We rely on nutrition from your food to keep you healthy and in turn our food relies on nutrition from soil to keep it healthy. But what happens when the soil your food is growing in is sick, when that nutrition just isn’t there?
Put simply: sick soil equals sick plants, sick animals, and sick people. This is because, while the human body can manufacture certain vitamins, like vitamin K and vitamin D, no organism—human or animal—can synthesize any amount of any mineral! When the food we eat is lacking the nutrition we need, we become deficient in our essential micronutrients and become sick. The bottom line is that we either get our essential minerals from our food or a supplement or we don’t get them at all.
Our soil has been sick for some time and its low nutritional status is only getting worse. In fact, science has now proven that those of us living now, here in the 21st century must consume far more food to get the same nutritional value as our grandparents – and in some cases, our modern food has become completely devoid of nutrients it once had, so we can’t get the nutrition we require from that food no matter how much we eat.
In this blog we’ll dig into three major problems with our soils that directly affect our health. Then we will help you take action to make sure you are getting important minerals you certainly aren’t getting from our worn-out farmland!
#1: Loss of Topsoil
As we revealed in our book Micronutrient Miracle, soil expert John Crawford Ph.D from the University of Sydney believes we have about 60 years of topsoil left.
No, this is not a War of the Worlds–type prank. Credible scientists from around the world agree that our soil is in big trouble, and perhaps one of the biggest problems is mineral deficiency.
According to Dr. Crawford, “Some 40 percent of soil used for agriculture around the world is classed as either degraded or seriously degraded—the latter means that 70 percent of the topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone. Because of various farming methods that strip the soil of carbon and make it less robust as well as weaker in nutrients, soil is being lost at between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished. Even the well-maintained farming land in Europe, which may look idyllic, is being lost at unsustainable rates.”
The fact is, our health and ultimately the success of life on earth depends on a very thin, dynamic layer of living topsoil. It is very different from the ground below. It is a mixture of sand, loam, and clay with organic and inorganic nutrients inhabited by many tiny and microorganisms that process nutrients and rejuvenate the soil. A deep layer of this rich topsoil is what made the “breadbasket” of America so fertile at one time. However, our monoculture-based modern farming methods strip the soil of carbon and make it less robust, weaker in nutrients, and easier to lose.
Corn readily demonstrates this. Corn is a heavy feeder, and is often rotated with other crops to try to undo the damage it does to soil. But over several generations, corn ultimately robs the soil of key nutrients that are not that easy to replace. Many of these genetically modified (GMO) crops are selected not for their balance with an ecosystem, but rather for their ability to grow in nutrient depleted soil and produce high yields nonetheless. These nutrient-starved crops ultimately end up on your plate in the form of whole foods, as well as most processed food products made of corn meal, wheat flour, and more.
And it isn’t just the what and how of what we are planting, our soil is also facing the negative consequences of the overuse of inorganic fertilizers- made primarily by converting nitrogen in the air into ammonia. Today, we see that the agricultural runoff of these nitrogen fertilizers has caused hundreds of ocean “dead zones”- so called because overgrowth from runoff into the rivers that feed them has choked these waters of oxygen. Beyond the runoff problems, the use of excess nitrogen can worsen the greenhouse effect and increase the demineralization of soils over time!
So is there hope or is all lost? According to scientists studying back-to-nature, sustainable farming practices- they see vast improvements in soil health simply from using a traditional fertilizer like manure instead of synthetic fertilizers. For instance, a 2015 study from Professor Ekrem Ozlu of the University of Wisconsin-Madison comparing soil health using (organic, living) manure or an (inorganic) traditional mineral fertilizer concluded that manure was hands-down the winner at supporting soil health:
- Manure maintained the correct soil pH for healthy crops, while inorganic fertilizer created more acidic soil.
- Manure increased the amount of organic carbon in the soil compared to inorganic fertilizer, which improves the structure of soil.
- Manure significantly increased the total nitrogen content compared to fertilizer treatments, which is interesting as inorganic fertilizer prides itself on being a robust nitrogen source. Nitrogen is key to plant growth, and bacteria traditionally play the role of converting soil nitrogen into a usable form for plants. These bacteria can be decimated by the use of pesticides like glyphosate (Round-Up) that attack them metabolically.
- Manure increased clumps of soil particles called “water stable aggregates” that help soil resist water erosion. Inorganic fertilizer did the opposite.
- Manure also increased the electrical conductivity of the soil compared to the inorganic fertilizer, which means the soil has a higher level of salts. This was the only finding that showed manure was less effective in supporting plant growth. The researchers considered this insignificant compared to the overall improvement of soil properties and crop yields manure can bring.
Ozlo summarized his findings, “ If you think of soil as a heart, manure is the lifeblood going through it.”
#2: Missing Minerals
Minerals are essential micronutrients- building bones, powering nerves and muscles, helping you utilize vitamins- you literally couldn’t function without them. Above, we discussed loss and nutrient depletion of our top soil as well as the challenges our soil faces from inadequate natural fertilization. Now we turn to the challenges we face from the inadequate mineral content of our soil.
Take the example of a juicy red apple. According to the USDA’s nutrient database in 1914, an apple would have contained 13.5 milligrams of calcium, 28.9 milligrams of magnesium, and 4.6 milligrams of iron. However, an apple grown 78 years later in 1992 contained 48 percent less calcium (7 grams), 83 percent less magnesium (5 mg), and 96% less iron (0.18 mg). And it has been over 25 years since 1992. Follow that trajectory of depletion, and by today, that apple would have lost 61 percent of its calcium and 100 percent of its magnesium and iron.
The depleted apple is just one example of how the level of minerals in our soil has caused the mineral levels in our food to decline over the past century. Data from a 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development revealed that farmlands in North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe have become depleted of minerals on an alarming scale in the past 100 years. Researchers found that soils in Asia and Europe have suffered a 76 percent and 72 percent reduction in mineral content, respectively, while North America’s farms and rangelands showed the greatest amount, with a startling mineral depletion of 85 percent! Although our government has known of these challenges since at least the 1930s when demineralization was discussed on the floor of Congress, today we have to sadly admit our food- our main source of nutrition- isn’t as nourishing as it needs to be to keep us healthy.
#3: Pesticide Problems
We have written extensively about the negative consequences of using sewage sludge and petroleum byproducts to create cheap fertilizers, and we have also sounded the alarm time and time again about the problems of herbicide and pesticide-laden GMO crops. While the idea of genetically modified organisms can be tied to medical and scientific progress, the GMOs in our food supply have been made and used in a way that is damaging to your health when you consume them. One of our problems with GMOs is that when they are made to withstand high doses of toxic herbicides and pesticides you can be left eating potentially dangerous toxins. Sure, the plant is alive, but what happens when you eat the plant? Day in, day out, week in, week out? We know these fat-soluble toxins can accumulate in your fatty tissues- even driving fatty tissues to grow and store them- and we call chemicals like herbicides and pesticides and soft plastics “obesogens” for this reason.
Our main problem with GMO’s is that some GMO crops have been genetically engineered not to die when sprayed with an herbicide called glyphosate, better known as Roundup. That is why these GMO crops are often referred to as “Roundup Ready.” The way glyphosate works is it actually kills weeds by latching onto, or chelating to, the essential minerals they need to live, thus starving them of micronutrients. The problem is that it does the same thing to the Roundup Ready crops themselves, reducing essential minerals such as manganese, copper, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. Then these micronutrient-depleted crops, in turn, do the same thing to both the animals and humans who eat them. There is a reason this toxic agent is in the news lately. Round-Up is a very effective herbicide with very negative health consequences. We invite you download our FREE informational packet and dive in deeper! After all, depriving an organism of minerals can damage it beyond repair. And that’s our point.
Herbicides and pesticides can do more than just damage the small organisms in the soil and the plants we grow in it. They damage the ecosystem the farmland relies on as well. Consider the damage these antimicrobial agents can do to your inner ecosystem – your microbiome. Not only does your microbiome help you stay in balance with your outer world, it also serves as an inner factory of important B vitamins, vitamin K, butyrate, and other important compounds. While we may not have recognized the value of these critters in past decades, we certainly do now! Don’t neglect your inner landscape: Choose foods grown organically in soils far less riddled with damaging chemicals.
And One More To Consider – Climate Change
Climate change increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which worsens the problems with fertilizers, pesticides, and other farming practices. Plants exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide grow faster but actually contain fewer nutrients, just like crops treated with glyphosate. While each one of us has a role to play in reducing our output of greenhouse gases, the sad reality is this trend isn’t going to change anytime soon. Furthermore, farmers make more money growing crops that look great and grow quickly in nutrient-poor soil; regardless of their intention, they will realistically choose to continue these farming practices until this is a demand for change. Rather than demonize the humble farmer, we suggest choosing organic to incentivize those who have your healthiest interests in heart, mind, and practice.
Focus on Quality to Make the Most of your Meals. As we’ve said before, the best defense against deficiency starts with a good offense. Avoid the top GMO crops and processed foods made from them whenever possible. Choose organic to avoid glyphosate and other problematic pesticides- and using your food dollar, tell the companies that produce your food that this is the quality you insist upon! Find local farmers here.
Avoid Unnecessary Exposures. Glyphosate and other micronutrient-depleting herbicides aren’t just found on food- they can be in any product made with GMO crops. For instance, these proteins can be found in many beauty products, where corn products, for example, may be used as texturing agents. Check labels and be aware of your non-food exposures!! Fight for GMO labelling so all product labels have the most to offer you when you make these key choices.
Get your Garden On and Compost Magnificently. Not everyone has the time, energy, or space to grow food at home, and that’s why we made supplements you can trust. But if you can, you should! Consider using raised beds with high quality organically fertilized soil, and make the most of your kitchen scraps, egg shells, yard trimmings, and the like. Make your own soil!
Supplement Smartly! Make sure you are getting the essential minerals our modern food may not be supplying. As usual, we’ve got you covered: we include all your essential minerals (iron and copper excluded) in nutreince at the levels you need to ensure your soil isn’t leaving you lacking. Not only do we include the minerals you need, we have spared no expense to bring you the most bioavailable forms that you will absorb effectively and to eliminate micronutrient competition by separating the minerals that compete for absorption into our convenient and delicious AM and PM formulas.. Literal “daily health insurance.”
From the Field
We find it truly frustrating to have to deliver the news- over and over again- that our modern world is packed with more chemicals we don’t need than nutrients that we do. Our sick, depleted soils are a vital source of needed nutrition to avoid major disease- but in many areas of the world, including the US soil is reaching critical levels of depletion. We wish it wasn’t this way. We wish we didn’t have to supplement to get the nutrition one would expect from a healthy, normal diet. But this is where we are at in 2019 in America and around the world: Our soil is sick, and we all deserve better.