At its best, good soil is home to worms, beetles, bugs, and untold numbers of microscopic organisms that serve important functions. (Black Press file photo)

At its best, good soil is home to worms, beetles, bugs, and untold numbers of microscopic organisms that serve important functions. (Black Press file photo)

Health: Depleted soil at the root of poor health

We recently wrote about the gut microbiome – the remarkable digestive ecosystem that influences how nutrients and bacteria contribute to weight management, organ function, and even our mental health. But did you know there is a soil microbiome, and that this too affects your health? It turns out, we’ve not taken good care of it.

Perhaps you already worry about the air you breathe and the water you drink. You are, at least, choosing healthy foods that deliver the nutrition you need. You don’t buy processed products, don’t drink soda, and limit salt intake. Maybe you are even vegan, feeling good about both your health and your carbon footprint. But you may need to consult with a farmer, not a doctor, to learn about the risks facing your vegetables.

At its best, good soil is home to worms, beetles, bugs, and untold numbers of microscopic organisms that serve important functions. In life and death, they furnish the soil with nutrients. Their busy work helps the soil absorb and retain water. Some of them help control harmful pests. But farming practices have been unkind to these critters. Relentless tilling of fields and applications of fertilizers have lessened the quality of topsoil across North America. It is dry, unable to hold nutrients or water. It blows away. And the water run-off, polluted with nitrate, a common fertilizer, is a major concern.

Regulatory limits determine acceptable levels of nitrate in public drinking water supplies. But the degradation of groundwater from overapplication of nitrogen fertilizers is a major concern to researchers studying human health. A report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health warns of a relationship between nitrate ingestion and colorectal cancer, thyroid disease, and neural tube defects, including at water nitrate levels below regulatory limits.

The United Nations considers soil degradation one of the central threats to human health in the coming decades.

For now, studies show that farmed vegetables still provide all the necessary nutrients for good health. Your practice should be a diet containing the recommended number of servings per day of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

But there’s also something to be said for turning to natural supplements when you don’t regularly achieve the daily 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit. Further, there are notable health benefits to natural supplements.

Take Healing Earth, for example, which offers relief for joint pain associated with osteoarthritis. These vegetable capsules contain humic acid, found in healthy soil as a result of microbial decomposition of plant matter, and MSM, another organic compound that contains sulfur. Sulfur is sometimes called “the forgotten nutrient,” although it is essential for a healthy liver, connective tissues and even stress response.

The earliest descriptions of medical uses for humic acid are found in Sanskrit, Roman, and Chinese texts. Its chemical nature was determined in the early 1800s. More recently, the World Journal of Gastroenterology published a study that tested the effects of humic acids on microbial communities of the colon. The results showed a 20-30 per cent increase in concentrations of these healthy colonic inhabitants, suggesting an alternative to fecal transplants or probiotics for restore weakened health gut.

A report in the journal Nutrients notes MSM “may have clinical applications for arthritis and other inflammatory disorders such as interstitial cystitis, allergic rhinitis, and acute exercise-induced inflammation.”

It’s depressing what’s happening to our natural environment. But there is, at least, some hope that scientists are getting better at explaining the health benefits of mystically revered organic substances like humic acid and MSM, and that convenient and safe products are available on store shelves.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones can be reached at

Just Posted

Firefighters and emergency services workers helped celebrate Barry Young’s 85th birthday at Timberstone Mews on May 29. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters in central Alberta make birthdays special

A fire truck arriving outside your house is not normally good news.… Continue reading

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Crimson Villas, a seniors housing facility in Red Deer has finally opened its doors. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Red Deer senior housing facility opens its doors

Crimson Villas, named after Red Deer’s official flower, has officially bloomed. The… Continue reading

The Town of Ponoka, who has typically leased the main stampede grounds to the Ponoka Stampede and Exhibition Association, is transferring the land to the association. (Photo by Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
AB Gov’t to provide more grants for live event organizers

Live events will be getting a boost from the provincial government over… Continue reading

Alberta government committed $7 million last year for an integrated shelter service to help Red Deer's homeless population. (Photo by Advocate staff)
City of Red Deer finds only one viable location for emergency shelter

City of Red Deer administration is recommending the Cannery Row Emergency Shelter… Continue reading

A large number of supporters were out Saturday at a rally intended to bring awareness about including Hinduism in the grade 2 portion of the K-6 draft curriculum. As it stands now, Hinduism won’t be taught until grade 6 in the proposed draft curriculum. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Video: Rally to support adding Hinduism to draft curriculum draws crowd in Red Deer

The Hindu community in Red Deer came out in droves on Saturday… Continue reading

Germany's Robin Gosens, left, celebrates Germany's Mats Hummels after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group F match between Portugal and Germany at the football arena stadium in Munich, Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Matthias Hangst/Pool Photo via AP)
Germany clicks at Euro 2020 with 4-2 win over Portugal

MUNICH (AP) — Germany finally clicked into gear at the European Championship,… Continue reading

Fans cheer on their team during the pre-game warmup of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal with the Montreal Canadiens facing the Vegas Golden Knights, in Montreal, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
COVID-19 concerns give way to Habs Fever in Quebec as Montreal continues playoff run

MONTREAL — The sun hadn’t yet risen in Montreal on Friday morning… Continue reading

Coronavirus cases are on the rise from India to South Africa and Mexico, in a May 19, 2020 story. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Anti-government protesters took to the streets in… Continue reading

A black bear cub forages for food along a salmon stream below a bear viewing spot for tourists in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area in Juneau, Alaska.  (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Bandit responsible for vehicle break-ins is a black bear

THORNTON, N.H. (AP) — Surveillance video helped police get to the bottom… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 25, 2019 file photo, Editor Rick Hutzell, center, gives a speech to his staff including Chase Cook, Nicki Catterlin, Rachael Pacella, Selene San Felice and Danielle Ohl at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its newsroom, is leaving the Maryland newspaper. Hutzell, who worked at the Annapolis paper for more than three decades, authored a farewell column that was published on the paper's website Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Ulysses Muoz/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Editor of paper that endured newsroom shooting says goodbye

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won… Continue reading

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II look on, during day five of of the Royal Ascot horserace meeting, at Ascot Racecourse, in Ascot, England, Saturday June 19, 2021. (David Davies/PA via AP)
Queen beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II was smiling broadly as she attended… Continue reading

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20 per cent of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, data suggests

TORONTO — Canada has hit two of the vaccination targets government officials… Continue reading

Lisa and Warren Kinsella read a copy of a verdict in a court case, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. Warren Kinsella, a prominent political commentator, is asking a court to dismiss a defamation lawsuit from a former member of Parliament who is now leader of a fringe federal political party. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Maxime Bernier’s defamation lawsuit should be tossed, says lawyer for Warren Kinsella

OTTAWA — A prominent political commentator is asking a court to dismiss… Continue reading

Most Read