By David Marsh
(Originally published in Positive Health Magazine: Oct 2001)
PLANTS CAN'T MAKE MINERALS
without minerals, vitamins don't work
"Apparently we can no longer think of foods as having a fixed value: for such value varies with the soil type."
(Dr Henry Bailey Stevens, Director General Extensions Service, Univ of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA, 1944) (1).
THE ORIGIN OF THE MINERALS
The minerals in our bodies were forged in the nuclear furnace of the sun. The (so called) periodic elements were distributed in varying amounts and at different levels among the earth's crust. Our planet, a broken off piece of the sun went through its hot period, followed by gradual cooling. Because minerals cooled and solidified at different temperatures, so, as with gold, they can be found in pockets or seams in different parts of the earth's crust and mantle.
On cooling, the minerals were later luxuriantly distributed with water in the oceans, mountains and rock flows of geological tides. Our soils today are the results of untold ice-ages. Ice-floes physically crushed mountains, grinding their rocks slowly for aeons over the land surfaces to produce the rich clays and loams and the multiplicity of soil types we find across the globe.
There were abundant amounts of minerals in the early soils, as there are still now in aforested areas out of reach of the chainsaw, plough and cultivator.
Since trees have deeper roots than cereals or other arable crops, they can tap the subsoils, getting more minerals from the earth, passing them up to their leaves, then shedding them on to the soil beneath, thus recycling the minerals: the perfect cycle. So the food from trees - their nuts, fruit and leaves in general have a more reliable mineral spectrum than for example cereals grown on inorganic soils, which are increasingly depleted (thinner). The only fertilising many prairie farms undertake is nitrogen, phosphate and potash (N, P, K) with the odd application of lime in the form of basic slag, which interestingly also contains selenium - sadly a practice less used than it was.
The philosophies of the organic and the inorganic grower vary in a distinctive way. The organic grower focusses on feeding the soil and the microflora within it, which need humus (dark coloured, amorphous colloidal material that constitutes the organic part of the soil: it supports an abundance of micro-organisms and small animals e.g. earthworms) as well as minerals (2).
By feeding the soil well, plants can take up all the nutrients they require and thus have strong defence systems of their own - including waxes on leaf surfaces, strong cell walls, chemical defenses - or immune systems. The plants simply don't get diseases. Doubters should visit HDRA gardens (3) or Highgrove (4). This strategy should be taken on board by medical doctors, many of whom have difficulty with the hypothesis having been drained, sorry, trained by various arms of the pharmaceutical industry. However, some are now getting the drift.
The one great message that comes with organic produce, apart from it being free of the thousands of chemicals now in use commercially, is that it stands a much better chance of containing the minerals and trace minerals that (probably) most of our bodies have been starved of for years.
Inorganic growing believes in supplying the crops (not the soil) with the right nutrients for growth and yield, and blitzing any diseases or weeds with chemicals; the residues of which are commonly found in our foods, particularly in delicate salad crops like lettuce.
Our minerals have come to us from the nutrition of our mother and father, and our own lifetime's consumption of food (together with industrial pollutant metals - aluminium, cadmium, lead, mercury, etc - from living in a polluted environment) and they are the only bits of us (except perhaps our DNA) which will continue to exist after our physical death.
RECENT RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS
Within the space limitations of this essay we can only take a few examples in any depth, and selenium makes a good example. There are other minerals such as zinc, magnesium, manganese, calcium, phsoporous or copper which convey parallel stories (5). We are only just beginning to be aware of certain lesser known mineral trace elements, or how different man-made chemicals react with the naturally occurring minerals of our soils.
Soils in different parts of the world, and in different localities within specific areas have higher or lower amounts of certain minerals. Indeed, testing our own small garden in Sussex for minerals, we found considerable variation from one part to another.
Specific disease patterns present themselves in definite areas, such as Keshan's disease in China. Keshan's is a form of heart-disease suffered by people living in a broad swathe across China, running from the south-west up to the north-east which is an area of known selenium deficiency.
More and more food is being imported from China, so some of these foods, such as garlic (an important provider of Se) could be selenium deficient. Closer even to home is our bread which used to be imported from hard Canadian wheats rich in selenium. It now comes from EU where many soils are selenium deficient.
There are 60 specific minerals and trace minerals found in human blood. It has been deemed reasonable by senior biochemists that all 60 have some significant function in the body (6). We will be looking at a few examples, such as selenium and zinc. These minerals are present in well-tended fertile soil.
As we can only obtain minerals through food and drink, William A. Albrecht was right in 1944 in describing food as "fabricated soil fertility" (1). Considering this was known and widely published, read, quoted and re-quoted over 50 years ago, what on earth went wrong?
JUSTUS VON LIEBIG
As a young man in the early decades of the 19th century German baron Justus von Liebig travelled to Paris, which was then the centre of the scientific world, to study chemistry. Between 1822 - 24 he studied with the great chemists, physicists and physicians of the scientific world.
He particularly picked up on the ideas of the brilliant chemist Lavoisier, who, although guillotined in 1794, had left his ideas of life as a chemical function firmly embedded in the human consciousness, opening up the promising concept of chemicals interacting with human beings themselves. Liebig was not slow to develop these ideas and to run with them.
As a young genius of 22, von Liebig was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the University of Geissen in Upper Hesse, and given a free hand and new laboratories, built to his specific requests. Students flocked from all over the world to study with him. He thus left his thoughts firmly sown for future generations.
"Towering over his contemporaries" (the story is beautifully told by Barbara Griggs' in her superb book "The Food Factor" (7), he became the 'big daddy' of chemistry in the 1840s, convincing people with his excessive zeal and nimble cranial footwork that plants only needed Nitrogen (N), Phosphate (P), Potasssium (K) and Calcium (Ca) to grow.
This he had deduced by incinerating plants and discovering the residues of N-P-K & Ca. He then demonstrated this, first with an inorganic mix based on bird-droppings, known as guano: and then founded a company to supply it. Artificial fertilisers were born.
Although the initial mixture lacked nitrogen, it worked. It was soon discovered that the more nitrogen that was applied, the more the crop yield increased. This was a great discovery for farmers and chemical companies manufacturing fertilisers; so now we have excess nitrates in our drinking water and mineral deficient food.
What is only just becoming known is that on certain soils, excess nitrogen combines with selenium (see Thomas Stockdale below) - thereby making selenium unavailable to plants, and to those animals and us who eat both plants and animals..
It was in 1840 that von Liebig put his (by-then) famous name to the new "Annual Report of the Progress of Chemistry and the Allied Sciences", which publication would be the first death-knell toll to the centuries-old practice of putting farmyard manure, seaweed, compost or industrial waste (soot, basic slag, shoddy etc) back on to the soils, to replenish those minerals, trace minerals, humous and soil microflora which had been removed by previous crops.
Mineral deficiencies in the soil, and consequently in the crops grown on those soils, translate into other deficiences in the human body; which include preventing our immune systems from performing at full efficiency - thereby weakening our defences (and our birds and animals defences) against disease. Deficiencies of both selenium, magnesium, iron and zinc amongst other minerals are known to impair immune response (8).
It is an interesting area during these days of epidemics and near epidemics such as heart disease and cancer - which are now affecting younger and younger age-groups, together with new version Creuzfeldt- Jakob Disease (nvCJD) and animal disasters such as BSE and foot and mouth disease (FMD).
For there is a wealth of published evidence that selenium is implicated in all of these diseases: and that Se, Zn, Mg other minerals are required for a healthy immune system.
Laurence Harbige from the Dental Schools of Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital London, links protein-energy malnutrition with deficiencies of vitamin A, dietary lipids, zinc, selenium and copper to depression of the immune system. Harbige suggests "Understanding the molecular and cellular immunological mechanisms involved in nutrient interactions will increase our applications for nutrition of the immune system in health and disease" (8, 9).
So here we have an environmental / nutritional factor which slalems through the boundary posts of soils and foodchain, domestic livestock and human populations, which can now be seen to be rebounding on the environment and on our economy as well (BSE, FMD, tourism, collapse of the rural economy).
And yet we as a society blunder further down the road of high-input / high-output agriculture, largely ignoring organic production, being pressed (almost maniacally) by the genetic mutation (GM) producers - see below - to carry on ignoring the quality of our soil and our daily foods.
Inorganic chemist Thomas Stockdale, Chairman of the Scottish McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health (formed in the memory of the late Sir Robert McCarrison, research doctor and nutritional pioneer), writing on the selenium problem in Scotland (Farmer, February 12, 2000) explains that where soil is acidic it is unsuitable for nitrogen fertilisers, which were formulated for the arable calcarious soils of south-east England. He describes how only the best soils in Scotland are suitable for the use of high nitrogen fertiliser (10, 11).
"Scottish soils" he continues, "are naturally low in selenium, and the problem was masked by the use of basic slag used for 60 - 70 years as a calcium fertiliser, which happens to contain significant amounts of selenium. Now this practice has been largely discontinued, more and more land is deteriorating in to low fertility.
"Livestock which are selenium deficient suffer from ill-thrift (poor health and growth), as do people who consume the milk and the wheat produced upon low selenium land.
"The selenium problem in Finland has been addressed by adding the element to fertiliser.... but... here the problem is being ignored".
We will return to Stockdale's letter shortly.
This death-knell for soil fertility and dilution of the quality of our food has been mirrored (and magnified) by the rise of the so-called diseases of civilisation (or the illogical-thinking of chemists and food scientists who just look at a narrow picture).
Chiropratic with 20 years experience David Thomas, a geologist by training, whose primary work is the physical manipulation of the osteo-cranial frame, believes nutritional, and especially mineral deficiences play a large part in today's ills. In a recent research project, described recently by the Daily Mail in some detail, Thomas charts the reduction of minerals in our food (12).
Analysing various editions of McCance & Widdowson's widely referred to work "Composition of Foods" (1940 1st ed, 1991 5th ed), Thomas describes how many of our ordinary everyday foods have taken a significant dip in mineral content over the last half century. Indeed, in the last 3 decades the zinc content of 7 common foods fell by 59% .
Between the the beginning of WW2 and 1991 the mineral content of vegetables analysed dropped as follows.
Sodium: - 49%
Potassium: - 16%
Magnesium: - 24%
Calcium: - 46%
Iron: - 27%
Copper: - 76%
Zinc: - 59%
The corresponding figures for fruit were -
Sodium - 29%
Potassium - 19%
Magnesium - 16%
Calcium - 16%
Iron - 24%
Copper - 20%
Zinc - 27%
Suggesting that it would be curious to think that trace-elements hadn't suffered a similar decrease, Thomas is categoric " ...trace minerals play a huge role in human physiology to help maintain homeostasis. The significant loss of these essential trace minerals within the vegetables available to us again highlights the need to supplement with a well balanced, naturally derived product".
As a practitioner of chiropractic, with a background in geology, and witnessing first-hand for 2 decades the results of prescriptions on his patients, his views seem wise. Shrewd politicians would similarly direct their their vision the soil.
A similar picture of deteriorating soil fertility can also be seen in North America. Wesley McQuown, of the North American Elk Breeders Association, himself an Elk breeder and Soil Consultant says,
"For elk pastures, I first look at the calcium and phosphate levels. Calcium and phosphate together make up 75% of the total minerals in the bodies of livestock, and 90% of the minerals in the skeleton.
"The most common deficiencies I find in pastures is phosphorus. Phosphorus deficient soils produce poor quality forage and many problems including poor conception rates.
"The two trace elements which are often deficient in soils are copper and zink. Interestingly, copper and zinc are often deficient in forages. There is a connection" (13).
The above sad tales can only make us wonder at the structure of our monetary philosophy - sharpened since social Darwinism with its interpretation of the survival of the fittest.
The controllers of vast international companies (and their shareholders) - encompassing agricultural and industrial chemicals, fuel, food and medical / pharmaceutical products - who pull the strings of our puppet chiefs, be it in the USA, UK or EU, are getting rich by supplying the things that make us sick, whilst at the same time providing (too often) ineffective remedies.
Is this proof enough that "after the current assault on the heart and vascular system will the brain be the next to go" - is now actually happening? (Crawford & Marsh, 1989) (14).
There is an eerie echo in this tragic tale I hear from distant walls rebounding, of a possible parallel folly which is currently being attempted to convince politicians who then attempt to convince us - that genetically modified crops (GM) will do us no harm (yes, yet again driven by pharmaceutical companies) when they change the genotype of a common food plant or animal.
Academically speaking the new DNA structure (the genotype), because it is a brand new structure - albeit it with only one or two extra genes spliced in - should correctly be termed a mutation. (A modification has exactly the same genotype, unaltered structurally, but it behaves, or expresses itself in a different way). Perhaps when people realise they / we are being forced to eat genetically-mutated foodstuffs, more people like the British (unlike Americans or Western Europeans) would fiercely complain (15).
It could just be that the immune systems of the very young and the not-so-young - being among the most sensitive of us - will rebel at this new genetic structure; these infant immune systems might say "no we don't recognise this new DNA fingerprint, we will fight it"- and so bring about what is known as an allergic response.
The US population which has lived on genetically-mutated food for longer than any other population in the world, has more allergy problems per head of population than any in the world.
One of the commonest causes of allergies (allergens) is wheat which contains a hard-to-digest protein called gliadin, a constituent of gluten; many of the victims are babies. Many soils in the US are mineral deficient. It would be logical at least to ask whether genetically mutated foods together with soil mineral paucity are the underlying causes behind the ruined lives of hundreds of thousands of children with ADHD (16).
Many of us would support the ideas of the (then) First Lady Hilary Clinton (speech 20. 3. 200) when she implored everyone, including the professions, to come up with more help for children with behavioural and mental disorders. Commenting on a 4 year period ('91 - '95) when the use of ritalin alone rose by 150%, and anti-depressants by over 200%, she called on 'experts from the administration, parents, advocates, educators, researchers, health-care professionals and consumers' to confer and come up with some answers (17).
Mineral deficiencies could be behind all these complaints, for without minerals, vitamins don't work. The body heavily depends on enzymic reactions for the production of many of the living biochemicals needed for full health. Enzymes in turn are heavily dependent on minerals and trace elements, as we have seen briefly with the immune system. It is logical therefore to see these precious minerals as the bedrock of life.
Scientific knowledge has been slow coming to understand the role of certain minerals, with selenium only being recognised in 1957, chromium in 1959, tin in 1970, vanadium in 1971, fluorine 1971, silicon 1972, nickel 1974, arsenic 1975, cadmium 1977, lead 1977, boron 1990.
Confusion concerning mineral levels is common as many of these elements are harmful in excess as well as in deficiency. For example, like lead, copper toxicity is not unusual - commonly attributed to plumbing in houses.
Finland with its previously very high rate of heart disease, found it was substantially reduced by adding selenium to their fertilisers, so food grown would have more selenium, and so would the population. Their heart disease problem responded to added selenium (and much lower amounts of saturated fats) and now Finnish people have three times the Se content of the UK population (18).
The Se story includes the recent drama concerning the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) debate. The scientific work which supported our government's recent massive publicity drive to encourage the take-up of the MMR triple jab was obtained from - guess where? Finland, where they now have good selenium levels. This is spurious use of scientific data. With three times less selenium than Finland, the UK population can be neither accurately nor usefully compared (18).
What the research does seem to show is that the vaccine is safe with babies who have the protection of adequate Se; but what happens when three live vaccines are injected into a small baby with inadequate stocks of Se? This baby, with an already compromised immune-system, could go into traumatic shock: or present symptoms such as attention-deficit & hyperactive disorder (ADHD), food allergies, Krohn's disease etc, those life-changing scourges often linked with MMR. This is the question that needs answering.
Until it is answered, parents should ensure their children get enough of the whole of the mineral spectrum, either through mineral rich foods such as seaweed, other water weeds (chlorella and spirulina), fish, seeds and nuts, brewers yeast, etc, or by supplementation * see footnote - Autistic Society, below.
It suggests that Se deficiency could be involved in our own high rate of heart disease (18). So too is our huge consumption of saturated fats - which is today being exacerbated by take-aways cooked in the cheapest hot-pressed rape-seed oil and used time and again. The polyunsaturated seed oil theory must be one of the biggest confidence tricks of all time, as those oils when industrialised, and ruined by heat treatment, will actually be encouraging heart disease and cancer. Those responsible for such food changes bear a huge responsibilty.
We will close by showing an analysis of the earth's soils as presented to the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 by the US Senate:- (19).
SOIL MINERAL DEPLETION LEVELS
North America 85%
South America 75%
Soil re-mineralisation seems an urgent task, however it is achieved. Some think selenium and vitamin B3 should be put in bread. Others are working on more sophisticated - if not to say etheric - methods of accomplishing the task .
Tom Stockdale ends his letter to the Scottish Farmer with the following words...
"It appears there has been a failure to carry out field trials correctly and the authorities do not wish to admit to gross errors which are now costing the NHS many billions of pounds.
"This is a problem which should have been addressed by the Department of Agriculture many years ago. It would never have become a serious problem had correct proccedures been followed. It is a matter of urgency that it should be put right, and is now a matter which the Scottish Parliament should address". (20)
Let's hope pray that this advice will be acted on by Parliaments universally.
David Marsh 12/7/2001