Door to the Beyond: Mental Health and Paganism

Part II

As we left off in our last effort, James and Carey were trapped in an old mineshaft… no, wait, wrong story. Last month, we hinted at the magick words, "fish oil". What has this to do with either mental health or paganism? Hmmmm

I apologize in advance that this month’s article will be almost solely dedicated to this issue; I will discuss other helps in coming articles. It will be hard to bring it back to paganism much, but I will try, and will refocus in future articles.

Anthropologists tell us that, not that long ago, there were 3 or 4 competing hominid ("man-like") species. One of these groups lived along the lake, and ate a varied diet including spearing fish from the lake; the others did not get the benefit of eating fish. According to these anthropologists, those who ate fish regularly had their brains grow to 3-4 times the size of their competitors, and were thus able to use their new-found brainpower to out-compete the others and become the only surviving species of man. (Source: paraphrased wildly from "The Omega-3 Connection" by Andrew L. Stoll, M.D.)

Is this not a gift from Goddess? It would seem so to me. I would venture to say that these distant ancestors were likely moved to use these brains to think about the world and universe around them, discovering the Grace that the Lady had given them.

How does this affect us today? When we are born, over 60% of our brains are made up of fats, with nearly all of those fats being the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These fats get used up, and are replaced through our diet. If there is EPA and DHA to replace them with, our body uses those. If there isn’t, it uses whatever fatty acids are available (commonly AA, Arachidonic Acid – an Omega-6, in the American diet). Our bodies can manufacture EPA and DHA directly from dietary fish, or from grains or vegetables high in a third Omega-3, ALA (Alpha Linoleic Acid); it cannot manufacture an Omega-3 from an Omega-6. The typical American diet is VERY high in Omega-6s, high in Omega-9s, but unless you eat a lot of fish or flax, virtually no Omega-3s. (I can discuss what these terms mean privately if you like… suffice it to say that our brains NEED Omega-3 and not the other types of fats, and do not work properly without sufficient quantities of them.) With the proper fats, our neurons fire off in proper sequence; without them, we’re out of synch. (Same source as above) This appears to be a MAJOR (physical) cause in depression, mania, schizophrenia, and other types of mental illness or distress.

Yes, there are environmental factors, behavioral factors, etc., but the Goddess gave us these brains and we need to feed them properly.

It has further been studied (and so far mostly proven) that, as foetuses and babies, we suck our mothers dry of their supplies of these fatty acids – it’s how we get them in the first place, either through the placenta or through mother’s milk. In fact, a mother with a diet insufficient in Omega-3s is sucked so empty of them that it appears to be the almost sole cause of "post-partum depression".

How can we get sufficient quantities of these substances in our diets?

  1.      Eat cold-water dark-muscle-meat fish (cod, salmon, etc., but not whiting) 3-4 times per week, at least 4 oz per serving.

  2.      Take fish oil supplements (these can be cheap or quite expensive, but the expensive ones have not been shown to have any value over the cheapest ones).

  3.      Take a DHA supplement (more expensive, and mostly only available at GNC Stores, but derived wholly from algae and plankton, not fish).

  4.      Take Flax Seed Oil or Hemp Seed Oil Supplements (high in ALA, which your body CAN convert to EPA and DHA… but different bodies are more or less efficient at the conversion process). (You can also add whole flax seed or hemp seed to your diet in various ways, and other vegetables have lower levels of ALA but might be sufficient.)

That’s it. There is no other way.

There are questions about fish being polluted with mercury; a careful study of the subject shows that no major brand of fish oil (or DHA) has any measurable amounts.

How much does it cost? Well, you know what it costs to buy fish, or can check at any grocery store. Fish oil can be obtained as cheaply as 300 1-gram softgels for under $7 (Sam’s Club, similar price at Costco), 250 for $10.50 (Walmart), up to 100 for $19.95 at various health food stores. It has been shown that nearly all (regular-strength) fish oil is processed and produced at only 3 factories in the world, so the expensive stuff at the health food store is exactly the same as the cheap stuff at Sam’s Club. (I recommend that you do not buy "Icelandic Health" from infomercials or "OmegaBrite"; these are untested formulations at VERY high prices. Standard fish oil contains 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA per gram of oil.)

How much should you take? If you suffer from clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or another diagnosed disorder, I would start at 4 grams (softgels) and think about trying 6 if you can afford it; less than that is shown to not be effective, more than that just costs too much and there is no shown benefit to date.

What problems can I expect? A very few people are allergic to fish. These should investigate flax seed or hemp seed oil. A few people have gastric upset from fish oil; these should either buy the "enteric coated" fish oil softgels (a little more expensive, but not much) or consider taking some Taurine (an amino acid which helps with lipid digestion) along with their fish oil, and might consider taking their fish oil only with food. Otherwise, there are no known problems – and a LOT of benefits I haven’t even begun to talk about (read "The Omega 3 Connection" by Andrew L. Stoll, M.D., for the full amount we currently know about the benefits of fish oil – be prepared to be astounded, it is good for so many things it starts sounding more like "snake oil".)

Will fish oil "cure" you? If you don’t notice the benefits CLEARLY within 2-4 weeks, stop taking it (or decrease your dosage). In my own case and many like it, I could almost literally feel a weight lifting off my shoulders within a week. It (and a few other supplements we’ll talk about in later articles) literally gave me my brain back, rather than "control" (i.e., dampen) it like the various psych drugs did. I still have the psychological issues I had before (but I’m working on them, and have many fewer than I started with), but I have the capacity to work on them and expect the change to "take". (While on psych drugs, I always felt I was fighting the drug to accomplish anything, and often the change would not "hold".)

I would like to emphasize several things here. I am a Priest of Wicca, not a Doctor of Medicine. These statements are based on a LOT of anecdotal evidence and a few studies done at Harvard Medical School and affiliated university hospitals. If you are diagnosed as "bipolar" (or "manic-depressive", same thing), feel free to join the ALT-therapies4bipolar Yahoogroup, where currently over 180 other people are talking about what they are doing for themselves, usually without any drug therapy whatever. We also have a group called Bi-polar_pagans, which includes people — on any therapy — who happen to be pagan. If you need help contacting these groups, please write me.