Diet and Nutrition

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017


The problems that have been created nutritionally by twentieth century industrialization and farming methods

Studies have shown that vegetables, fruits and grains today often contain over 30 percent less of key nutrients than 70 years ago because of modern farming methods and loss of topsoil. U.S. history is full of political mistakes that led to destruction of the nutrient topsoil in this country, beginning with the homesteading push and subsequent dust bowl of the 1930s, and continuing today with the accommodation of corporate farming and synthetic fertilizer as a substitute for healthy nutrient rich topsoil. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that studies showed a 10-50 times larger loss of topsoil than expected due to corporate farming and the destruction of more forested land in response to worldwide food shortages and higher prices, as well as to the unregulated use of biofuels! Topsoil needs to be replenished faster, and farming methods need to be changed. The loss of topsoil not only depletes the source of crop nutrition, but creates large chemical runoff due to the increased need to replace soil nutrients with chemical fertilizers. The Gulf of Mexico now has an enormous dead zone past the Mississippi delta created by increased farm runoff and erosion. This dead zone is much larger than the impact of the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and unlike the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, continues each year. A more sustainable and healthy approach to farming, the environment and food quality needs to be found, and this need not be a black and white binary choice between strict organic farming and modern chemical farming, but is increasingly becoming a matter of incorporating sensible and profitable green farming technology into standard farming methods. The chief motivation for healthy sustainable food production is profit, though, and the consumer must play a big role in encouraging the evolution of this healthy food for our children and their children, as well as a more sustainable global food production that achieves sustainable balanced local food production for malnourished populations around the world.

Corporate farming and manipulation of global food markets to create huge profit have created enormous challenges for the global population today. Corporate farming in the United States has also brought back a complex problem that we have dealt with before, but of course now have little memory of, namely the impact of a wholesale destruction of Agroforestry. Trees have been a useful part of agriculture for many centuries, not just a nuisance as you try to drive your enormous machinery from field to field. Corporate farming has wiped out almost all of the trees that once lined the crop fields, prevented erosion, maintained creeks and ponds as water sources, kept some crops cool to increase yields, provided habitat for important wildlife that maintain pollination of crops, maintained air moisture, and provided shade for animal herds. The science of agroforestry goes back many centuries and provides a complex benefit to agriculture. Agroforestry helped saved our economy in the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s, when politics disrupted our ecosystem drastically by a misguided and poorly planned homesteading act created purely to procure votes. President Teddy Rooosevelt (1901-1909) initially supported the Kinkaid homesteading act, where inexperienced and poor workers were practically given 10 percent of the land in the United States, pushing the population West and supporting the massive railroad industry, but the subsequent clearing of trees and brush, poor farming practices, and soil erosion became the biggest concern of President Roosevelt, who realized that altering of the ecosystem was the biggest threat to national security. Roosevelt expanded the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 dramatically, setting aside another 150 million acres for timberland, and created the U.S. Forest Service. Here, besides creating national parks, scientists utilized agroforestry to provide a massive planting of trees in shelter belts to stop severe wind erosion and replenish depleted soils. Yes, trees replenish our soils and help provide important nutrients to our crops. Some trees take in nitrogen from the atmosphere, or draw it up with deep roots, and when they drop their leaves in the fall the soil is replenished with this most valuable chemical. Various species of trees provide various benefits to crop chemistry.

Agroforestry was so important that President Franklin Roosevelt, a fifth cousin to Teddy Roosevelt, who served 4 terms as president between 1933 and 1945, overseeing the recovery from the Great Depression and a 116 percent growth in the economy attributed to government expansion, that he formed the Civilian Conservation Corps, directed by Roosevelt as such: "confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth."

Who can argue with a president whose system spurred a 116 percent growth in the economy, a recovery from the Great Depression that could have doomed the United States to a weak state perpetually, and ushered in the New Deal that provides some assistance for all of us and our families. The Kinkaid Act, or second homesteading giveaway, resulted in massive deforestation and poor farming conservation from about 1910 to 1930, resulting in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, where the topsoil simply blew away, destroying our agricultural potential. Unfortunately, history repeats itself, and the federal support to giant AgriBusiness and corporate farming is again creating a massive setting for devastating soil erosion. Large farms have again cleared the land of protective trees and brush, with the massive tax relief for ethanol creating a large decrease in healthy crop rotation that needs to end, as we get little actual benefit from corn ethanol, and many sources of biofuel are much more practical and beneficial to us. The use of larger amounts of herbicide, pesticide and chemical fertilizer has led to destruction of the replenishing ecosystem for the soil, the soils are now plowed before the fallow months in farming to accommodate these chemicals, and now monocropping of genetically modified crops (GMO) matched to a specific herbicide and pesticide have further removed farmers from time-tested methods of soil conservation, and chemically hardened the soil with the glyphosate herbicide mineral chelators. This destruction of our most precious resource, topsoil, is not conservative, but pushed by so-called conservatives in government. We need to demand that our tax dollars don't just subsidize these unhealthy practices, but instead promote healthy farming topsoil and healthy food crops. The purpose of farming isn't just to make more money, but also to provide healthy food for the civilization. We seem to have forgotten our sense of purpose, and we need to reestablish how to provide a healthy income for farmers while providing a healthy array of foods for the population.

A noted expert in crop biology, Professor Gene Garrett of the University of Missouri, who directed the Center for Agroforestry there, stated in a New York Times interview that "The biggest problem with food production is environmental degradation", and the destruction of agroforestry is a significant threat to our nation's healthy food production. Chemical farming resulted in initial high yields and profits, but we are now paying the price over the long term, with drastically depleted topsoil, stripping of trees and wetlands, and loss of nutrient quality in the soil hurting both the quality of food and now the overall crop yield, as well as leaving us open to increased loss with climate change and unpredictable weather patterns.

Studies have shown that trees along streams, along with the vegetation that grows with them naturally, can filter out 95 percent of the soil sediment that washes off of fields and preserve up to 80 percent of the phosphate and nitrogen runoff. This is both fed back into the crops, and keeps our waterways healthy, as well as the oceans that our rivers run into. Today, with the high prices of monocrops, especially corn, due to the subsidies for corn enthanol production, corporate farming has eliminated the last vestige of tree rows and hills that have prevented runoff and erosion to increase crop yield, leading to a massive and unexpected problem with farm chemical runoff, soil erosion rate, and a massive increase in the gulf dead zone from the runoff. The responsible consumer will start to demand a restoration of agroforestry and healthy agriculture by ceasing to buy corporate food products until this problem is addressed. Local crops grown in a responsible manner are more expensive, but in the long run are less expensive for the economy and population as a whole. The development of Agroforestry is so important that countries like China have been heavily investing in this development. The rewards with well planned agroforestry not only increase crop production, make foods more nutritious, and prevent erosion, but also may cut green house gas impact, decrease costs of watershed management, provide valuable timber, protect water resources, preserve species habitats, and even provide valuable foods and herbal medicines. China has increased forested growth by over 4 million hectares of tree cover per year since their heavy investment in agroforestry in 2000. The United States has done very little, and in fact has allowed massive destruction of the forest cover. A country this rich should be ashamed by this fact.

The United States media and the public, as well as the government, blames the deforestation of our planet on other countries, particularly Brazil, where American and European companies are creating corporate farming in the Amazon with massive deforestation, mainly to provide for the growing demand of cheap beef and soy products. What is not revealed by our media is the deforestation that is occurring in our country, and in our neighboring country, Canada. A 2010 study at the University of California in Berkeley by Matthew C. Hansen et al, entitled Quantification of Global Gross Forest Cover Loss, reports that the United States exhibited the greatest proportional gross forest cover loss between the years of 2000 to 2005 of any large forested country, and that Canada nearly matched the gross forest cover loss of Brazil, with 160,000 square kilometers deforested. What is driving this massive yearly deforestation? Primarily American-based global agribusiness. Unconditionally supporting corporate food producers without demanding change is destroying our planet, our economy, and our health. The regulation of global warming is accomplished by the ecosystem, and any man-made attempts to correct this problem pale in comparison to the natural ecosystem.

By refusing to understand how our individual food habits and purchases contribute to this problem, we are existing in a self-deluded state of mind and not taking responsibility for our, and our children's, future, as well as our individual health. There is not just a health incentive to agricultural biodiversity restoration, though, but a sound market incentive as well. Agroforestry has great economic potential in appropriate areas of the country, and the world, but past efforts have not educated Agribusiness to this potential, and not provided economic incentives to bring this potential close to that of farmed land, and thus we have continued to massively deplete the forested ecosystems in farmland in the last decade. A variety of new ideas have been created to make Agroforestry more profitable, including education, guidance on profitable Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), government incentive payment systems reform (ACRE, FDP, WRP and CRP), and a future carbon market with cap-and-trade provisions. Increased demand for biofuels and timber may also be important considerations, but without sufficient public interest and governmental incentives, Agroforestry will not be economically viable and market driven. Understanding how Agroforestry and other reclamation methods, and soil-conservation farming, greatly improves food nutrients and prevents many common health problems, reducing the disease burden on the population, is part of the whole equation. Ultimately, public knowledge and understanding is all-important.

Soil-Conservation Farming May Save the Public Health and the Economic Health of Farmers

The public is finally starting to realize that their health depends on nutritious food, and the market for local, small farm, organically produced foods is expanding rapidly. By supporting these small local farms, despite higher costs, the consumer is not only helping to insure their own health, but eventually the health of the economy. By lowering consumer demand for corporate farming products and supporting a healthy restoration of conservation the future of our agricultural economy with be preserved, costs of environmental damage and clean-up reduced, and the massive health care expenditures that are causing most of our future federal deficits will be lowered. Hopefully, it is not too late for many American citizens to reverse the depletion of our important food chemistry that maintains human health. The number of serious health problems that may be attributed to the destruction of topsoil nutrition, hybridization and genetic crop engineering, and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is enormous.

Purchase of organic local produce is thus vitally important when you need nutrients to get healthy, to prevent disease, and to benefit the health of your country. If you are already in the peak of health, you may not have much to worry about, but those with health problems should be concerned about the nutritional content of their foods and buy fresh, local, organic produce whenever possible. Even those of us in good health should consider the full ramifications of their food purchases, supporting a growing market for healthy local foods to eventually bring down the prices, and to encourage the growth of sustainable agriculture and the decrease in destructive corporate farming. The choices are more than a comparison between the price per pound of your foods.

Perhaps the greatest push for change in topsoil protection is economic, though. A March 10, 2015 article in the New York Times Science Times, entitled Movement to Spare the Plow, describes the rapid growth in soil-conservation farming, and perhaps its biggest proponent, Gabe Brown, a North Dakota farmer with a 5000 acre farm near Bismarck, North Dakota. By switching to no-till methods and green manure, he is showing that a return to centuries-old tried-and-true farming methods not only produces better and more nutritious crops, but increases yields, cuts costs, decreases the need for irrigation, allows high yields during droughts, and makes money. Green manure represents the planting of cover crops to replenish the topsoil, such as legumes, which build nitrogen and acts as a sink for other nutrients, increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil, which helps it to retain water. In the last decade, this technique has risen in acreage in the United States by about 30 percent a year. A North Texas farmer, Terry McAlister, was interviewed for this article and stated: "We were farming cotton like the West Texas guys were, just plow, plow, plow, and if you got a rain it just washed it and eroded it. It made me sick...One of the toughest things about learning to do no-till is having to unlearn all the things that you thought were true", referring to the massive propaganda for decades by the big agricultural companies and manufacturers of seed, fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, and now GMO crops. "My goal is improve my soil so I can grow a better crop so I can make more money", says Mr. McCalister, and "if I can help the environment in the process, fine, but that's not my goal." The fight between environmentalists and farmers is finally finding common ground. The Environmental Defense Fund has suggested from research that if the widespread adoption of soil-conservation farming were adopted, that pollution into the Mississippi River and Ohio River basins could be reduced by 30 percent, dramatically shrinking the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is now bigger by far than the area damaged by the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Two of the biggest proponents of soil-conservation farming are the investor Warren Buffett, and his son Howard G. Buffett. Warren E. Buffett is one of the richest and most successful businessmen on the planet, and himself from a Nebraska farming community, and his philanthropist son has realized that with global climate change we must take steps to protect our food supply from more drastic weather change. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulated farm run-off nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, and Mr. Buffett stated that this was a wake-up call for farmers. If they don't do something to stop the massive run-off pollution from corporate farming methods, the government will be forced to step in to protect the public. Younger farmers are much more interested in soil-conservation farming methods, which their fathers and grandfathers saw as backward methods used by their great-grandfathers before chemical farming methods increased yields. But today, the drastic depletion of soil nutrients from glyphosate herbicides like Round-Up, a chelator of minerals, and a promoter of fungal infections, and monocropping spurred by the use of GMO crops matched to Round-Up, is actually decreasing yields for many, and incurring high costs, and poor quality products, lacking nutrient quality. For some crops, no-till acreage has nearly doubled in the last decade or so, with 30 million acres of soybeans in the United States planted with this method in 2012, mainly in response to the economic harm from Monsanto and the Round-Up Ready GMO crops. The U.S. Agriculture Department, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has fully endorsed this soil-conservation farming, but we still have a long way to go to make this widespread. By using no-till and green manure methods, though, and planting tree rows, the topsoil could be replenished and the nutrients restored in a relatively short time, though. For the health of our children, the public needs to demand such change. Once again, money will talk, as more farmers realize the economic benefits of doing the right thing, as Gabe Brown shows, and more consumers use their purchasing intelligence to support these food products.

By 2015, with increased use of nitrate fertilizers to compensate for the loss of topsoil from corporate farming methods, the levels of nitrates in drinking water reached alarming levels in the Midwest. For instance, after years of complaints by the Des Moines Water Works, in Iowa, the largest water utility in the state, that nitrate runoff from farming was creating both health problems for their 500,000 customers, as well as enormous costs to try to clear nitrates from drinking water for 3-4 months out of the year, they finally resorted to a lawsuit to get Agribusiness to comply with federal clean water standards, which have been largely ignored by the industry for decades. Politicians in rural Iowa had promised years before this that Agribusiness would "voluntarily" fix this problem, and that federal regulation was just uncalled for. While touting some efforts by small farmers to reduce topsoil depletion and increased use of chemical fertilizers in the GMO/glyphosate era, the statistics of the water utility saw instead a large rise in nitrate runoff into rivers. The agricultural associations responded by stating that they understood the alarming need to "scale it up", but that it will take years to educate farmers and change farming practices to Agroforestry, planting of natural grass barriers to topsoil runoff, returning to crop rotation to improve soils, etc. In the meantime, it is expected that the conservative water utility will win this lawsuit, resulting in an array of consequences for farming. We are paying the price for corporate lies and the economic burden will finally come home to roost.

Nitrates from fertilizers are not the only health threat from the increased use of farm chemicals, though, and in 2014, Rajarata University in Sri Lanka teamed with experts at California State University in Long Beach, California, U.S.A. to show that accumulation of glyphosates from herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup had indeed contributed heavily to the alarming rise in chronic kidney disease in the farming areas of Sri Lanka, called an epidemic of kidney disease. Both the mineral chelation of glyphosates, creating an excess of minerals in the water, and the nephrotoxicity of the glyphosate metabolites were found to contribute (Channa Jayasumana et al; Int J Environ Res Public Health 2014 Feb: 11(2): 2125-2147). Numerous studies on animals now contradict the studies presented by Monanto-financed organizations that claimed proof that these metabolites did not significantly affect kidney function and would quickly break down in drinking water. These scientists found that glyphosate metabolites increase serum creatinine, blood urea and reduced the size and function of laboratory animals exposed to levels that accumulate in water. It is the combination of effects that produces this kidney toxicity, as the Monsanto researchers knew, yet hid this in their studies. This accumulation of glyphosates and glyphosate metabolites, and the hardening of water over time due to the metal chelation from the soils, which also depletes mineral nutrients from the foods, was supposed to be impossible, yet it clearly occurred. The ability of the water treatment plants in farming communities to clear these from the drinking water has also come into question. The alarming iron toxicity that occurred in Flint, Michigan as the state demanded a switch from Lake Huron water via Detroit to a direct source from the Flint River could also be related to farm runoff and massive use of glyphosate chelating herbicides. We are finding more and more water sources in the United States with excessive levels of toxic minerals, and mineral chelating glyphosates could be linked directly. The findings of the research in Sri Lanka shows that this is probable, and the flimsy explanations for the contamination in Flint in 2014-2016 do not hold water.

In response to the alarming statistics of topsoil loss and nutrient erosion in both North American and the Euro Zone, these areas of the world have finally responded to the problem, albeit too late, but have utilized more immediate correction of the agricultural biodiversity and nutrient conservation than Agroforestry, instead utilizing government subsidies for creation, or recreation, of wetlands. in 2004, studies at the Ohio State University School of Natural Resources, and the Louisiana State University School of Coast and Environment, in the United States, released a report outlining how 80-90 percent of the original wetlands in the Midwest had been recently lost to corporate farming methods, resulting in an enormous dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico caused mainly by runoff of nitrate fertilizers resulting in eutrophication (abnormal chemical nutrient imbalance in an ecosystem) and hypoxia. Studies in 2007 had shown that planted wetlands along farming borders achieved significant denitrification, or conversion of nitrate to nitrogen gas, carried out when the biome of microorganisms in soil and wetlands thrived and utilized nitrate conversion when oxygen was lacking. Unfortunately, this restoration of natural and effective wetlands should be achieved in areas near waterways, and not in the middle of farmlands, where the replanting of trees, bushes and natural grasses would be more appropriate and efficient in the long term, and on the grassland plains, where restoration of strips of natural grasses would be most effective. The studies of wetland efficiency for denitrification, or conversion of nitrate fertilizers to nitrogen gas, spurred the creation of wetlands in inappropriate areas where these other restoration methods would be more appropriate. By continuing to ignore the benefits of Agroforestry and biodiversity of habitat formation to preserve nutrients and clean agricultural runoff, Agribusiness is again making a big mistake. Just as mono-cropping was widely adopted in farming to replace traditional crop rotation to restore the soil nutrients, mono-cropping in agricultural restoration with wetland incentive is occurring, ignoring the obvious future drawbacks to this one-size-fits-all method. A more holistic approach to restoring the ecosystem, building the system in a step-by-step manner consistent with natural habitats, results in a sustainable environment that is not prone to disease and destruction, and provides a valuable yield of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) in areas of Agroforestry as well, such as medicinal herbs, spices, natural dyes, fibre plants, bee forage plants, root crops and wildlife. This application of Permaculture is sensible and sorely needed, and the attitude of planting nothing but wetlands in inappropriate farming areas to utilize subsidies and avoid regulatory fines, while helpful, is again very short-sighted.

Soil Conservation Farming, or Conservation Agriculture, is now widely adopted internationally as well, due to the massive depletion of topsoil and topsoil nutrients, as well as the massive harm from farm chemical runoff into waterways. The United Nations FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) is just one of a number of international organizations, including the World Bank, that is now pushing Conservation Agriculture to correct the enormous threat of corporate farming practices. Climate change is adding to the problem, as one-size-fits-all global corporate practices and genetically modified staple crop seeds have been found to be problematic and non-adaptive in local farming regions. Sustainable agriculture is finally being taken seriously worldwide. For instance, the May 2015 National Geographic magazine reported that even in Siberia, now a significant source of the world's wheat, that 50 percent of farmland in the Siberian Kulunda Steppe has already been severely degraded from less than a decade of modern corporate farming practices. Because of this, Juergen Voegele of the World Bank stated that now Russia is among the top 5 countries in the world advancing Conservation Agriculture. The U.S. is not on this short list.

Mr. Voegele of the World Bank states that Conservation Agriculture being rapidly adopted because it is financially profitable, as well as an environmental necessity. It appears that the most important economic institutions of the world now acknowledge that the corporations have been lying when they gave farmers around the world the "facts" about great profits from corporate farming methods, GMO crops, glyphosate herbicides, and destruction of natural Agroforestry and wetland habitat. To see some of the promotion of Conservation Agriculture by the United Nations FAO, click here: . Not only traditional farming methods, such as no-till farming and crop rotation, but also any method to decrease the enormous amounts of chemical fertilizers is needed, not only to restore profits and protect topsoil nutrient quality, but to slow climate change. The above mentioned Juergen Voegele of the World Bank noted that between 2000 and 2005 that China became the consumer of about 30 percent of world fertilizer consumption to propel its economic rise, but between 2005 and 2011, methods to reduce this fertilizer use with site-specific analysis and technology resulted in fertilizer usage dropping by 7.7 million tons, and consequently a prevention of 51.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions contributing to climate change. Any means to reverse the enormous damage and threat of corporate farming methods needs to be implemented, especially an increase in traditional organic farming.

An article in the February 7, 2016 New York Times, entitled A Revolution With Deep Roots in the Past, describes the surprising growth in the use of healthy cover crops and soil-conservation farming in the United States. An expert from the U.S. Agriculture Department, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Dr. Barry Fisher, was quoted as saying that "we've never seen anything taken up as rapidly as using cover crops", as the mean average of acres planted in healthy cover crops to promote topsoil quality in the times between regular crop plantings more than doubled, by many estimates, between 2010 and 2014. Not only the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, but now the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, and the Soil Health Partnership of the National Corn Growers Association are heavily funding research and promotion of soil-conservation farming, in the tradition of the Rockefellers in the past. Even the Walton Family and the Monsanto Corporation itself is now contributing to this project, although perhaps to reverse the negative public opinion associated with the destruction caused by GMO crops and matching Roundup glyphosate herbicides.

The most dramatic rise in soil-conservation farming was reported in Indiana, a very conservative Midwest state, where monocropping and corporate farming methods not only destroyed a strong family farm tradition, but resulted in the carbon content of soils falling from as high as 10 percent in the past to just 2 percent at present on many large farms, according to Barry Fisher of the U.S. Agriculture Department. About 1 million of the total U.S. acreage now planted in healthy cover crops are found now in Indiana, thanks to a strong collaboration between Purdue University and state and federal conservation programs, which created the Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative (ICCSI). A farmer in Indiana, interviewed for this Times article, Dan DeSutter of Attica, Indiana, described his experience with deteriorating topsoil and hardening of the soil accelerated by use of Roundup, and the fact that this required him to replace and expand his farm equipment as he needed to remove now 14 inches of compaction of soil with rippers. When he tried planting a healthy covercrop in his fallow fields, such as Oregon ryegrass, which produced a system of healthy micropores in the soil that extended to 4 feet, aerating the soil and trapping nutrients and water that increased his yields dramatically, this added cost in heavy equipment and work was unnecessary. So far, this 12.5 million acres now planted in green cover crops represents just 3.2 percent of total U.S. acreage planted in crops, but with public support and continued growth, this could soon save the nutrition in our farmed topsoil in 10 percent of acreage, creating an enormous boom to public health, the environment, and the tax burden created by medical spending, environmental clean-up, and reversal of the damage from future climate change. Data is also showing that the individual farmer can dramatically benefit from green cover crop soil-conservation farming, though, and one Indiana farmer, Rodney Rulon, has shown that he can increase corn yields by as much as 12.8 bushels and acre in his cover-crop fields, compared to his yields with standard farming methods. Tax incentives, decreased spending on chemicals and equipment, and even a growing field of extra profits from the harvest of these cover crops, for instance to supply quality barley for the craft beer industry, are encouraging more and more farmers to stop seeing these practices as "hippie" pursuits, and finally realizing the true conservative nature of soil-conservation farming. Landowners who lease their land to corporate farmers are also realizing that leasing to those that practice soil-conservation farming will create future value for their land rather than diminishing value.

Extensive research in a number of countries have proven that trees and forests offer much more to the public than improved agricultural benefits, though, and also provide the public and farm workers with many health benefits. In South Korea, the evidence of health benefits from forestry and forest phytochemistry have prompted much investment into professional university programs in forest healing and research into herbal medicines derived from trees and forest growth. A January 2016 National Geographic article entitled This Is Your Brain on Nature reported that the Korea Forest Service now also collects and studies phytochemicals such as distilled essential oils from trees such as the Hinoki Cypress, valuable to treat asthma and adrenal stress syndromes, and past research in Europe has proven that phytochemicals from the Norwegian Spruce, such as plant lignans and matairesinol, now popularly prescribed in Asia as Pycnogenol, provide significant benefits both as antioxidants and to stimulate hormonal immune health. Lignans may provide significant benefit in the treatment of various cancers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and menopausal hormone imbalances, and may help in the treatment of obesity. Lignans in the human organism, such as enterodiol and enterolactone have been well studied and proven to provide significant hormonal benefits, and increased levels are stimulated by the taking of various plant lignans. Some of these valuable lignans are also found in Chinese herbs, such as Du zhong, Luo shi teng and Hong hua, and small amounts are found in some foods, such as sesame seed, steel cut oats, barley, flax seed, rye, whole wheat, pumpkin seed, and a variety of beans. Eating heirloom varieties of wheat and other grains now hybridized and genetically modified insures a healthier amount of these natural chemicals.

Hormonal chemicals in plants and the importance of Agroforestry

The modern focus on monocropping in agriculture and reducing the variety of sources of plant nutrients in our diet, as well as the destruction of the diversity of the agricultural environment, has resulted in a massive drop in the amount of healthy plant hormones that we consume, and that are consumed by the animals that we eat. In addition, the processing of foods destroys a high percentage of delicate phytohormones. We have learned in the last decade the enormous importance of phytohormonal nutrients.

Our bodies have evolved a symbiosis with the environment that we ignore. Plant hormones, or phytohormones, are vitally important to our health, and some of the most important phytohormones are consumed as lignans, isoflavones, coumestans, and a variety of phytosterols. While the study of phytohormones has largely been devoted to uncovering potential risks to our health, more recent scientific study is revealing their importance to our metabolism, and the need for a variety of phytohormonal molecules in our diet. Although the study of isoflavones in soy has dominated the news, the study of lignans produced by trees, particularly spruce and pine resins, and found in seeds, whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, and some fruits, has revealed the importance of these food chemicals in our biology. The concentration of these important phytohormones in herbs is also an area of much study in the treatment and prevention of disease. Agroforestry may present the United States with a means to restore these important food molecules to our diets, especially with the incorporation of garden agroforestry into small farming, where relatively small plots of land can be packed with select trees, berries, nuts, seed crops, and herbs to provide sustainable crop income, timber resources, benefits to free range animals, and carbon credits to supplement small farm incomes.

Public research worldwide is now heavily focused on health issues related to nutrient medicine, and while phytohormones are not technically a nutrient, the study of phytohormones is now a vast area of research. Lignans and enterolactones are chemicals that are now highly studied in relation to cancer prevention. Lignan precursors are key nutrients found in healthy grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and green vegetables, and are essential to our bodies creating healthy lignans, enterolactones and enterodiols. There are a variety of lignans and lignan precursors, and certain lignans are concentrated in medicinal plants. These lignans stimulate increased production of enterolactones and enterodiols that help maintain hormonal balance, prevent cancer, act as hormonal stimulators when there is hormonal deficiency, reduce cardiovascular risk, and play other key roles in health maintenance. Commercial food processing has been shown to destroy lignans, and a host of other beneficial chemicals important in hormonal health, such as isoflavones, and phytohormones, which are lipid, or fat, based, may easily go rancid and breakdown, not only losing value, but creating a number of oxidized chemicals that may themselve create ill health. Eating fresh, local, well-preserved nuts, seeds, grains, berries and green leafy vegetables, and cold-pressed vegetable oils, will allow one to take advantage of these healthy lipid based nutrients such as lignans. Commercially processed foods may eventually create deficiencies of these valuable phytohormones over time.

Whole grain bran and many beans are the chief traditional source of plant lignans, as well as nuts and seeds. Sesame and flax seeds are particularly high in certain phytolignans, but aren't the usual chief source. These plant lignans are potential precursors for important hormones in our bodies produced by certain symbiotic bacteria in the intestines, the enterolactone and enterodione. The term entero- refers to the intestinal metabolism, and the enterolactones and enterodiols are produced when the bacterial balance in the intestines is healthy and we eat sufficient foods or take herbs rich in lignans and lignan precursors. To fully benefit from these chemicals and restore health, we need to take a holistic and comprehensive approach, restoring healthy flora and fauna to the digestive tract (clearing and probiotic restoration), eating locally grown organic vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts and fruit, and correcting health problems that may inhibit our bodies' ability to utilize and metabolize these nutrients. One step only, in this regard, instead of a holistic approach, may not be effective, such as only taking probiotics. If your gut flora and fauna are unhealthy, probiotic foods and supplements may not colonize efficiently. You may need to correct unhealthy intestinal environments first with herbal therapy and acupuncture, and then introduce quality probiotics and nutritional cofactors to restore healthy gut flora and fauna. A healthy diet should be accompanied by healthy medical treatment and restoration (you may read the article on probiotics on this website). This attention to the whole picture is the key to success, a holistic approach. Numerous studies show that a wide variety of cancers occur more frequently in patients with gastrointestinal dysfunction and inflammatory bowel disease, and the poor production of enterodiol and enterolactone are a part of this problem. A knowledgeable Licensed Acupuncturist can help identify and correct health problems, provide quality nutrient products that are specific to the individual, and guide the holistic approach to full restoration of your bodies' metabolism to prevent disease.

Plant hormones, such as lignans, isoflavones, and coumarins, are not the only vital essential nutrients that have been taken from our food supply by modern corporate farming and food processing. An article in the May 26, 2013 New York Times, entitled Breeding Nutrition Out of Food, points out that wild species of many of our fruits and vegetables are found to contain over 100 times the nutrient value of the original species, and that hybridization has focused too often on how sweet and good-looking the food is, not the nutrient content.

For instance, the purple potato of Peru, one of about 3800 species of potato in this part of the world, contains nearly 170 times the nutrient content of the common Yukon Gold white potato that dominates the market today. Color in our food often signifies the dominance of a particular type of nutrient. For instance, green in plants indicates a predominance of chlorophyll, which has a backbone of calcium and magnesium, as well as abundant nitrogen, while yellows and oranges indicate an abundance of Vitamin A-containing carotenoids, such as carotenes, xanthophylls, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which have many important roles in the body, especially as antioxidants. The carotenoid lycopene produces a red color, while the healthy anthocyanins produce red, purple, or blue, depending on the acidity of the fruit or vegetable. Proanthocyanidins, such as oligomeric proanthocyanidins, or OPCs, extracted from grape skins and pine bark, and now widely used in medicine, and are some of the most potent antioxidants found in food, and produce the colors tan, beige, black, brown and deep red, while betalains produce the deep red and yellow of beet roots. Orange in foods often indicates a high source of potassium. Of course, lack of color, or white food, indicates more starch, or sugar (carbohydrate), content, and so many of our hybrid vegetables, such as corn and potato, were bred or even altered by radiation, such as the white super sweet corn, to appeal more to the consumer. The removal of these chemicals in modern food species, though, has led to a gross deficiency in some of these essential nutrient that scientific study now shows protective against cancers, cardiovascular pathologies, diabetes, and neurodegeneration. As consumers, and small farmers, become more educated to the benefits of the nutrients we have lost from our food, these lost species, often called "heirloom", as well as wild foraged crops, are becoming more popular, and turning up in groceries. Even fruit species, such as apples, vary widely in nutrient content, with the green tart Granny Smith apples containing nearly 3 times the nutrient content of the Golden Delicious variety. We shouldn't be afraid to try some of the more original species of vegetables and fruits when they appear, even if they look weird, or taste a little bittersweet.