Since Water is the theme of this newsletter, it seems appropriate to discuss things that come from the water, such as fish. The fish oil craze has struck. When I ask people about their diet, they almost always say something about fish. Either they say that they eat it, or they make an apology for not eating it, clarifying that they do not really like it. Where did the idea come from that people have to eat fish, that fish is “healthy”, and that it is healthy because of omega 3 oils? What does any of this even mean?
First and most importantly, there is never the concept of healthy or unhealthy in Chinese medicine. Foods just are. They are not inherently good or bad. Describing them as such is implying that their value and even their existence revolve around us eating them. That is, we define the food in relation to ourselves. Even more, no item is inherently food. It is only food once we eat it, or at least think of eating it. In theory, we could be food. I feel this is a narrow perspective which prohibits us from seeing and experiencing the item for what it is. Fish oil is for me a startling example of this concept. What a crime to think of fish oil as something that lowers cholesterol and miss that it comes from a fish. My issues are as follows:
1. People have no idea what an omega 3 oil even is (the technical term is omega 3 fatty acid, a component of fish as well as other oils). I do not feel one should be touting it if one does not know what it is or what it does.
2. Most Americans have some component of Damp Heat as part of their physiology (Damp Heat is an imbalance resulting in part from impaired digestion and poor diet. It is a strong contributing factor to cardiovascular illness). This is particularly true of those most likely to be concerned about ingesting omega 3’s – those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and who are overweight. Concentrated oils from animal sources tend to aggravate Damp Heat when ingested, in part because of their own nature, and in part because of the physiology and impaired digestion of those consuming them. Consuming fish oils as a concentrated supplement might help one symptom, but it can also cause imbalance in a person’s overall physiology.
3. When most people say they eat fish, they mean seafood such as lobster, crab, scallop, and shrimp. These are very high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and generally low in omega 3 fatty acids. They easily aggravate Damp Heat, and often contain Heat toxins (people often react allergically to them).
4. Human beings have polluted the waters of the earth. There is no clean water, and therefore no clean fish. The flesh of many fish is now contaminated with pollutants including toxic heavy metals. Farm raised fish are given heavy doses of antibiotics and additives for coloration.
5. Fish oil supplements have to be chemically filtered to remove pollutants and other toxins. I do not think it is good idea to eat something that has to be decontaminated first.
6. We have overharvested the waters. Many species of fish are dangerously low in numbers. Unfortunately, we even use fish as food for pets and for animals in factory farming. In the search for cheap sources of fish oils for supplements, companies now go to the most remote sites on the planet to harvest all forms of sea life. This is destroying their populations and causing terrible imbalance in the local ecosystems.
7. There other good sources of essential fatty acids, including omega 3’s. The most readily available source is flax seed oil, which is inexpensive, available organically grown, and can readily be added to one’s diet. Flax oil is also rich in omega 6 and omega 9 fatty acids.
If we just took better care of ourselves, we would not have to worry about such issues. We could stop seeing everything in the world as a drug. The Inuit save the bladders of the fish they catch all year. Then they hold a ceremony, thanking the fish for providing them with food to eat. The bladders are placed back into the water to give life to new fish. The point of this, regardless of one’s beliefs, is gratitude and respect for what one eats. In addition, there is the notion that there is a mutual relationship which benefits both species. The fish provide food for the people, the people hold ceremony to help the fish repopulate. Life is seen as a cycle, and so a sustainable balance is maintained. I feel this is difficult to achieve when our source of nourishment comes to us in a capsule.