Long before the invention of erythromycin or penicillin.... there was cod liver oil.
- The Natural Connection
My writing instructors will turn over in their graves, but after a recent visit to the latest in a string of health care professionals to monitor my cholesterol numbers, I cant help it. The terms good for what ails you and father knows best, are the only way I can think of to relate an experience thats come full circle in my unsuspecting life.
It must have been 12-14 years ago when I first learned my cholesterol numbers were way above normal limits.
Dont worry, my first doctor said. You dont have any other risk factors, like heart disease or diabetes and youre not obese, so I think we can control this by changing your diet.
The change meant a dozen trips to the nutrition clinic, where I learned what I shouldnt eat and how to make the rest palatable. Red meat and anything fried or fat-laden had to go, but I was already into low-fat foods anyway. (In my opinion, I had always bordered on obesity.) By the time of my first post-diagnosis check-up, my cholesterol had dropped 50 points.
Of course, 270 was still too high, so my next assignment was a cholesterol study at MCG, where I was placed on a regimental diet plan and given either an experimental new drug to combat high cholesterol, or a placebo to see whether diet alone or diet plus medication worked best.
I never did find out which pills I was taking, because my cholesterol dropped another 20 points, which made me ineligible to continue the study.
Although my numbers continued to hover around the 250 mark, it would be another five years before another doctor thought I should begin taking medication. He prescribed the statin, Zocor, and when the numbers dropped to 220 he doubled the dose. Three months later my numbers hit the magic, normal range of 195.
The doctor was ecstatic, but I was miserable. I ached all over.
Oh, he said, I forgot. Muscle pain is a side-effect of this medication.
Next step - I hadnt yet tried plans X, Y, and Z - was to stop the medication, keep dieting and make an ap-pointment with endocrinology.
It took only a few days for the pain to subside and the heating pads to be put away. But what a surprise awaited me at the next clinic.
After studying your record, I dont think youve ever had a cholesterol problem, the endocrinologist said. The trouble is, your triglycerides are too high, so Im putting you on fish-oil capsules. Incidentally, they dont have any side effects.
Instantly a distant memory returned: There we were, my three brothers and I, ready to go out the door to school, but waiting for the dreaded cod liver oil my father would pour down our throats. Ooh, it tasted so bad, but my father said it was good for what ails you and it would keep us from getting colds all winter.
Ive spent the last week researching the benefits of fish oil, especially cod liver oil, and Im amazed. From just a few of the 45,000, well-documented entries on the Internet, it seems there are almost that many ailments the oil is supposed to aid, prevent, or cure. Besides lowering triglycerides, the list includes: high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, rickets, skin diseases, ear infections, learning disabilities, schizophrenia, depression and, in every test so far, heart disease and some cancers.
It could all be in my head, I suppose, but I feel terrific. Maybe I have my father to thank because, thus far, Ive never had rickets, arthritis, psoriasis, ear infections, and dozens of other maladies this little blob of stuff is supposed to prevent. And Ill know in another few weeks if my - thankfully - tightly enclosed, tasteless capsules will take care of my triglycerides, too.
Just one thing: For some people, too much cod liver oil raises their cholesterol.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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