McCarrison Society

Health Through Nutrition, A Birthright

Mineral deficiencies – Submission to a Food Forum

The detrimental effects on humans livestock and plant health, of the global mining via crops of minerals from the soil including the serious decline of minerals in the food chain.

The crunch – The average mineral contents of a basket of foods has fallen over the last 50 to 60 years by; Sodium -34%; Potassium -15%; Phosphorous +1%; Magnesium -19%; Calcium -29%; Iron -37%; Copper – 62%[1] (see attached), due to a mix of soil depletion, breeding for yield as against nutrient content, and NPK non-mineralised fertiliser, which drives yield in preference to mineral uptake. Deficiencies in other nutrients including micro-minerals such as selenium[2] and zinc[3], essential nutrients such as vitamin D, and iodine, are common place, widely prevalent in both the UK, and globally.

The point – there are commercial and health opportunities in improving plant mineral nutrition:

  • For supermarkets – shelf life, taste, improved nutritional value[4] [5] [6].
  • For farmers – better disease and pest resistance, frost resistance, yield. Healthier livestock with better reproductive capacity, disease resistance (viz foot and mouth iii), lower medication costs1-4.
  • For the State – happier healthier more productive citizens who require less medical assistance.

The evidence – Nobody will dispute that plants require minerals to grow and prosper, as do livestock, and humans. We are blind to the unpalatable fact that we continuously mine minerals from our soils through crops and livestock, export them round the world, and then often dump them in the watercourses and oceans; a waste as the ocean already has the minerals it needs, but land does not. Imagine a miniature farm on a tea chest of soil; that tea chest contains a finite amount of mineral containing rock dust, abstracted by plants, metabolised by livestock, and driven away in trains and articulated trucks by us.

Notable highly intelligent and respected scientists in the 1900s to 1950s, observed and recorded that animals and plants grown on mineral rich soils were healthier and more productive in every respect. Plants will grow in water (hydroponics) or rock dust, provided they contain the necessary minerals and other nutrients. Plants can survive without organic matter in the soil (viz. hydroponics) but not without minerals. Organic fibrous matter improves the ability of the soil to retain minerals, and moisture, provides a home for bacteria, which make minerals more bioavailable to plants in return for nutrients, and so can greatly assist plant growth. Compost is a mix of organic matter and minerals but organic matter unlike black holes supernova cannot create new mineral elements from more fundamental particles. Many soils are deficient in one of more micro minerals. Compost from mineral depleted soil = mineral depleted compost.

Volcanic dust, wind-blown rock dust from erosion, and water borne rock dust will slowly replenish soils such as grass lands that are covered in vegetation and so not subject to erosion themselves. Most of the rock dust and variety of minerals it contains, the basis of our soils, was made by glaciers or deposited by floods. Pending the next ice age our soil is a finite precious resource, which is being squandered.

The big question – The most fundamental question is how can we replace the minerals that are being mined by cropping soils? Most of those minerals ultimately end up in faeces and urine. Human faeces is the second most nutrient rich source after guano. The Chinese in the early 1900s paid significant amounts for the right to export faeces from the cities to the countryside for composting with river silt and other organic matter.[7] We now refer to faeces as crap, ordure, excrement, mix it with a host of pollutants in the drainage system and dispose of it any way we can, which is a long way from its potential use as a source of methane organic material and minerals. What if not faeces and urine to replenish minerals? An alternative is to grind up mountains and every few years put tons of rock dust back on the soil[8], which presents its own logistic nightmares. There are minor opportunities in better mineralisation of hydroponic systems, folar sprays, seaweed as a source of minerals etc. but these will not address the long term fundamental issue of soil mineral depletion We are mining our soils of minerals, failing to pay sufficient attention to erosion, and ignoring the need to re-mineralise our plants through soil.

Size over nutritional value – We seem to focus on size quantity and price, over nutritional value. In consequence the quality of our food is declining with disastrous health consequences. Chicken is a classic example. The nutritional value of industrially produced chicken has declined disastrously. For example the DHA content of a chicken has declined from 170 mg DHA/100g in 1970 to 13mg DHA/100g in 2012[9]. The fat content, and particularly and significantly Omega 6 has increased dramatically. The tissue quality and nutrient value of the birds has decreased.

In plants fertiliser increases size and so yield, but mineral content does not increase proportionately. We breed plants for yield often without regard to nutrient density. Nutrient density should be at the forefront of food growth and preparation. Oxidative damage in processing is another under-researched issue.

Many other opportunities – There are many other opportunities, some simple and cheap, to increase the nutrient value of foods and so improve marketability and health outcomes, which needs to be driven by supermarkets; in general they will not otherwise attract research funding, and lack commercial impetus to implement, because they lack glamour, exciting discovery, or definable patentable marketable products.

For example, the majority of women are likely iodine deficient (68% of adolescent females[10], 67% of pregnant females[11]). Iodine introduced into the diet / or by intramuscular injection of livestock will increase the iodine content of the respective food products including eggs[12], milk[13], and meat[14]. Many humans are now vitamin D insufficient; 75% of breast cancer sufferers[15] and 98%; of Muslim girls in a school with conservative dress code[16]. Children with cancer were 3 times more likely to be vitamin D deficient[17]. Our livestock is also likely to be D deficient because they are reared indoors. Vitamin D supplementation will produce healthier pigs[18], as well as increasing the amount available in our foods. Supplementation of chickens with vitamin D increases the vitamin D in eggs substantially. Careful management, breeding, sun exposure, supplementation of cows, and examination of the vitamin D content of grasses and maturity of pastures[19], could improve the Vitamin D content of milk[20] and possibly reduce disease susceptibility in cows. In humans vitamin D reduces tuberculosis infection risk[21].

Novel fermented foods provide a host of opportunities, and would feed into a demand for probiotic foods. Fermented carbohydrates increase the nutrient value of foods by converting some of the complex carbohydrates into short chain fats and other products that can be metabolised by humans. Fermentation reduces the sugar content and so reduces the effect on insulin pathways, diminishing diabetes risk. Fermentation may help reduce anti-nutrients like phytate. Fermentation of whole foods makes nutrients more bioavailable as well as improving gut health. Improved gut health has a raft on benefits.

Summary – The consequence of a decline in mineral availability reduces plant, animal and human health. The most diet sensitive organ the brain, is the seat of our humanity. A mass of evidence links dietary deficiencies, including vitamin D, iodine, and Omega 3 DHA, to falling IQ, as well as developmental and behavioural disturbances[22]. Complex neurons essential for higher human function, empathy, speech, and skills relating to the arts such as music, have been shown to be dependent on nutrients including Omega 3 DHA. Motor skills are more core and less sensitive to dietary degradation. Resource competition is likely to increase the risk of conflict; little intelligence is needed to pull the trigger of a gun.

Ultimately the enzymes that make the cells of the body work, including performing fundamental activities, such as energy and internal antioxidant production, require specific minerals to work. Mineral deficiency or insufficiency must unavoidably ultimately manifest as early disease or degeneration.

The United Kingdom recognises the importance of agriculture, and could lead the world in the preservation of soils, the remineralisation of the food chain, the improvement of plant, animal, human health, and nutrition, by the integrated interdisciplinary application of existing knowledge, as well as the development of new science.

[1] The Mineral Depletion of Foods Available To Us As A Nation (1940-2002) Nutrition and Health 2007, vol.19

[2] UK soils are deficient in Selenium – Farmers weekly Friday 30 March 2007

[3] Zinc industry tackles zinc deficiency in soils – Farmers Guardian 18th October 2010

[4] Soil Fertility and Animal Health William A Albrecht PhD 1920s, 30s , 40s (recommended reading – fascinating insights ahead of his time)

[5] The Soil and Health Sir Albert Howard 1947 (recommended reading – ( wide thinking rebel )

[6] Seaweed in Agriculture and Horticulture 1968 W A Stephenson (recommended reading – very thought provoking)

[7] Farmer of Forty Centuries 1911 F H King (recommended reading – very thought provoking)

[8] Bread From Stones (1894) A New and Rational System of Land Fertilization and Physical Regeneration Dr Julius Hensel Agricultural Chemist (recommended reading because it records the effect of stone dust on crop fertility)

[9] Michael Crawford President of the McCarrison Society – in correspondence

[10] Iodine status of UK schoolgirls: a cross-sectional survey. The Lancet, Volume 377, Issue 9782, Pages 2007 – 2012, 11 June 2011 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60693-4

[11] Bristol-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)

[12] Iodine content in consumer hen eggs Veterinarni Medicina, 51, 2006 (3): 93–100

[13] Factors Affecting Iodine Content in Dairy Cow’s Milk – a Review European Journal of Food Research & Review 3(2): 63-73, 2013

[14] Iodine concentrations in porcine blood, urine, and tissues after a single dose of iodised oil Vet. Med. – Czech, 46, 2001 (6): 153–159

[15] Prognostic effects of 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in early breast cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2009 Aug 10;27(23):3757-63. Epub 2009 May 18

[16] Prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency in adolescent Muslim girls attending a school in the UK which adheres to a conservative dress code Bone Abstracts (2013) 2 P39 | DOI:10.1530/boneabs.2.P39

[17] Vitamin D Deficiency in Children With Cancer. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 2013 Jul 3.

[18] Fixing Vitamin D Deficiency – Oral supplementation helps ensure normal skeletal development.

[19] The vitamin D activity of pastures and hays 1958 Cambridge Journals

[20] Variation of Vitamin D in Cow’s Milk and Interaction with β-Lactoglobulin Molecules 2013, 18, 10122-10131;

[21] Vitamin D, vitamin D receptor, and cathelicidin in the treatment of tuberculosis. Vitam Horm. 2011;86:307-25

[22] Nutrition and National Health – The Cantor Lectures 1936 – Sir Robert McCarrison C.I.E., M.A., M.D., D.Sc., LL.D., F.R.C.P. Major-General I.M.S. (Ret’d.) Formerly Director of Research on Nutrition, India

Subscribe to Our Newsletter