Review: Family practice doctor says 'back to the soil' for better health Special
As health-care costs continue to rise and diabetes and obesity rates remain critical among the American population, family practice physician Dr. Daphne Miller, MD believes that for better health it is time to, "get back to the soil."
Miller is an associate clinical professor at University of California at San Francisco Medical Center and attends to patients at Family Medicine Practice on Sanchez Street in San Francisco. She advocates for formal medicine to establish a better link to nature. Mother nature, the earth, along with the human body itself is one of the best healers. She has published her second book called, "Farmacology, What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing."
This reporter had heard of the book through Readers Books in Sonoma, when Miller made a visit to the bookshop for a lecture this past May.
I found the book easy to read and very informative, especially with regards to Miller herself, her travels and her life. Farmacology consists of Miller's travels to farms like Jubilee Biodynamic Farm in Washington State and notes on patients she has known. Their health conditions, the traditional or complimentary medicine approaches taken. Miller sees a direct correlation between diet and health. Yet I was fascinated by her further investigations into the farming techniques behind our food, especially the soil itself.
Miller makes a very profound analogy between the soil of the earth and the skin of the human body. They both have layers and surprisingly like the layers of skin on the human body, the layers of soil on the earth serve an important purpose and function. By examining such layers researchers can learn much about the health of the earth, just like when a doctor can detect illness or health by looking at the skin of the human being.
Erick Haakenson of Jubilee Biodynamic Farm was gracious to respond to my inquiry. I asked him to explain why the health of the soil is so important.
"There is a direct and inviolate relationship between the health of the soil and the health of human beings (and all other living entities)," he said. "The evolution of our species has occurred throughout in dependence on a fertile soil."
"Darwin demonstrated that it's not a coincidence that our bodies need the minerals available to us via our soil," Haakenson said. "Our evolution has been determined by parameters established available building blocks; our physiology is predicated on what is in the soil." "'Ex Nihilo, Nihilo Fit'-- we have no other well from which to draw." he pointed out.
"It is a well-established, empirically documented observation that the nutritional value of the non-organic vegetables in the US has diminished by 50% over the last 50 years," said Haakenson. "It is also a broadly accepted belief among nutritionists that because of our long evolutionary history, human assimilation of nutrients from food is vastly superior than from pills/supplements. So our future and our health is dependent on soil," he said.
Surmising further Haakenson noted, "like the world's oil reserves, the world's soils are limited." "The vast majority of the farm-able soil is being farmed." "Unlike oil, the fertility of the soil can be replenished in decades rather than eons."
That is very comforting, especially (to this reporter) when today, the ecological picture of the entire world seems in danger. Haakenson commented further. "At this point we have mined the soil of its nutrients to the point where we need to eat twice as much as our immediate ancestors to get the nutrition we need." "It will take a concerted effort and time to replenish the soil." "It will likely not begin until we experience the imminent "agricultural crises" that will arise because of our abuse of the soil," said Haakenson.
I was eager to learn more and so I contacted professor Kate Scow who specializes in Soil Science and Soil Microbial Ecologist at University of California at Davis. She mentioned briefly that she had heard of Miller's book and wanted to read it. Scow is the author of over a dozen books. She teaches at the university and has done extensive research. She noted the importance of soil preservation.
I was able to reach Professor Eric Brevik, PhD of Dickerson State University, North Dakota. He is a soil scientist and a member of the Soil Science Society of America. He noted, "soil preservation is very important to farming and to healthy food production." "Plants obviously need nutrients," he said. "But they also need a soil with other important properties for plants to achieve the maximum potential in yield." "Also, he points out, "in the quality of the food products they produce" healthy soil is important. "Many of these other soil properties, such as structure, permeability, and water holding capacity, are not supplied by chemical fertilizers."
In response to Dr. Miller's analogy of soil to like that of human skin, he said,
"like the human skin, the soil does occur in layers. and each layer is important." "For example, he said, the upper most layer, or A horizon, is the most important for nutrient supply." "The B horizon, which is commonly the next layer down he noted, is often important for holding water the plant can access in-between rains." However, soils are much more variable from place to place than human skin is from person to person. Not all B horizons are capable of holding much water, for example. So the analogy is not a bad one, but is also isn’t an absolute," he said.
Still, he thought Dr. Miller's insights were helpful in getting the public to better understand the importance of the soil in regards to health. While I found the book to be very enlightening and uplifting, I am not sure if the medical establishment at the various administrative levels will embrace mother earth so readily.
When I contacted Miller to comment on the issues with all the hierarchies of health insurance companies as well as corporate food industry entities that need to address the health risks of genetically modified food, use of pesticides, etc. she directed my questions back to her book. Which now as I think about it, how much can one physician do when dealing with such entities? All the complexities of administrations, governments, politics and hierarchy; and still practice medicine, that is a lot for any one person to manage. As I see it, it is not easy to be a doctor these days when so much is already decided for the doctor by the various health insurance companies, etc.
Yet one thing Dr. Miller can do is attend to each situation at the 'grass-roots' level, one patient at time. Family practice doctors do a tremendous amount outreach for their patients. And, on that level doctors can do a lot of good.
At least for me, as I pondered the premise of what Dr. Miller is saying, she has made efforts to foster an important dialog. The dialog about health and environment is ongoing and no doubt will continue as we move further into the 21st Century. Hopefully, more medical professionals and various researchers will listen and participate. For more information about Dr. Daphne Miller and her book, "Farmacology." visit her web site.