Selenium for Coronavirus, Agriculture for Public Health

The foundational purpose of agriculture is to grow nutritious food and healthy fiber. The often-repeated marketing mantra of agribusiness to justify the use of products and practices of questionable repute is “We need to feed the world.”

What if agriculture took this mantra to heart, and considered their possible role and responsibility for public nutrition and public health?

What if nutritious food as medicine were considered a national security priority, and producers were directed and compensated for producing food with a positive impact on public health?

The present panic around coronavirus is a case in point where the nutritional integrity of the food farmers produce might have a significant and direct impact on public health.

“It is generally known that Se deficiency, both in the agricultural food products and in the human organism, is associated with various degenerative diseases, notably in viral infections.”1 Lipinski describes how selenite is an effective treatment for enveloped viruses. The majority of viral infections we are concerned about are enveloped viruses,  including the common cold, influenza, Ebola, and coronavirus.

How might public health be different if all the food being grown contained adequate levels of selenium to prevent viral infections in the general population?

It seems reasonable to imagine that cold and flu infections might drop to levels approaching zero, and possibly, probably even, coronavirus would be unable to gain enough momentum to be called a pandemic.

Finland made a systemic effort to increase selenium levels in their soils and has been successful in raising the selenium status of their population according to this report.2  This is an example of the capacity agriculture has to influence public health.

The language around regenerative agriculture is still evolving. There is a well-understood need to regenerate soil health. Of equal importance is regenerating plant health and livestock health. Ultimately though, we should be having a conversation about regenerating public health.

Farmers can have a bigger impact on public health than doctors and hospitals because nutritious food as medicine can prevent people from becoming ill. This is something doctors and hospitals are not engaged in.

Lets not just “feed the world”, let’s feed the world healthy and nutritious food as medicine.

(And if you are curious about further implications of selenium for public health, look up the dozens of papers describing selenium as an effective cancer treatment on Google Scholar.)


Post update May 2nd, 2020. Emerging research indicates there is indeed a connection between selenium status within a population and Covid 19 cure rate.3 You can read a popular article describing the findings here.

1. Lipinski, B. Can Selenite be an Ultimate Inhibitor of Ebola and Other Viral Infections? 6, 319–324 (2015).

2. Stoffaneller, R. & Morse, N. L. A review of dietary selenium intake and selenium status in Europe and the Middle East. Nutrients 7, 1494–1537 (2015).

3. Zhang, J., Taylor, E. W., Bennett, K., Saad, R. & Rayman, M. P. Association between regional selenium status and reported outcome of COVID-19 cases in China. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. (2020) doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqaa095.

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2020-05-02T08:24:07-05:00March 23rd, 2020|Tags: , , , |

Nutrient density is about freshness

Update and edit 12-21-19

After sending this post I was reminded there is still much we don’t know about the research described in the podcast interview I highlighted in this post, and asked to offer some context. A few points:

  • “Nutrition” is much more than Vitamin C and some compounds which may oxidize readily in a few days.
  • It is very probable that healthy plants with elevated levels of antioxidants will not lose even oxidizable nutrients as quickly as described.
  • How crops were grown was not evaluated, but experience pointed out large variation from season to season. We should expect to find significant variation based on agronomic factors.

I recall a conversation where Bruce Tainio described working with an apple grower who produced such high quality apples they did not ozidize when cut open. They stayed white, and did not brown when left exposed to the air. Patients with diabetes could consume them with no blood sugar or insulin response. This occurs when you have very high levels of antioxidants and complex carbohydarates. This is the quality of fruit we are striving for.

Back to the original post

Spinach loses much of its nutritional value within seven days of being harvested. No matter how you store it.  The spinach at Wal-mart may be better than that at Whole Foods, if it got there faster because of higher volume turnover.

Apples lose all their vitamin C within a few weeks of harvest, even when stored in cold storage or frozen. 

The foods on the grocery story shelf with the highest nutritional value are usually the ones that arrived there in the fewest hours from being harvested by the grower.

Stored fruits and vegetables have lost their nutritional value, and are little more than sugar bombs within weeks of being harvested. (Seasonal eating just escalated in importance.)

Most importantly,  buyers at the wholesale and retail level will be able to assess the nutritional quality of the crops they are buying in January of 2020.

These are a few of the highlights from an incredible podcast interview between Koen van Seijen, host of Investing in Regenerative Agriculture podcast, and Greg Shewmaker, co-founder of TeakOrigin

If you are even slightly interested in nutrient density,  how food quality will be assessed and farm products purchased differently  in the next few years, this podcast episode is a must-listen.  You are really missing out if you pass it up.


2020-03-16T13:42:18-05:00December 21st, 2019|Tags: , |

What are the goals of organic and regenerative agriculture?

What are the objectives of regenerative agriculture ecosystems?

I can think of several possibilities:

  1. Produce enough exceptional quality, nutrient-dense, biofortified ‘food as medicine’ to influence public health and feed the global population a healthy diet.
  2. Produce pesticide-free food.
  3. Incentivize and proliferate small scale growers to develop local and regional food production.
  4. Develop agricultural systems that regenerate soil and ecosystem health and have them become adopted globally.
  5. Develop agricultural models that rapidly sequester carbon dioxide down to levels under 350 ppm.
  6. Reverse desertification, restore hydrological cycles and cool the climate.

Let’s be clear that these are different goals. Each is realistic and achievable. It is possible to achieve all of them together, but achieving one does not necessarily mean we achieve the others.

2020-03-16T13:45:40-05:00December 14th, 2019|Tags: , , |
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