FROM HEALTHY SOIL TO
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the health of our soils directly affects our own health and indicates that both our health and that in the soil have been declining simultaneously since the 1940s.
In order for plants to be full of nutrients and able to give us healthy gut bacteria, they should contain an abundant and diverse plethora of life forms. Unfortunately, tillage, leaving soil bare, repeated mono cropping, artificial fertilisers and pesticides all deplete life in the soil.
We absorb beneficial microorganisms into the gut through touching them and ingesting them from our food. Once in our intestines, these microbes can fortify the human gut microbiome, which in turn, helps keep us well.
A single spinach leaf has over 800 different species of bacteria that it gets from the soil and the environment,” says Christopher Lowry, a professor of integrative physiology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The biology at play isn’t entirely understood, but studies have shown that people who live and work in farming and rural communities, where they have regular contact with healthy soil and the microbes it contains, are more resistant to allergies and asthma, while mice experiments have demonstrated that even modest soil exposure can strengthen the immune system’s response to harmful pathogens, including parasites, bacteria, and viruses.
HOW TO MAKE HEALTHY SOIL
A recent review of 56 studies, published in the journal PLoS One, found that soil from farms that didn’t till or use synthetic chemicals and employed practices like cover cropping, biodiversity and crop rotation, contained 32% to 84% more microbial mass (an indicator of healthy soil) than that from conventional farms.
A 2019 study published in the journal Microorganisms, revealed that the variety of microbes both in humans and in soils is plummeting and at roughly the same rate.
They identified several reasons for the decline including our transition from an agrarian society to an industrial one, modern hygiene and our Western diet filled with low-fibre, highly processed foods. We now understand that the decline is also linked with modern farming methods.
Why the gut microbiome is important
The collection of microorganisms that live in our gut control inflammation, permeability of gut (leaky gut), brain chemistry, hormones, metabolism, nutrient levels and what you absorb and don’t absorb. They may well also affect food cravings, cancers and what your body does with fat. In fact, our gut microbes control so much of our health that many believe that most, non-contagious diseases result from poor gut health, including, arthritis, heart disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, chronic pain conditions, fatigue, irritable bowl syndrome, many skin conditions, autism, type 2 diabetes, food intolerances, plus anxiety, poor concentration and depression. The stomach is linked to the brain and between 70 and 80 percent of our immune system is in the gut!
Many in the NHS are only just waking up to this fact!
It is therefore vital that we look after our gut microbes by eating a diverse, organic diet from healthy soil.
PLANTS LACK NUTRIENTS BECAUSE OF ARTIFICIAL FERTILISERS AND PESTICIDES
Ordinarily, plants have to work to get the nutrients they need. They feed soil microbes sugars and other chemical compounds, through their plant roots and in return, the microbes feed nutrients, including nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, other minerals and trace elements, to the plants. When plants are fed by microbes making minerals available to them, the plant doesn’t just receive two or three minerals but a great deal of other nutrients along with them as well. The plant farms for what it needs. If plants are fed passively with an artificial fertiliser, they will miss out on all those extra nutrients and are often weaker as a result. As they are weak, they become stressed and diseased and require a pesticide in order to survive, making a bad situation worse!
Of course, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides kill good soil microbes as well as nasty ones.
Many, including Dr Christine Jones are really concerned about this and the negative effects it has on the nutritional content of our food.
Also, a large proportion of our food is grown in liquid or compost with no microbial life in it. These plants lack nutrients, the ones which are difficult, expensive or indeed impossible to add artificially.
Gundula Azeez, of The Soil Association. explained that, ‘unlike minerals, vitamins & antioxidants are not supplied by the soil, so you cannot add them using fertilisers. They are produced by the plants themselves and are natural pest-defence compounds, part of a range of chemicals we are just beginning to understand’. Studies have shown that levels are up to 40% higher in organic produce.
If using artificial pesticides, plants don’t have to produce these protective chemicals, so they are not in our food and we are missing out.
Dr Jones has also established that the use of fungicides and pesticides on seeds reduce the benefits of protective microbes. (Ref 5 & 6) When you combine this with our antibacterial and sterile environments the deficiencies in the microbiome are further extenuated.
The drive for more convenient, faster growing food
Over time, we have chosen plants that are sweeter, lower in fibre and higher in starch and oil. Recently, we have created varieties that are good at defending against disease and pests but aren’t necessarily as nutritious as older varieties.
To be more profitable our farm produce is grown as fast and large as possible, which again can reduce the nutritional content- they simply don’t have time to absorb as many nutrients.
“If a newborn baby grew as fast as your average supermarket chicken, by her third birthday she would weigh 28 stone,” according to Kate Parkes, RSPCA chicken welfare specialist.
Every time our food goes through a process it is likely to lose nutrients as well as use precious energy. This fatty meat and over processed junk food may suit our busy lifestyle but is also shortening our lives!
The effect of chemicals and antibiotics
Taking antibiotics kills good bacteria in the gut as well as bacteria that causes illness. Pesticides like glyphosate, kill essential soil microbes, as well as good microbes, (in fact, glyphosate is patented as an antibiotic). Glyphosate, sometimes called Roundup, has also been linked to cancer by the WHO.
The application of such pesticides does not only take place while the crop is growing but can also be applied as a seed treatment, or post-harvest to assist with transportation, storage or the cosmetic look of a particular item. Potatoes have an average of around thirty different active chemicals sprayed on them and wheat has over twenty! Herbicide usage is also rising due to an increased usage on cereals and oilseed crops.
We are also consuming small but repeated amounts of artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Individually the chemicals we consume may not harm a healthy person but our reduced gut microbiome makes us weaker and therefore more likely to be adversely affected by them.
Loss of diversity
Over the years we have lost the majority of different species we used to eat. According to Slowfood, 94% of our vegetable varieties have been lost in the last 100 years. There are in fact around a thousand varieties of bananas!
Currently we are consuming only a tiny fraction of the world’s edible plants and nearly half our calories come from just three crops!
Regenerative agriculture encourages diversity as each plant supports different life above and below ground. Each plant also provides us with different nutritional content.
The American Gut Project reported that, ‘People who consume at least 30 different kinds of plant foods per week have healthier and more diverse gut microbiomes and fewer health issues than those consuming 10 or less different kinds of plant foods per week’.
This can be a challenge but made easier by adding herbs, fermented, pickled, dried and even foraged foods.
Health problems linked to mineral deficiency
Mineral deficiency is estimated to afflict more than a third of humanity in all areas and 64% of adults in England are considered overweight or obese.
So, as well as being low in essential vitamins and minerals we are increasingly overweight, with diabetes costing the UK £10 billion a year and causing over 500 premature deaths each week.
This is partly because we have to eat more in order to obtain what we need from our food and we are also becoming obese because we are eating obese farm animals that are fed foods that aren’t good for them.
Such animals are increasingly produced indoors and given high energy cereals instead of mixed forage outdoors. Overcrowded animals, fed on a low percentage of mixed forage, often die young. They also tend to require antibiotics which affect their gut microbiome. Cattle which live outside all, or nearly all the time, usually live far longer and are usually healthier.
Health problems linked to antibiotic resistance
Since the 1940s, antibiotics have saved millions of lives and played a critical role in protecting public health.
However, many of the antibiotics we rely on to cure disease in humans are also used on factory farms, to prevent disease in overcrowded conditions and to marginally improve growth rates. This dangerous misuse of antibiotics in agriculture is partially responsible for the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria that pose a grave threat to public health.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic resistance is responsible for 25,000 human deaths in Europe annually and as many as 2 million U.S. individuals develop a drug-resistant infection each year. By the year 2050, some researchers predict that antibiotic resistance will cause 10 million deaths every year, surpassing cancer as the leading cause of mortality worldwide. Resistant bacteria are transmitted to humans through direct contact with animals, by exposure to animal manure, through consumption of undercooked meat and through contact with uncooked meat or surfaces meat has touched.
Health problems linked to grain fed meat
Grain fed meat and milk contains less omega 3 (generally coming from leaves) and too much omega 6 (generally coming from seeds) and far less Conjugated Linoleic Acid, (CLA), which are associated with lowering heart disease and cancer risk, as well as reducing body fat and maintaining lean body mass.
When consumers receive the incorrect omega balance almost every cell in the body is affected and a multitude of health issues may emerge.
There may be increased problems with inflammation and many related diseases, such as heart disease, cancers, osteoporosis, arthritis, Parkinson’s and more.
Grain feeds, as opposed to pasture/forage feeding, also affects the nutritional content of eggs and poultry. Free-range eggs often contain more good omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants than eggs from caged hens and they are a rich source of vitamin E. Also, free-range and organic chicken contains up to 50% less fat than intensively reared chicken meat.
HEALTHY SOIL = HEALTHY GUT
In conclusion, we need to eat food that is grown in healthy soil, rich in life, as this will give us food that acts like a medicine rather than a potential poison. If you choose to eat animals, try and ensure these are living outside and have a healthy diet.
Further reading and a videos;
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6349221/figure/f4/ – diseases due to food
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ps.5527 – microbes and crop management
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBq_hHJOWy4 – Video ‘how plants absorb soil microbes and extract nutrients from them in roots’
As recommended by Dr Sally Bell, please see Dr Zach Bush and Tim Spector…