Years ago, on a fluke, I brought home two female goats. We were ill-prepared and had no idea what we were doing. I asked lots of questions and did my research to make sure I was raising two healthy beautiful girls. Months after we brought them home, one gave birth to twins. The first was underdeveloped and stillborn. The second was weak and rejected by both mom and aunt. I rushed that baby to our local vet with the hope of saving it. It died before the dawn of the next day.
Our vet said that nothing we did would have saved those babies because the mother was suffering from a selenium deficiency. He went on to explain that our region had a selenium deficiency in the soil. All the feed we bought would be deficient because it was processed locally. The only solution was a trace mineral supplement. No one had told me this. I had lived in the region my entire life and had no idea there was a mineral deficiency in our soil.
While it was interesting, I didn’t give it much thought because life went on. It was a hard and traumatic summer that ended with us moving to the city. No more livestock for us at that time so no more thoughts about mineral deficiencies.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about a plant that grows wild in our area. Somehow, selenium came up. Later, I found myself wondering--if a plant that is supposed to be high in a mineral grows in deficient soil is it still a good source for that mineral? The answer is quite logical--no--but most people don’t realize that their soil might be deficient. This is especially true for land that is undeveloped, such as the forest where that plant grows.
Soil composition is not something we talk about unless we are talking about our gardens or landscaping. We talk about how the clay content makes drainage difficult or the lack of nitrogen makes the leaves on our plants yellow. We know that crop rotation is important for the soil but we don’t really understand how that translates to how it affects us. We don’t eat dirt, right?
The truth is that soil is the foundation of all the nutrients we consume. A plant’s roots take in nutrients from the soil and store them in the various cells of the plants. Animals consume those plants. We, as humans, consume the plants and the animals. A plant can’t give us what the soil doesn’t offer.
There are three mineral deficiencies that affect the health of cattle--Selenium, Copper and Iodine. When it comes to how that translates to human health, I didn’t quite get it. I knew that a lack of selenium affected the health of my goats. Giving my momma goats a mineral supplement solved a problem that I didn’t feel like I needed to pursue. I ate a healthy diet. We try to eat organic and local. Our diet is well balanced but our health isn’t as good as we hoped. As I dug into this concept of mineral deficiencies in soil, I began to understand why.
According to the National Institute of Health, selenium deficiencies have been linked to thyroid issues, asthma, seizures, heart disease and male infertility. While there have been no human studies, there have been livestock studies that show selenium deficiencies cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
Sally Fallon, in her book Nourishing Traditions, says “High levels of heart disease are associated with selenium deficient soil in Finland and a tendency to fibrotic heart lesions is associated with selenium deficiency in parts of China.”
It’s quite simple to get enough selenium in a balanced diet since it’s found in meat, grains, dairy, and eggs. For those who live in areas where selenium is limited in the soil, those foods no longer provide the expected nutrition.
When it comes to these three minerals, selenium has the most information and research but copper and iodine are still just as important. Copper works with iron in the blood to form red blood cells. The lack of copper in the body can lead to poor cardiovascular health, nerve damage, poor immune response, anemia and osteoporosis. Iodine supports thyroid function, immune response and is essential for breast health.
How do you know what mineral deficiencies your soil has?
You can always start with the internet. This map shows selenium deficiencies by county. This database shows a number of minerals in soil, with copper being one. It’s not the most user-friendly site but I have managed to figure out how to read the charts. When looking for a copper deficiency, look for a single digit. What constitutes a copper deficiency is up for debate amongst a number of agricultural groups but what they have in common is that they are all under 10 ppm.
As for iodine, it has been nationally accepted to just assume that the soil has an iodine deficiency.
You can always have your soil tested, but another way for a quick and easy answer is to call a local vet who specializes in livestock. If your vet doesn’t work with livestock, they should know who does. Once you get a veterinarian’s attention, just ask them what the common mineral deficiencies they see in the area. The information they share with you becomes a starting point for improving you and your families health.
There are a number of ways to add these minerals to your diet. If you raise livestock, give them a mineral supplement. That’s something you can talk to your vet about while you have them on the phone. If the animals provide food for you, then you will benefit from those supplements.
You can also choose to add certain foods to your diet. For selenium, the easiest and most consistent food is Brazil nuts. Just a few daily will give you all the selenium you need. If you are like my family, you can try drinking food grade diatomaceous earth. We like the added benefits that it gives to our body. Copper is found in shellfish. Iodine is in seaweed.
Now, because I know you will ask, you can eat iodized salt and get all the iodine you need. Salt was iodized because the US had huge populations that didn’t have access to iodine rich foods which resulted in a health epidemic. That worked fine until the last thirty or so years. With the increase of fast and processed foods, Americans consume a lot of salt. Salt became bad. Iodized salt became a villain. And admittedly it is a processed refined salt, however, if you you think you might have an iodine deficiency and don’t consume seaweed, then iodized salt is an option.
I, personally, buy non-iodized salt, nothing added, because we use the salt to make pickles and for our nasal rinse. For food, we use sea salt and other “fancy” salts. Sea salt and similar salts do have traces of iodine. We, also, try to eat seaweed. As I do my research, I feel like I need to purchase a few container of iodized salt for our emergency stores but I’m not sure that the added ingredients in that salt are something I want to eat.
Is there a long term solution to soil mineral deficiencies? No, sadly there is not. Some minerals have never existed in certain soil compositions. Some minerals have been lost due to erosion and poor agricultural planning.
There are mineral supplements that one can add to the soil. I can’t say that they are the perfect solution. Soil supplements can help with improving gardens and crops but often it’s just moving nutrient rich soil components to areas that lack those nutrients. Without good organic soil practices, such as erosion prevention, composting, and crop rotation, the deficiencies will sadly continue.
While this information may feel like it’s directed to those who homestead, have livestock or grow their own food, it’s not. These mineral deficiencies affect everyone. Much of the food in the grocery store is grown and processed locally. While it might not come directly from your community, many food processors have discovered it is far cheaper to open more plants to save on shipping costs. Also, these deficiencies often affect large areas. This is why the feed I gave my goats still had deficiencies. Goat feed is oat based and I’m not sure where they are grown in my region, but they were still local enough to lack that selenium.
I’m a big proponent of knowledge is power--once you know, you can act. The biggest problem is not knowing there is a problem. It’s been seven years since we lost those babies and I am just now realizing what that means for my health. This is not a finished topic, this is the tip that we all have to chisel away at so we can understand exactly how all the components fit together to affect our health. I, for one, look forward to what we might discover.