Traditional cultures used a variety of natural strategies to cope with winter. During the dark, cold months, they intuitively relied upon cod liver oil, which they consumed in modest quantities, anchored by generous amounts of butter and other saturated fats from grass-fed animals. Modern science now confirms this intuitive wisdom: the highly fragile 5- and 6- double bond EPA and DHA fatty acids in cod liver oil require sufficient saturated fats like butter to be properly and effectively utilized by the body.
Throughout most of the last century, we moved away from many of the natural antidotes to winter—cod liver oil, butter from grass-fed animals, eggs from barnyard hens, milk and other animal products from grass-fed animals, and bone stocks—the foods that maintain a sense of health and well-being through the dark winter months. In 1927, for example, the United States imported 5 million gallons of cod liver oil, a level ten times the meager one-half million gallons imported in 2000.3 If we consider the generous doubling of the population over this period, implicitly the average per capita consumption of cod liver oil in the United States currently stands at less than one-twentieth 1927 levels. In recent decades, we have replaced traditional cod liver oil with an array of expensive prescription anti-depressant drugs.
Cod liver oil is a premier buffer for winter. It is a rich source of vitamin A (immune function); vitamin D [strong bones, immune system, relief for depression4 ]; omega-3 oils (healthy nervous system, relief from pain and inflammation, antidote for depression). Cod liver oil, as a rich source of vitamins A and D, works synergistically with other cofactors like calcium and arachidonic acid found in other animal products to support mental focus and emotional well-being. Some of the best work in this field comes from Chris Masterjohn. In his 2008 Wise Traditions article “The Pursuit of Happiness: How Nutrient-dense Animal Fats Promote Mental and Emotional Health” he provides the biochemistry and scientific detail to support the conclusion that good fats and oils containing vitamin A and D along with calcium and arachidonic acid work synergistically to help protect again depression and anxiety, while also supporting focused, goal-oriented behavior:
Modern science has now elucidated the role of nutrient-dense animal fats in preventing mental illness and supporting the focused, goal-oriented behavior needed to confront challenges and pursue a happy, satisfying, and successful life. …Chris Masterjohn
|The Feel-Good FatsThe foods that protect us against depression and help us engage in low time-preference, future-oriented activities are the same foods that traditional cultures valued for good health. They provide vitamins A and D, calcium, and arachidonic acid in abundance.
To this ”feel good’ list I would add unrefined, extra-virgin coconut oil, a saturated fat that is high in anti-microbial lauric acid and, as a medium-chain fatty acid, metabolizes rapidly to provide quick energy.
- Cod liver oil (CLO)— Taken in moderation, CLO is generally safe for most people and causes no major reactions. However, if you are on medications, it is best to check with your doctor before using it. Dosage for the winter months of ½ to 2 teaspoons a day is generally appropriate unless you are pregnant, in the intense sun or sunbath regularly, take vitamin A supplements, or are scheduled for imminent surgery (since it affects blood clotting). Fermented CLO is more easily digested than regular CLO, and it is more nutrient-dense so you can take less. In summer, to avoid vitamin D toxicity if you spend long hours in the sun, you may wish to switch to fish oil, which has no vitamin D (or vitamin A for that matter). All CLO is screened by the Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) for 32 contaminants before being imported. Mercury is water soluble so it appears in the flesh of fish but not in CLO and fish oils.
- Butter for Pastured Animals—Butter, extra-virgin coconut oil, and other saturated animal fats work synergistically with CLO for its assimilation and utilization. To benefit, consume both.
- Egg Yolks—After CLO, egg yolks are the second most potent source of vitamin D, but only if hens are exposed to full sunlight, sunlamps or receive a 2% dietary CLO supplement. Eggs from commercially-raised hens may not provide the nutrition that we have come to expect.
- Liver—Liver is rich in B vitamins, iron, arachidonic acid and vitamin A but not vitamin D. It can provide a sense of well-being for anyone concerned about vitamin D excess. [CLO is a rich source of vitamins A, D, and DHA, but unlike liver, it provides no iron or B vitamins.]
- Bone Broths—Bone broths are best using the bones of organic, grass-fed animals.
Finally, if you begin a program of consuming these healthy fats and oils, allow a few weeks to feel the positive benefits. Depressive symptoms diminish over time with daily use (The Hordland Health Study).
A Word about the “Feel-Good” Nutrients:
- Vitamin A—Liver and cod liver oil are by far the richest sources of vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for proper immune function, vision, the digestive system, and healthy skin.
- Vitamin D—Vitamin D helps maintain healthy bones and teeth, assists in blood pressure regulation, strengthens the immune system, and reduces the risk of many forms of cancer, and can work as an anti-depressant.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids, EPA and DHA—Omega-3s help reduce pain and inflammation and the inflammatory response. EPA reduces inflammation and works as an antidepressant. DHA supports a healthy nervous system, vision, learning and mental function, relieves depression, and promotes healthy skin.
- Arachidonic acid (AA)—AA supports growth, digestive health, fertility, healthy skin and hair.