be no one to look after us in old age, or that we'll run out of money before we die because the gov't isn't going to be able to fund SS that long, people also now live with a fear that the government will invade their lives (as it has mine) and destroy what we have, or that our country is not on good terms with the rest of the international community and will end up being the target of more terrorist attacks. The antidote to this vague, generalized anxiety is community. And the way to change the circumstances that foster anxiety (circumstances like government overreach, bad legislators, no safety nets) is also community, where grass-roots-fostered energy to effect major change begins.

  3. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes to mind. Maslow ordered needs that must be met before a person can become motivated to achieve a higher order need. His order was arranged from the most basic physiological need (air, water, nourishment, sleep) to self-actualization (truth, justice, wisdom, meaning), which only the healthiest in society can reach. Most people are stuck on some level in between (Safety, Social, Esteem).

    It is my view that getting beyond having the second level of needs (safety- living in a safe area, medical insurance, job security, financial reserves) met is difficult for a lot of folks. People don’t have much left after commuting to work, working all day, getting a meal, and shopping. They unwind in front of the television and early to bed. According to Maslow, those people whose safety needs hasn’t been fulfilled are not going to be open to pursuing social needs.

    A lot of folks have never met their neighbors especially in larger communities. It may have something to do with the need for security and safety. Truthfully, it is hard to meet someone when they are locked inside of their house. It takes a measure of confidence to knock on a closed door, especially if the curtains are drawn closed.

    A lot more folks have never completed a project. Even more folks have never participated in a community project or volunteered.

    I notice that when I’m outside doing projects or working in the garden total strangers will show up to just say hello, or ask to use the phone, or borrow gasoline (4 this weekend). Neighbors will pop in with a six-pack to share or ask for help. Isn’t that interesting? I guess because I’m outside I seem to be inviting and accessible. It may be that the more interests that you have the interesting you become to others; the more people are drawn to you. I’ve been able to be attentive to developing relationships. True friends are hard to come by, aren’t they?

    Farmers tend to be more accomplished. Most are community oriented, if you’ve noticed. You mentioned that mid-westerners are civic minded, it’s the farm belts. It simply follows then that the seniors and poor would get attention and care, also.

    You are on the level of self-actualization while the majority is not. I find that few people have the realization that the government overreaches or has acquired too much power for comfort. More people will hold the opinion that you wouldn’t have been raided and I wouldn’t have been arrested unless we were guilty. You and I know what a naïve point-of-view that is. Not only is that thinking naïve but also it has been detrimental to all of our freedoms. I think a movement for accountability is brewing but not everyone will agree nor even has awareness.

    Of course I agree with you. I try to volunteer my time at least one hundred hours a year and will hopefully do more once I retire. I’m very disappointed by our local court’s recent decision not to drop charges against Gainesville Tea Party ‘occupiers’. It is vitally important that the power returns to the citizens of this country.

  4. I agree with the jeremiad on American life, and try to do what I can to counter the sick tendencies it encourages.

    However, although I'm not married to it, I do take fish oil and I'm not convinced yet it's a bad idea. I am open to stopping it, but I will need to do a little more research myself and/or you will have to prove your case a little better. You spent most of your time in this article writing not about fish oil, but about the sick symptoms of American life it represents for you. I detest all those things too, but isn't it being a little harsh and unfair to blame poor old fish oil for all these social ills?

  5. The point is that supplements are not a panacea--and remember, production of supplements is not overseen by the FDA. Better to get fish oil from fish, and nutrients from a rational, simple diet, and focus time and money on improving the quality of life, not life-expectancy--which in any case will be maximized if your mind, body and spirit are in alignment.

  6. hmmmmmm fishy fishy....snake oil? anyone??

  7. Just about every supplement claim is unsupported by any evidence. Most claims follow the same pattern. They correctly identify the critical role of some mineral, amino acid, or compound in some human function - relationships that are well studied and understood. Then, they blindly suggest that consuming these same substances will result in a positive outcome. The body doesn't quite work that way.

  8. The supplement industry took in $25 billion in 2009, and has increased by at least 9% each year since then. Without oversight or serious scrutiny manufacturers can do and say almost anything, and because of the placebo effect, which accounts for many positive responses to supplements, the industry doesn't have much incentive to put expensive, real substances in their capsules and elixirs.