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Soil Minerals and Immune System Dysfunction

by David E Marsh(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 69 - October 2001

Plants can't make minerals – without minerals, vitamins don't work"
Apparently we can no longer think of foods as having a fixed value: for such value varies with the soil type". Dr Henry Bailey Stevens.[1]

The Origin of the Minerals

The minerals in our bodies were forged in the nuclear furnace of the sun. The (so-called) periodic elements were distributed in varying amounts and at different levels among the earth's crust. Our planet, a broken off piece of the sun, went through its hot period, followed by gradual cooling.

Because minerals cooled and solidified at different temperatures, so, as with gold, they can be found in pockets or seams in different parts of the earth's crust and mantle.

On cooling, the minerals were later luxuriantly distributed with water in the oceans, mountains and rock flows of geological tides. Our soils today are the results of untold ice ages. Ice floes physically crushed mountains, grinding their rocks slowly for aeons over the land surfaces to produce the rich clays and loams and the multiplicity of soil types we find across the globe.

There were abundant amounts of minerals in the early soils, as there are still now in aforested areas out of reach of the chainsaw, plough and cultivator.

Image of soil and growth

Since trees have deeper roots than cereals or other arable crops, they can tap the sub-soils, getting more minerals from the earth, passing them up to their leaves, then shedding them on to the soil beneath, thus recycling the minerals: the perfect cycle. So the food from trees – their nuts, fruit and leaves – in general have a more reliable mineral spectrum than, for example, cereals grown on inorganic soils, which are increasingly depleted (thinner). The only fertilizing many prairie farms undertake is nitrogen, phosphate and potash (N, P, K) with the odd application of lime in the form of basic slag, which interestingly also contains selenium – sadly a practice less used than it was.

The philosophies of the organic and the inorganic grower vary in a distinctive way. The organic grower focuses on feeding the soil and the soil microflora within it, which need humus (dark coloured, amorphous colloidal material that constitutes the organic part of the soil: it supports an abundance of micro-organisms and small animals e.g. earthworms) as well as minerals.[2]

By feeding the soil well, plants can take up all their nutrients and thus have strong immune systems. The plants simply don't get diseases. Doubters should visit the HDRA gardens[3] or Highgrove.[4] This strategy should be taken on board by medical doctors, who have difficulty with the theory having been drained, sorry, trained by various arms of the pharmaceutical industry. However, some are now getting the drift.

The one great message that comes with organic produce, apart from it being free of the thousands of chemicals now in use commercially, is that it stands a much better chance of containing the minerals and trace minerals that (probably) most of our bodies have been starved of for years unless the crop was grown hydroponically within sufficient nutrient (and this does happen).

Inorganic growing is based upon supplying the crops (not the soil) with the right nutrients for growth and yield, and blitzing any diseases or weeds with chemicals; the residues of which are commonly found in our foods, particularly in delicate salad crops like lettuce.

Our minerals have come to us from the nutrition of our mother and father, and our own lifetime's consumption of food (together with industrial pollutant metals – aluminium, cadmium, lead, mercury, etc. – from living in a polluted environment) and they are the only bits of us (except perhaps our DNA) that will continue to exist after our physical death.

Recent Research

Within the space limitations of this article, we can only take a few examples in any depth, and selenium makes a good example. There are other minerals such as zinc, magnesium, manganese, calcium, phosphorus or copper which convey parallel stories.[5] We are only just beginning to be aware of certain lesser known mineral trace elements, or how different man-made chemicals react with the naturally occurring minerals of our soils.

Soils in different parts of the world, and in different localities within specific areas, have higher or lower amounts of certain minerals. Indeed, testing our own small garden in Sussex for minerals, we found considerable variation from one part to the other.

Specific disease patterns present themselves in definite areas, such as Keshan's disease in China. Keshan's is a form of heart disease suffered by people living in a broad swathe across China, running from the south-west up to the north-east which is an area of known selenium deficiency.

More and more food is being imported from China, so some of these foods, such as garlic (an important provider of selenium) could be selenium deficient. Closer even to home is our bread, which used to be imported from hard Canadian wheats rich in selenium. It now comes from the EU where many soils are selenium deficient.

There are 60 specific minerals and trace minerals found in human blood. It has been deemed reasonable by senior biochemists that all 60 have some function in the body.[6] We will be looking at a few examples, such as selenium and zinc. These minerals are present in well-tended, fertile soil.

As we can only obtain minerals through food and drink, William A Albrecht was right in 1944 in describing food as "fabricated soil fertility".[1] Considering this was known and widely published, read and quoted over 50 years ago, what on earth went wrong?

Justus von Liebig

As a young man in the early decades of the 19th century Monsieur le baron Justus von Liebig travelled to Paris, which was then the centre of the scientific world, to study chemistry. From 1822-24 he studied with the great chemists, physicists and physicians of the scientific world.

He particularly picked up on the ideas of the brilliant chemist Lavoisier, who, although guillotined in 1974, had left his ideas of life as a chemical function firmly embedded in the human consciousness, opening up the promising concept of chemicals interacting with human beings themselves. Liebig was not slow to develop these ideas and run with them.

As a young genius of 22, von Liebig was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the University of Geissen in Upper Hesse, being given a free hand and new laboratories, built to his specific requests. Students flocked from all over the world to study with him. He thus left his thoughts firmly sown for future generations.

"Towering over his contemporaries" (the story is beautifully told by Barbara Griggs in her superb book The Food Factor[7]), he became the big daddy of chemistry in the 1840s, convincing people with his excessive zeal and nimble cranial footwork that plants only needed nitrogen (N), phosphate (P), potassium (K) and calcium (Ca) to grow.

This he had deduced by incinerating plants and discovering the residues of N, P, K and Ca. He then demonstrated this, first with an inorganic mix based on bird droppings, known as guano; and then founded a company to supply it. Artificial fertilizers were born.

Whilst the initial mixture lacked nitrogen, it worked. It was soon discovered that the more nitrogen that was applied, the more the crop yield increased. This was a great discovery for farmers and chemical companies manufacturing fertilizer; so now we have excess nitrates in our drinking water.

What is only just becoming known is that on certain soils, excess nitrogen combines with selenium (see Thomas Stockdale below) – thereby making selenium unavailable to plants and those animals and us who eat them.

It was in 1840 that von Liebig put his (by then) famous name to the new Annual Report of the Progress of Chemistry and the Allied Sciences, which publication would be the first death knell to the centuries-old practice of putting farmyard manure, seaweed, compost or industrial waste (soot, shoddy, etc.) back on to the soils, to replenish those minerals, trace minerals, humus and soil microflora that had been removed by previous crops.

Mineral deficiencies in the soil, and consequently in the crops grown on those soils, translate into other deficiencies in the human body; which include preventing our immune systems from performing at full efficiency – thereby weakening our defences (and our birds' and animals' defences) against disease. Deficiencies of selenium, magnesium, iron and zinc, amongst other minerals, are known to impair immune response.[8]

It is an interesting arena in these days of epidemics and near epidemics such as heart disease and cancer – which are now affecting younger and younger age groups, together with new version Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD) and animal disasters such as BSE and foot and mouth disease (FMD). There is a wealth of published evidence that selenium is implicated in all of these diseases: that selenium, zinc, magnesium and other minerals are required for a healthy immune system (

Laurence Harbige, from the Dental Schools of Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital London, links protein-energy malnutrition with deficiencies of vitamin A, dietary lipids, zinc, selenium and copper to depression of the immune system. He goes further by suggesting that all autoimmune diseases are nutritional deficiency diseases. Harbige suggests, "Understanding the molecular and cellular immunological mechanisms involved in nutrient interactions will increase our applications for nutrition of the immune system in health and disease."[8],[9]

Thomas Stockdale

Retired farmer and agriculturist Thomas Stockdale, Chairman of the Scottish McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health (formed in the memory of the late Sir Robert McCarrison, research doctor and nutritional pioneer), writing on the selenium problem in Scotland10 explains that where soil is acidic it is unsuitable for nitrogen fertilizers, which were formulated for the arable calcareous soils of south-east England. He describes how only the best soils in Scotland are suitable for the use of high nitrogen fertilizer.[11-13]

"Scottish soils", he continues, "are naturally low in selenium, and the problem was masked by the use of basic slag used for 60-70 years as a calcium fertilizer, which contained significant amounts of selenium. Now this practice has been largely discontinued, more and more land is deteriorating into low fertility.

"Livestock which are selenium deficient suffer from ill-thrift (poor health), as do people who consume the milk and the wheat produced upon low selenium land.

"The selenium problem in Finland has been addressed by adding the element to fertilizer… but… here the problem is being ignored."

We will return to Stockdale's letter later.

David Thomas

David Thomas, a geologist by training and a chiropractor with 20 years experience, whose primary work is the physical manipulation of the osteo-cranial frame, believes that nutritional, and especially mineral deficiencies play a very large part in today's ills. In a recent research project, described recently by the Daily Mail in some detail,14 Thomas charts the reduction of minerals in our food.

Analysing various editions of McCance and Widdowson's widely referred to work Composition of Foods,[15] Thomas describes how many of our ordinary everyday foods have taken a huge dip in mineral content over the last half century. Indeed, in the last three decades the zinc content of seven common foods fell by 59%.[14],[16]

Between the beginning of the Second World War and 1991 the mineral content of vegetables analysed dropped as shown in Table 1. The corresponding figures for fruit are shown in Table 2.

Table 1. Drop in the Mineral Content of Vegetables between 1939 and 1991
Sodium 49%
Potassium 16%
Magnesium 24%
Calcium 46%
Iron 27%
Copper 76%
Zinc 59%


Table 2. Drop in the Mineral Content of Fruit between 1939 and 1991
Sodium 29%
Potassium 19%
Magnesium 16%
Calcium 16%
Iron 24%
Copper 20%
Zinc 27%


Suggesting that it would be curious to think that trace elements hadn't suffered a similar decrease, Thomas is categoric that "…trace minerals play a huge role in human physiology to help maintain homeostasis. The significant loss of these essential trace minerals within the vegetables available to us again highlights the need to supplement with a well balanced, naturally derived product".

As a practitioner of chiropractic and witnessing first-hand for two decades the results of prescriptions on his patients, his views seem very wise. The shrewd politician would also cast his eyes more widely on to the soil.

North America

A similar picture of deteriorating soil fertility can also be seen in North America. Wesley McQuown, of the North American Elk Breeders Association, himself an elk breeder and soil consultant says:

"For elk pastures, I first look at the calcium and phosphate levels. Calcium and phosphate together make up 75% of the total minerals in the bodies of livestock, and 90% of the minerals in the skeleton.

"The most common deficiency I find in pastures is phosphorus. Phosphorus deficient soils produce poor quality forage and many problems including poor conception rates.

"The two trace elements which are often deficient in soils are copper and zinc. Interestingly, copper and zinc are often deficient in forages. There is a connection."[17]

Who's Pulling the Strings?

The above sad tales can only make us wonder at the structure of our monetary philosophy – sharpened since social Darwinism with its interpretation of the survival of the fittest – and one can perhaps begin to see how we got into this sorry mess.

The controllers of vast international companies – encompassing agricultural and industrial chemicals, fuel, food and medical/pharmaceutical products – who pull the strings of our puppet chiefs, be it in the USA, UK or EU, are getting rich by supplying the things that make us sick, whilst at the same time providing often ineffective remedies.

Is this proof enough that "After the current assault on the heart and vascular system will the brain be the next to go?" is now actually happening?[18],[19],[20]

The Mineral Deficiency/Disease Link

In view of the above, it would be logical at least to ask whether soil mineral paucity may be one of the underlying causes behind the ruined lives of hundreds of thousands of children with attention deficit and hyperactive disorder (ADHD).[21-23]

Many of us would support the ideas of the (then) First Lady Hillary Clinton when she implored everyone, including the professions, to come up with more help for children with behavioural and mental disorders. Commenting on a four-year period (1991-95) when the use of ritalin alone rose by 150%, and anti-depressants by over 200%, she called on "experts from the administration, parents, advocates, educators, researchers, health-care professionals and consumers" to confer and come up with some answers.[24]

Mineral deficiencies could be behind all these complaints, for without minerals, vitamins don't work. The body heavily depends on enzymic reactions for the production of many of the living biochemicals needed for full health. Enzymes in turn are heavily dependent on minerals and trace elements, as we have seen briefly with the immune system. It is logical therefore to see these precious minerals as the bedrock of life.

Scientific knowledge has been slow coming to understand the role of certain minerals, with selenium only being recognized in 1957, chromium in 1959, tin in 1970, vanadium in 1971, fluorine in 1971, silicon in 1972, nickel in 1974, arsenic in 1975, cadmium in 1977, lead in 1977 and boron in 1990.

Finland, with its previously very high rate of heart disease, found it was substantially reduced by adding selenium to its fertilizers, so food grown would have more selenium, and so would the population. Their heart disease problem responded to added selenium (and much lower amounts of saturated fats) and now Finnish people have three times the selenium content of the UK population.[25]

Parents should ensure that their children get enough of the whole of the mineral spectrum, either through mineral-rich foods such as seaweed, other water weeds (chlorella and spirulina), fish, seeds and nuts, brewer's yeast, etc., or by supplementation.[22]

It suggests that selenium deficiency could be involved in our own high rate of heart disease.[25] So too is our huge consumption of saturated fats – which is today being exacerbated by take-aways cooked in the cheapest hot-pressed rape-seed oil and used time and again. The polyunsaturated seed oil theory must be one of the biggest confidence tricks of all time, as those oils, when industrialized and ruined by heat treatment, will actually be encouraging heart disease and cancer. Those responsible for such food changes bear a huge responsibility.

The Future

We will close by showing an analysis (see Table 3) of the earth's soils as presented to the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 by the US Senate:[26]

Table 3. Earth Summit Soil Mineral Depletion Analysis
North America 85%
South America 75%
Europe 72%
Asia 76%
Africa 74%
Australia 55%


With so much seaweed floating around shores the world over, it is difficult to see why greater use is not made of it. Soil re-mineralization seems an urgent task, however it is achieved. Some think selenium and vitamin B3 should be put in bread. Others are working on more sophisticated – if not to say etheric – methods of accomplishing the task.

Tom Stockdale ends his letter to The Farmer with the following words:

"It appears there has been a failure to carry out field trials correctly and the authorities do not wish to admit to gross errors which are now costing the NHS many billions of pounds.

"This is a problem which should have been addressed by the Department of Agriculture many years ago. It would never have become a serious problem had correct procedures been followed. It is a matter of urgency that it should be put right, and is now a matter which the Scottish Parliament should address."[10]

Let's hope and pray that this advice will be acted on by Parliaments universally.


1. Stevens Henry Bailey (Director General Extensions Service, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA). In Price Weston A (ed.). Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. p461. 1944.
2. Oxford Dictionary of Biology. Oxford University Press. 1985. 4th ed. 2000.
3. HDRA, Ryton Organic Gardens, Coventry CV8 3LG; e-mail:
4. HRH The Prince of Wales and Clover Charles. Highgrove: Portrait of an Estate. Chapmans. 1993.
5. Life Extension. Dr Gary S Sy, MD, Medical Director, Life Extension Medical Centre 1370 General Luna St, Paco, Manila. 400-42-05 522-4835 loca.315;
6. Schrauzer GN. An Evaluation of Liquid Vitamin-Mineral Supplement Technology. Journal of Medical Food. 1(3). 1998.
7. Griggs Barbara. The Food Factor. Viking. 1986.
8. Harbige LS (Division of Immunology, United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's & St Thomas's Hospital, Rayne Institute, London SE1 7EH). Nutrition and Immunity with Emphasis on Infection and Autoimmune Disease. Nutrition & Health. 10: 285-313. 1996.
9. Marsh DE. Waters-Edge Evolution. Nutrition & Health. 15(1). 2001. ABA, A B Academic Publishers.
10. The Farmer. Scotland. 12 February 2000.
11. Stockdale T. A speculative discussion of some of the problems arising from the use of ammonium nitrate fertiliser on acid soil. Nutrition & Health. 8: 207-22. 1992.
12. Letter. Nutrition & Health. 14: 141-42. 2000.
13. Underwood EJ. Trace Elements in Human and Animal Nutrition. Ch. 12. Academic Press. 1977.
14. Kendall Paul. Daily Mail. 5 March 2001.
15. McCance RA and Widdowson EM. The Composition of Foods. 1st ed. Medical Research Council. 1940. 5th ed. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods and the Royal Society of Chemistry. 1991.
16. Thomas David. A Study on the Mineral Depletion of the Foods Available to Us as a Nation over the Period 1940-1991. Based on data in the five editions of McCance and Widdowson, ibid. He can be contacted at
17. North American Elk Breeders Association
18. Crawford MA and Marsh DE. The Driving Force: Food in Evolution and the Future. Heinemann. London. Harper & Row. New York. 1989. Mandarin. 1991.
A sketch of this publication is available from the author by e-mail: (£10.00 or dollar equivalent).
19. Crawford MA and Marsh DE. Nutrition & Evolution. Keats. Connecticut. 1995. NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company. 1998.
20. Marsh DE. Eco-Operation – Food, Health and Evolution. International Journal for Alternative and Complementary Medicine. April 1996.
21. Anxious parents should get in touch with the Hyperactive Children's Support Group run by Mrs Sally Bunday, whose team has been looking after the welfare of such families for 23 years (71 Whyke Lane, Chichester, W Sussex, England).
22. The National Autistic Society, 393 City Rd, London EC1; Tel: 0207 833 2299.
23. Steele Judy. T25: Amaizingly Bad Science. The Organic Way. 164: 28. Summer 2001.
This is the Journal of the HDRA (see ref 3); e-mail:
24. Launch of New Public-Private Effort to Improve the Diagnosis and Treatment of Children with Emotional and Behavioural Conditions. Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Indian Treaty Room, Roosevelt Room, 20 March 2000.
25. Stockdale Thomas. Newsletter. McCarrison Society (Scottish Group). May 2001.
Contact: Thomas Stockdale, MA, Dip. Agric. (Cantab), Chairman, 21 Castle Douglas Road, Dumfries, DG2 7PA; Tel: 01387 252963.
26. US Senate Document No. 264 and the Earth Summit Report. 1992.


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About David E Marsh

David Marsh trained initially in agriculture (Shuttleworth, Cranfield) with ten years experience farming in Bedfordshire. He moved to human nutrition and co-authored The Driving Force; Food in Evolution & the Future18 (1989) – later Nutrition and Evolution19 (1995), with Professor Michael Crawford (Inst. Brain Chem. & Human Nutrition, Imperial College London). He has since written broadly (for Resurgence, Positive Health, Healthy Eating, Nutrition and Health amongst other publications) about nutrition, evolution, environment and integrated medicine, including a series in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine on energy or vibrational medicine. This article is of particular interest to the author as it brings his special interests in nutrition and food production together in full circle. The Origins of Diversity: Darwin's Conditions and Epigenetic Variations. Nutrition & Health 2008. Editor of McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health newsletter, and various articles with it, and for the society's Journal Nutrition & Health. Currently working on a new book on evolution. Occasional lecturing on the History of evolution theories. Michael Crawford & David Marsh's new book The Shrinking Brain and the Global Mental Health Crisis – Two Problems, One Solution has been published in 2023 and is available on Amazon and Food and Behaviour Research. David can be reached at

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