Soil Science vs Medical Science Breakthrough in Science for Medicine
The call of UN for food safety is on way, but the suffering community is looking for cure. Medical science is aimed at symptomatic or diagnostic or preventive medicines, but perhaps no protective medicine. Soil or clay or both opens a new door in medical science for protective treatment, since food supply chain begins from soil. Not only a variety of ailments are cured, but more importantly clays detoxify the toxic substances in the body. In 2015, the International Year of Soils, let’s introduce soil or clay or both as the integral part of medical sciences.
Soil health, through physical, chemical, biological and interactive radiation as well as magnetic manipulation, productivity evaluation, agriculture conservation, land use identification, integrated farming system, agro-forestry induced ecosystem, intercropping, biodiversity enrichment, manurial and composting operation, is the key to keep the land sustained. The imbalanced, undesirable and unsustainable approaches with soil and land have made our food unsafe, water toxic and polluted, and air impure. The accumulated impacts are reflected on human health considerably. The existing situation of human health problems necessitates for rethinking of a soil as a building block of food supply chain issues with safety.
In fact, food chain in true sense starts from soil, which controls all plants, grains, animals including their products, water and even air. A healthy soil is one that gives healthy food, pure water and clean air. Soil science is also an integral part of medical science. Apart from this, the significant role played by soil and clay as medicines deserves appreciation to address this vital issue by policymakers as well as medical council of respective countries.
Evidences available indicate certain actual benefits of eating soil or even clay. It removes toxins from human body and often helps to lose weight. However, its uses can make the body anaemic and that too because of lack of iron in the blood. In true sense, medical science hardly supports such practice and recommends that eating soil would reduce the hunger and often causes infection. Contrary to this, few people eat red clay soil as a measure of iron deficiency. Some African tribes use clay against diarrhoea. However, soil eating is dangerous issue, if anthrax bacteria and other undesirable organics resist for years in the soil. Besides, soil eating may pose hazards like (a) chemical contamination, especially heavy metals and (b) harmful bacteria through sewage or manure especially roundworms. Eating soil or dirt may lead to some gastrointestinal problems like constipation, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite as well as diarrhoea.
The most serious health concerns caused by contaminated soil are due to lead and arsenic. Lead is a potent toxin that can damage the nervous systems of embryos, breastfed infants and young children. Long-term exposure to arsenic increases the risk of cancers of skin, lungs, bladder, kidneys and liver. Even small amounts of lead delay mental development, lower intelligence, impair hearing, and even affect balance. This damage to the nervous system may be irreversible.
However, clay eating is associated historically with treatment for cholera and bacterial infections. Clay tablets were used widely across the Mediterranean as well as European territories in certain religious causes, besides in curing the poisoning and the plague. However, the clay tablets were used by Roman Catholic Church and were listed in pharmacopoeia as late as 1848. The use of eating clay has been studied in America, Sweden, Africa, Indonesia and Australia. In India and many other countries, however, knowledge on soil and clay eating is scanty. By and large, the practice is being revolutionised as a means of medical treatment. The rates of pregnant women eating soil or clay in African countries range approximately from 28 percent in Tanzania to 65 percent in Kenya, where clay is selectively identified and sold in markets. They collect it from termite mounds being rich in minerals and eat at an average of 30 g daily. Commendable contributions as recorded include the reports of Callahan (2007), Cieslak et al (1993), Dominy (2004), Geissler (2000), Hunter (1973), Hunter and Kleine (1984), Trevor Stokes (2006), Vermeer et al (1985), Wiley and Solomon (1998) and Wilson (2003), though many indigenous studies are yet to be documented.
Clay for Detoxification
Clay or soil eating by and large has revealed some potential for digestive and nutritional benefits. However, the most remarkable evidence is its relevance in detoxification. It is known that ingestion of clays by animal species like rats, birds, parrots, etc, enables a wide variety of foods free of suffering from any toxic effect. Today, human beings are suffering from variety of ailments caused mainly by some types of toxicity/contamination. However, there is a need to look for substances that can scavenge for variety of food material used and soil and clay may be a choice to be tested under the supervision of medical experts.
Clays belong to a crystalline shape with hexagonal networks of silicon-oxygen tetrahedron that provides a large surface area with charged sites that cause bonds to capture charged ions or certain toxins. The well-known colloidal properties, following the existence of hydroxyl ions within the clay structure, may promote its ability to bind and exchange other metals, adsorb water and organic compounds too. The use of clays to reduce bioavailability of plant toxins from foods is of current interest in order to make the food more edible. In countries like Peru and Arizona, wild varieties of potato have bitterness in taste and cause abdominal pain and vomiting possibly due to the presence of glycoalkaloid in potato, but clays have shown ability to adsorb glycoalkaloids. Eating soil as well as clay thus seems to be an ancient example of solving most of the medical problems. However, recent evidence reveals its continued use in lowering food toxicity and promoting digestive health. Let’s look for truth based on evidences and transform such ancient practice to its modern shape, through teaching and learning as science of medicine for protective treatment. Soil is not only the foundation of our survival; it is truly hidden, but full of wisdom that needs to be discovered one after another. It is soul of infinite lives as briefly presented in box below:
Soil, Dust and Clay to sustain Human Health
Clay may be credited with healing of a wide range of ailments or illnesses like constipation, diarrhoea, anaemia, chronic infections, skin ailments such as eczema and acne, heavy-metal poisoning, exposure to pesticides and other toxins, arthritis and specific stress. Clay is often known to adhere to the gastric and intestinal mucous membrane and protect them on way of absorbing toxins, bacteria and even viruses. Clays (type dependant) have the ability to adsorb chemicals, water and complex with organics, pesticides, and insecticides.
The pregnant women in Bangladesh consume charred soil, which is known to improve appetite and health and helps in delivery with a healthy child. But, clays are often known to cause the removal of enzymes and decline in nutrition even probably due to their ability for detoxification.
A group of people in Uganda are known to eat soil that appears to improve their anti-malarial fighting ability. The soil activates chemicals from the leaves of Trichilia rubescens, a plant representing one of the preferred food items of the Ugandan chimps. Some African tribes use clay against diarrhoea.
There are some reasons to think that taking a pinch of well-tested clay or soil may be a benefit to the immune system. Even in USA, normal children of one and three years of age often eat soil on different occasions. Aged children may continue to eat soil if there is delay in their growth. A dose of 500 mg a day of soil or clay consumption is considered normal in children up to three-year-old.
Soil or dirt or clay eating is seldom used for practice known as geophagy or geophagia, but appears as a puzzling medical issue, which makes such practice medically abused because of certain abnormal behaviour as affected by psychological disorders. Pica refers to the abnormal ingestion of non-food substances like soil, clay and dirt. Clay eating is known to be associated with treatments for cholera and bacterial infection. In a practice dating back to Greek and Roman times and later witnessed by Christianity, holy clay tablets were widely distributed and traded throughout the Mediterranean region and Western Europe for use in religious customs and as cures for poison and the plague.
However, soil eating may be dangerous if anthrax bacteria and others resist for years in the soil. Medical science believes that eating soil would reduce hunger and sometimes causes infection. Soil is considered to pose hazard because of: Chemical contamination, especially heavy metals;
Harmful bacteria, mostly from sewage or manure;
Parasites, especially roundworms from pet or wildlife faeces.
Seeing is Believing: Evidence that Witnesses a Truth
An effort by the Department of Soil Science of Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour, has been made to identify Karu Paswan, 99 years of age living in a village of Babupur (Bakharpur) in Pirpainti Block of Bhagalpur District in Bihar, who has been daily eating the soil of Ganga flood plain for the last 60 years. He is a non-vegetarian with normal food diet, but daily he eats 500 g to one kg of soil additionally. He is approaching the age of 100 years with black hairs and walks daily on foot for 12-15 km daily to local market. However, sample of soil collected along with medical reports are still awaited for investigation.
Soil as a natural resource helps in getting food, water and even air. However, the truth of evidence as recorded is enough to trust on a bare fact that soil or clay may be uniquely suitable medically to cure a number of ailments, which are becoming common to everyone nowadays, across the world. But, researchers in different facets of medical sciences may come forward to establish the truth in a big way in close association with soil science professionals, who could specify the suitability of soil and clay for medical uses.
If 'Yoga' is to sustain, soil or clay as medicine will restore the human health. This will be the breakthrough in soil science and should be well taken during the International Year 2015 of Soil.
Dr BB Mishra is a Professor-cum-Chief Scientist and Chairman at Bihar Agricultural University, Bhagalpur. He is the Chairperson, A Task Group of Universal Soil Classification-WG, International Union of Soil Science. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Richa Roy is a faculty member of Department of Biotechnology, TNB College, Bhagalpur.