Wednesday, 24 March 2010

UNSPEAKABLY NORSK THING - OMGANGSSYKDOM AND GOLDEN BULLETS

It seems everyone I know in Norway has had some kind of illness of late. Colds, flu, stomach upsets, headaches, sore throats, an abundance of sneezles and sniffles have been all the rage. Victims have been standing around on street corners comparing notes on their various ailments, pale faces enlivened by the very reddest of noses, coughing and spluttering interrupting the most important of meetings, the most reverent of gatherings. If you are fit and healthy you are going to be feeling rather left out.

Many suspect this is a natural course of events, and related to the changing of the seasons. The Norwegians have a special name for inter-seasonal illness, ‘Omgangssykdom’. As the air changes, and the amount of light per day alters rapidly, the body clock is thrown out of kilter and we humans are struggling to keep up with Mother Nature. At some point, the majority of us are laid low for a wee while as omgangssykdom takes a grip.

The moment I arrived in Norway, I was ordered by an American (who had lived here for over forty years) to swallow cod liver oil. Her explanation for this lay in the fact that she had been doing so for years in order to stave off depression, thereby reducing the worst aspects of omgangssykdom. She left me with the understanding that if I didn’t take large quantities of cod liver oil I would be the only person in Norway not to do so, and would suffer some inexplicable northern disease. While the taking of cod liver oil is not exactly a government order, it was apparently The Norm.

This was disgusting news. I’d tried the stuff before. I sloped off to the supermarket feeling so depressed I almost contracted a dose of omgangssykdom. Huge vats of the stuff stared at me menacingly from supermarket shelves as I wrestled in an internal debate on whether or not to make a purchase. Yeurch. Was this the price I must pay for living here?

Luckily my eye wandered further along the shelf to a little pot of golden bullets. Ah-ha! I could swallow capsules rather than liquid. The rugged face of Roald Amundsen, explorer extraordinaire, stared out at me from the tin, as though to say, ‘I am ordering you to take these.....if you do, your capacity as a human being will be boosted beyond your wildest dreams, you will be soon capable of great things and you may reach a Pole or two, you never know.’

Thanks, Roald, I said, grabbing the tin. Apparently he took this stuff with him to the Antarctic.

The question is, after three years of making sure we swallow our golden bullets, are we any fitter? Not an easy thing to measure in a family with school children in it, as we are of course subjected to the ever-present bugs that lurk about in schools. We have certainly suffered far fewer colds than we used to, but nobody can prove the reason.

However, there does seem to be something magic about cod liver oil. In the 1990’s, Norwegian scientists carried out a study of almost 22,000 people aged over 40 in which those who took cod liver oil proved to be less likely to suffer depression than those who did not. Being rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, the oil is linked to various benefits....apart from the idea that children’s brains are said to be boosted by Omega-3, there have been claims that it may reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. However, while experts agree fish oil seems to improve cardiovascular health, it may not be a surprise to learn that healthier people are less depressed. Critics of the study warned that socio-economic factors were not taken into account....wealthier people tend to be healthier and have less depression.

Our bodies need fatty acids to repair skin, and to help the nerve and immune systems to function. Essential fatty acids are vital in the formation of cell walls, and play a part in allowing nutrients and other chemicals to pass in and out of cells.

But, there are two types of essential fatty acids ; Omega-3 and Omega-6. The trick is to achieve the correct balance. Our western diet contains way too much Omega-6 (by 20, even 30 times) due to an abundance of certain vegetable oils. This can make blood thicker, and so blood vessels are more likely to go into spasm and clots more likely to form, increasing the risk of heart attack and other forms of cardiovascular disease. If you get enough Omega-3, but not too much, you can counteract this effect.

So, what to do? The UK Department of Health advises us to eat two portions of oily fish per week....so sardines, trout, herring, mackerel, or salmon. Or a handful of walnuts. Nice if you like them, not so easy if you don’t.

I am not one for popping pills unless instructed to do so by a medic, but while I have a family of fussy eaters, I reckon the golden bullet route is not doing us any harm.

6 comments:

  1. Hi Jane,
    In the long list of what you should take in Norway, let's not forget: fluor for teeth, drops of Dvitamins for under 3s, SB12 for gums etc...All this have to be given in the morning before kids and husband leave the house and it is a miracle that the doses don't get mixed up!!!
    A neighbour

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  2. My mother was from the north of Norway, but not from the coast. She was raised eating "spekesild" (herring) and not "torsk" (cod). She was never a fan of cod liver oil, in fact she hated it. I thank my mother for not ever having had to take "tran" (cod liver oil). I have never tasted it!

    However, I like everything else that comes from "torsk"; boknafisk, tørrfisk, torsketunger, torskehode, bacalao, klippfisk, torskerogn, lettsaltet torsk, fersk torsk and LUTEFISK.

    Velbekomme!

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  3. Raised on Scottish farms .. hard work every day, porridge every morning, and fish once a week - in that order - seemed to be the approach to life and health! I fear little has changed ......... !

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  4. Tor...I'll need my torsk dictionary, altho of course I'm now a fan of Lutefisk, thanks to a brilliant Norsk cook.
    Rob....there's definitely something magic about oats

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  5. Luckily my eye wandered further along the shelf to a little pot of golden bullets. Ah-ha! I could swtor credits swallow capsules rather than liquid. The rugged face of Roald Amundsen, explorer extraordinaire, stared out at me from the tin, as though to say, ‘I am ordering you to take these.....if you do, your capacity as a human being will be boosted beyond your wildest buy swtor credits dreams, you will be soon capable of great things and you may reach a Pole or two, you never know.’

    ReplyDelete