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Feature - Issue #14

The Gut Soil Connection

From live cultures to permaculture, soil health and human gut health are intrinsically and ancestrally linked.

The inner working of our digestive system is a hot topic now - discussed over dinner and on dates. Our alimentary canal is even used to market products in mainstream supermarkets. British supermarket Waitrose has a range of products called Gut Health and yoghurt brand Activia is also using the phrase ‘gut health’ too. Sadly, one of the main reasons there is so much hype is because our inner ecosystems are suffering.

The Human Microbiome Project was launched in 2007 by the National Institutes of Health in the US, alongside many other studies in labs around the world, to help us understand how the bacterium in our guts affects our health - especially in a period where chronic disease had reached a state of alarm. One of the major insights to surface from the project is the link between gut health and soil health.

The human microbiome and the soil microbiome, and indeed the plant microbiome, share an ancient ancestry. The human body is estimated to contain around 39 trillion cells (although most of these are red blood cells which are not strictly cells because they lack a nucleus). Latest research suggests the human body contains between 10 and 100 trillion microbial cells. Soil on the other hand does not have any boundaries so the number of microbes is practically limitless. To create a healthy, flourishing microbiome, we must nurture the land that feeds our food.

In the period between 1996 and 2007, cancer rates in the United States saw a major spike. Zach Bush MD, a physician and thought leader on the microbiome is linking the rise in cancer rates directly to the use of chemicals in farming, namely glyphosate. “To see an entire population, respond in a single decade to a sudden explosion of cancer suggests we did something similar to Chernobyl. We did some massive environmental injury that led to this explosive rise in cancer,” he says in his documentary Farmer’s Footprint, where he makes a distinctive link between the use of glyphosate (a herbicide used in farming) to the sudden rise in cancer as well as chronic diseases.

Electron micrograph (800x) of unhealthy tissue. Irregularly arranged cells that do not have any microvilli (which increase the surface area and nutrient absorbtion) on their surface and no goblet cells can be seen. Instead there are bacteria and isolated erythrocytes: leaked blood. Images © eye of science.

Electron micrograph (800x) of healthy tissue. The regular intestinal surface with the opening of goblet cells – the primary site for nutrient digestion. Images © eye of science.

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