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: , , , |

Crop Nutrition for Public Health

Regenerative agriculture should be an agricultural paradigm that is intent on regenerating public health to the same degree as regenerating soil health. After all, every farmer knows that the health and performance of livestock is directly correlated to the quality of their nutrition. The same is true of people as well.

Public health is in significant part a responsibility of agriculture, whether we choose to accept it or not. 

In the June 1936 issue of Cosmopolitan, Rex Beach wrote an article on the research of Dr. Charles Northern, who extensively studied the connection between soil health and human health. The article was then submitted into the Congressional Record of the 74th Congress in the Senate.

Here are some highlighted excerpts, you can find the entire article below. We have made remarkably little progress in following up on the described research in the decades since. Are you aware of any more recent research on this topic? I would like to find more.


You’d think, wouldn’t you, that a carrot is a carrot – that one is about as good as another as far as nourishment is concerned? But it isn’t; one carrot may look and taste like another and yet be lacking in the particular mineral element which our system requires and which carrots are supposed to contain.

It is bad news to learn from our leading authorities that 99 percent of the American people are deficient in these minerals and that a marked deficiency in any one of the more important minerals actually results in disease.

The truth is that our foods vary enormously in value, and some of them aren’t worth eating, as food.

Some of our lands, even in a virgin state, never were well balanced in mineral content, and unhappily for us, we have been systematically robbing the poor soils and the good soils alike of the very substances most necessary to health, growth, long life, and resistance to disease. Up to the time I began experimenting, almost nothing had been done to make good the theft.

A cageful of normal rats will live in amity. Restrict their calcium, and they will become irritable and draw apart from one another. Then they will begin to fight. Restore their calcium balance and they will grow more friendly; in time they will begin to sleep in a pile as before.

He showed that the textbooks are not dependable because many of the analyses in them were made many years, ago, perhaps from products raised in virgin soils, whereas our soils have been constantly depleted.

Recently the Southern Medical Association, realizing the hopelessness of trying to remedy nutritional deficiencies without positive factors to work with, recommended a careful study to determine the real mineral content of foodstuffs and the variations due to soil depletion in different localities. These progressive medical men are awake to the importance of prevention.

Dr. Northen went even further and proved that crops grown in a properly mineralized soil were bigger and better; that seeds germinated quicker, grew more rapidly and made larger plants; that trees were healthier and put on more fruit of better quality.

“A healthy plant, however, grown in soil properly balanced, can and will resist most insect pests. That very characteristic makes it a better food product. You have tuberculosis and pneumonia germs in your system but you’re strong enough to throw them off. Similarly, a really healthy plant will pretty nearly take care of itself in the battle against insects and blights- and will also give the human system what it requires.”

For instance, in an orange grove infested with scale, when he restored the mineral balance to part of the soil, the trees growing in that part became clean while the rest remained diseased. By the same means he had grown healthy rosebushes between rows that were riddled by insects. 

He had grown tomato and cucumber plants, both healthy and diseased, where the vines intertwined. The bugs ate up the diseased and refused to touch the healthy plants! He showed me interesting analyses of citrus fruit, the chemistry and the food value of which accurately reflected the soil treatment the trees had received.

“Soils seriously deficient in minerals cannot produce plant life competent to maintain our needs, and with the continuous cropping and shipping away of those concentrates, the condition becomes worse.” 

‘One sure way to end the American people’s susceptibility to infection is to supply through food a balanced ration of iron, copper, and other metals. An organism supplied with a diet adequate to, or preferably in excess of, all mineral requirements may so utilize these elements as to produce immunity from infection quite beyond anything we are able to produce artificially by our present method of immunization. You can’t make up the deficiency by using patent medicine.’

“There was a time when medical therapy had no standards because the therapeutic elements in drugs had not been definitely determined on a chemical basis. Pharmaceutical houses have changed all that. Food chemistry, on the other hand, has depended almost entirely upon governmental agencies for its research, and in our real knowledge of values, we are about where medicine was a century ago.”

“Disease preys most surely and most viciously on the undernourished and unfit plants, animals, and human beings alike, and when the importance of these obscure mineral elements is fully realized the chemistry of life will have to be rewritten. No man knows his mental or bodily capacity, how well he can feel or how long he can live, for we are all cripples and weaklings. It is a disgrace to science. Happily, that chemistry is being rewritten and we’re on our way to better health by returning to the soil the things we have stolen from it.”

“It is simpler to cure sick soils than sick people – which shall we choose?” 

Rex Beach, “Modern Miracle Men”, Document No. 264 in  Senate Documents, 74th Congress, 2d Session, vol 18-48, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1936, p. 1-9.


2020-03-16T13:56:05-05:00January 20th, 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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