Cod-liver Oil: What's it Good For?
Somebody in the forums recently mentioned that cod-liver oil really sells itself. People write articles about things entirely unrelated to cod-liver oil, or even to cods or to livers, and then they end up being credited on their Amazon sales for having sold cod-liver oil through that hub. This had me curious. Why would anybody order cod-liver oil on Amazon. What do they use it for? And why haven't any of my hubs inspired anybody to go out and buy cod-liver oil?
Something Children Were Forced to Swallow
Before I started researching this hub, I had a vague recollection that cod liver oil was something children in 19th and early 20th century literature were forced to swallow, although I could not recall if it was for health reasons or as a form of punishment. Was I confusing cod liver oil with castor oil? I wasn't sure.
Was cod-liver oil supposed to be good for you? Or was it a way to make you "be good"? And are those one and the same thing?
Nutritional and Medicinal Uses of Cod Liver Oil
As its name suggests, cod liver oil is an oil derived from the liver of a cod. Like all oils, its caloric content is mostly fat. Some use it as a means of supplementing their fat intake. For others it is the non-caloric elements of the oil that are the attraction.
Cod-liver oil is high in vitamin A and D, and it was originally thought to be a good way to supplement deficiencies in those vitamins. Specific benefits of ingesting cod-liver oil are said to include:
- relief of arthritis symptoms
- strengthening hair and nails
- reducing acne
- coping with the effects of multiple sclerosis
- reducing incidence of Type 1 Diabetes in children, when the mother takes it during pregnancy
When applied topically, cod liver oil makes wounds heal faster.
Ill Effects of Cod Liver Oil
Because cod liver oil contains more than the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A, one of the most often cited side-effects of cod liver oil consumption is an overdose of Vitamin A. It has also been suggested that high dosages of cod liver oil during pregnancy might lead to birth defects.
Other undesirable effects of the consumption of cod liver oil include indigestion, diarrhea and vomiting.
Today, when people take cod liver oil, they usually swallow capsules and avoid the taste. However, in its heyday, cod-liver oil was taken by the spoonful. It was oily, fishy smelling and induced a gag-reflex. And this, I believe, is what led to the punitive uses of cod liver oil.
Cod Liver Oil in Brtitain during WWII
Punitive Uses of Cod Liver Oil
Here is a documented historical instance of cod liver oil used as a punishment:
- A child evacuated into the English countryside during the blitz could expect to receive cod liver oil as a punishment for stealing more appetizing food: "We had midnight feasts, but once we were caught scrumping apples and were given cod liver oil as a punishment."
What I find odd about this is that during the very same period and place (England during the Blitz), cod liver oil was simultaneously used as a beneficial nutritional supplement and a way to punish children.
There is something very odd about this scenario. Imagine saying to your child: "I can see that you've been naughty. I'm going to go get the Vitamin C now!"
Brimstone & Treacle & Cod-liver Oil
Nutritional and Medicinal Uses of Castor Oil
Castor Oil is a vegetable oil derived from the castor bean (Ricinus communis). According to the wikipedia: "It is a triglyceride in which approximately ninety percent of fatty acid chains are ricinoleic acid."
Beneficial uses of castor oil include:
- food additive
- in candy
- a mold inhibitor
- a laxative
- an agent to help induce labor
- a skin care product, when used topically
- a rub for joint pain
Castor Oil in Disney's "Mary Poppins"
Punitive Uses of Castor Oil
- In previous centuries, children who misbehaved were given castor oil as an alternative to corporal punishment
- According to the Wikipedia, in Fascist Italy castor oil was one of the tools of intimidation used by Mussolini's blackshirts. Dissidents were force-fed large quantities of castor oil. It rarely killed them, but the results were unpleasant and humiliating. Mussolini's power, it was said, was backed by "the bludgeon and castor oil."
- In the Poor Man's James Bond by Kurt Saxon there is a recipe for turning castor beans into ricin poison.
The Resurgence in Popularity of Yesteryear's Patent Medicine
Of late, both cod-liver oil and castor oil, after at least one generation of neglect, have seen a resurgence of popularity. Once known only for their nasty taste and punitive uses in older books for and about children, they are now touted for their miraculous ability to heal wounds, reinvigorate the body and promote general well being. How do we account for this?
Food goes through fads. After World War II, American nutritionists decided that fat was bad and carbs were good. They also ruled that plant matter was healthier than animal flesh, and that when choosing between two oils, the vegetable oil was preferable. Bacon and eggs for breakfast were replaced by cereal. Lard as a shortening was set aside for all vegetable Crisco. Maragarine trumped butter. Low fat dairy products were preferred over their more luxurious tasting high fat counterparts.
After decades of this regimen, Americans were overweight and suffering from all sorts of illnesses, many of which were caused by a deplorable lack of fat -- and particularly animal fat-- in the diet. In order to remedy this situation, some dietary supplements high in fat were recommended. Cod liver oil is one of these. It has high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which are now considered "good fats".
It is likely that the people ordering cod-liver oil are looking for a dietary supplement to help heal their bodies of the symptoms of fat deficiency, since vitamin A and D supplements are available in many other forms besides cod-liver oil. It's also possible that the medicinal value of both cod-liver oil and castor oil are being recognized again by those who hope to circumvent the medical establishment's monopoly on the treatment of auto-immune and other chronic diseases. It could well be the case that some people appreciate the laxative effect of both these oils.
Of course, this is all speculation on my part. It's possible that people are trying to find new ways to discipline their children or to establish fascist regimes in their country of origin. You can never tell!
Is cod liver oil a good thing or a bad thing? Is castor oil an instrument of torture or a nice nutritional additive? The answer is both. Like any other substance, it depends on how you use it. There are no bad substances or good substances, but what you make of what you have at hand is entirely up to you. Let's just hope that all those people who have been ordering cod liver oil will use it wisely. When they randomly wander off-topic into an Amazon capsule and start ordering nutritional supplements, let's hope our readers use them for good rather than evil. After all, every object on earth can serve to further whatever purpose we are pursuing. This is true of not just cod-liver oil, but each and every product we peddle on-line!
(c) 2010 Aya Katz
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The role of cod liver oil on Broadway as representative of "tough love".