Human Health & Regenerative Agriculture
Healthy soil microbiome = Plant health : Healthy human gut microbiome = Human health
"The most powerful leverage point to unite both progressives and conservatives may be the nutritional integrity of food - your children's health - and you can only ever get there through a healthy soil sponge." - Walter Jehne
Remember the old adage "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Well thanks to nutrient deficiencies in the soil today we would have to change it to "Four or five apples a day keep the doctor away". Yes in the last 80 years the following has happened to the apple:
- Calcium - declined by 50%
- Iron - declined by 80%
- Magnesium - declined by 80%
- Phosphors - declined by 80%
Source: Cows Save The Planet - Judith Schwartz
This is just one of many studies that catalogue the decline in the nutrient value of the plants we grow and eat. This decline is bought about by the depletion of our soils thanks to repeated ploughing and the application of fertilisers and chemicals to suppress weeds, fungi and pests. Most significantly and unsurprisingly parallel with this decline is the exponential growth of various chronic human diseases.
"We can be no healthier than the food we eat, and the food we eat can be no healthier than the soil it comes from." - Prof. James Blignaut
As knowledge of the human gut microbiome grows we are discovering the importance of the relationship between what we eat, the health of our gut microbiome and our health in general. Your gut and its microbiome are the centre of your body's onboard medicine chest. Indeed after your brain your gut has the highest density of neurones in your body. The primary functions of this medicine chest are dealing with immunity and inflammation and producing chemicals like serotonin and dopamine which in turn impact on your mental state.
Inflammation lies at the centre of so many of our chronic diseases and these diseases are going to continue to rise and continue to cripple our societies unless something changes regarding nutrition and the health of our gut microbiome.
Time Magazine - Inflammation the Secret Killer
Just like microbes in the soil make minerals available for plants microbes in our gut extract the minerals out of our food and make it available to our bodies. The depleted condition of our soils (damaged microbiome) and the nutrient poor plants they produce mean the human gut microbiome is not being fed as it should and consequently it is not feeding us what we need. Our attempts at reducing the complexity of biology to some chemical building blocks has destroyed the nutritional value of the food we eat and is destroying our capacity to be healthy.
"We have deleted the medicine out of the food." - Dr Zach Bush
"Through this comprehensive multi-omics analysis, we obtained definitive results demonstrating glyphosate and Roundup impact on both the bacterial population and biochemistry of the gut microbiome." - Dr Michael Antoniou of King's College London - Link to article
"Cheap food is not cheap, its subsidised, subsidised by taxes and subsidised by health." - John Ikerd, professor emeritus of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri
Fortunately there is a growing body of evidence from regenerative farms showing us that if we create the right conditions the soil microbiome can repair itself very quickly and we can once again produce nutrient dense plants. This means that without waiting for some expensive, new, untested technology to be invented we can start immediately to fix the soil microbiome, the gut microbiome and human health. Soil and gut microbes are the only defence we have against toxicity and it is crucial that we look after both.
If you look at the table below where David Montgomery and Anne Bikle have analysed two side by side wheat fields on a farm. One of the fields had cover crops and the other had no cover crops and used glyphosate to control the weeds, you see the incredible difference in the minerals in the two crops (56% more Zinc). The one management style stimulated the soil microbiology and the microbiology made the minerals available to the plants. This is after only two years. Many of these micro nutrients that get ignored in an industry obsessed with NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) are crucial for human and animal health.
Glyphosate is the most widely uses herbicide in the world and aside from attacking the soil microbiology it is also a chelate. What that means is that it binds with metals like zinc and makes them unavailable to plants. So aside from effecting the population of microbes that fetch minerals for plants from the soil glyphosate also locks up available minerals meaning the plants are deficient in minerals that are essential for human health. Healthy soils with healthy microbial populations produce healthy, nutrient dense plants with higher concentrations of secondary metabolites, antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins and phytonutrients.
"Depending on where and how it is grown our food contains none of the 50 or so trace elements that we need for our bio-chemistry." - Walter Jehne, microbiologist
Of course there will always be a desire for some silver bullet, technical fix that requires us to not change the way we do things and indeed we can already add synthesised minerals to plants. We have the technology (hydroponics, genetic engineering etc), but the issue is these nutrients will not be bio-available to the gut microbiome, so the bacteria will not be able to access them and they will not contribute to improving human health. An insight into how wrong this can all go is that hydroponic vegetables, plants grown in the total absence of organic matter, can now be classified as Organic!
What humans need is for farms to produce abundant, nutrient dense, economically available foods and if the focus shifts from yields and corporate profits to production with regenerative systems we can do this.
"It is simpler to cure sick soil than sick people, which shall we choose?" - Dr. Charles Northern, 1936
Antibiotics, the Human Gut Microbiome and Human Health
Industrial agriculture is heavily dependant on antibiotics to keep it going. The simple problem with this is that antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria but our gut microbiome needs bacteria to be working properly and digesting our food (we have thousands of good bacteria for every harmful bacteria we encounter). Taking antibiotics leads to a reduction in the functioning of the human gut microbiome, the significance of which has really only become understood in the last decade, and constant exposure to antibiotics through our food is a serious issue.
Industrial Agriculture sources of antibiotics.
- Glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide, is an antibiotic (patented as one), indeed the world's most widely used antibiotic, and it is sprayed all over our crops and soils, it gets into our bodies from the food we eat and into our rivers and groundwater.
- Cattle and sheep in feedlots are are routinely fed antibiotics to aid the animals in gaining weight despite the fact that the food they are being given is making them sick. So aside from eating meat from animals that require antibiotics we are also putting more antibiotics into our gut and negatively effecting our microbiome.
Fat, Sugar and Salt - a food designer's dream
Until very recently in history fat, sugar and salt were in short supply in human diets, consequently our reward pathways evolved to be stimulated by these foods and consequently we search for foods rich in fat, sugar and salt. Modern processed food designers of course know this and ensure that the thousands of processed foods on the market trigger these reward pathways and make us want to eat more of them.
Aside from being full of things that we should only be getting in small quantities these processed foods are predominantly made from multiple, already processed products, produced from industrial corn and soybeans, and are packed full of preservatives to extend their shelf life. In other words these foods that are designed for sales rather than human health are manufactured in processes that reduce the nutrient value of the already nutrient poor plants they are made from.
"What are you feeding your microbiome?" - Anne Bikle
Humans need to eat diverse, nutrient dense, whole foods to be healthy but the entire industrial food complex is spending billions in marketing, lobbying and research to supply us with exactly the opposite. Their latest much publicised offering, fake meat burgers are made up of 20+ ingredients (only 2 of which aren't already processed).
The Impossible Burger contents: Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.
As you can see from this diagram (Anne Bikle) if we have a standard western diet dominated by processed foods our gut is getting everything it shouldn't be, lots of simple carbohydrates and very little good microbial metabolites. As it turns out your grandmother was right diner should consist of "meat and three veg" and the children should be "playing outside" where they will be getting more microbes into their system.
"The health of soil, plants, animals, people, and environment is one and indivisible." - Professor Rattan Lal
Read: Some more information on why you can't stop eating
Video: Dr Christine Jones connecting soil health and human health
Video: Dave Montgomery and Anne Bikle connecting soil health and human health
Podcast: Dr. Kris Nichols connecting soil quality and human health
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