This week on What’s the Juice podcast, Olivia sat down with the one and only Zach Bush, MD. He is a renowned physician, researcher, and educator at the forefront of integrative medicine and microbiome research who shared his wisdom and realizations from the past few decades of studying our soils. While it’s nearly impossible to distill his brilliance into words, here are a few key takeaways on why soil really is medicine and how you can reap the benefits personally and societally. 

What We’ve Learned About Human Health From Our Soil

Around 2012, Zach started noticing that nutrition science wasn’t working for his patients in the same way it used to. He wondered why nutrient rich foods like kale, brussels sprouts, cauliflower or broccoli weren’t moving the needle anymore, since we know that cruciferous vegetables are loaded with powerful alkaloids, especially glucosinolates, that have been shown to fight cancer, neutralize damaging free radicals with their antioxidant properties, reduce inflammation, improve detoxification and more. And yet patients were actually reacting negatively to using these plants as medicine. 

Eventually, Zach and his colleagues were given a 90 page white paper on soil science, explaining that large carbon molecules in our soil looked shockingly similar to the chemotherapy he used to create in his lab. At that moment he realized that there is a deeper medicine within our soils that extends far beyond the health of our vegetables. 

When living organisms in our microbiome – bacteria, fungi, protozoa – consume nutrients, they produce small carbon molecules as byproducts. Each species of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, etc., makes a different subset of these carbon molecules, which Zach lovingly refers to as “carbon snowflakes”. When these carbon molecules, or snowflakes, are suspended in a living  water system, they are able to pass information along a wireless network in our bodies, similar to how our cell phones function in our modern society. 

The other big breakthrough that was happening simultaneously was Zach’s realization that the gut microbiome was mapping to disease. As we lose biodiversity and specific strains of bacteria go extinct, we start experiencing things like depression, autoimmune conditions, and cancers, depending on the bacteria that we no longer have in our guts. 

We’re finding that the very same carbon molecules that are the communication network from fossil soils have an incredible capacity to carry nutrients to distant parts of your body. Therefore, our sledgehammer approach to dietary supplements that consists of megadosing things like vitamin D and magnesium doesn’t actually work if we lack microbiome diversity (and carbon molecules) and, therefore, can’t absorb these nutrients. In order to increase absorption, small amounts of nutrients can be suspended within liquid from an ancient soil system which leads to a 3,000x increase in nutrient delivery throughout the body. In other words, our dis-ease is largely a starvation of minerals and nutrients at the cellular level that began when we broke our gut microbiome’s ability to deliver them properly. By simply reintroducing ancient soil systems to our bodies, we see enhanced metabolism, improved nutrient delivery and the fiber optic cables connecting cells start to light up. 

The last extinction was actually caused by a death of topsoils, meaning that WE are the existential threat here, not an asteroid or something beyond us. This is because extinction will always map to the biodiversity that’s allowed to exist in our soil and water. Today, we are killing biodiversity through the chemical agriculture of our world (mainly glyphosate). Fortunately, scientists have discovered that ancient soils do in fact have the impressive ability to heal our ecosystems from extensive glyphosate damage more rapidly and effectively than we ever imagined. 

What Are Ancient Soils and How do We Find Them?

Soil systems are compressed over time to eventually become coal. If we leave the humus – the top living layer of the soil system – it will pack down to create an ore called lignite, which is where we get these precious carbon molecules, or snowflakes, from. Lignite pockets are 60-80 million years old (!) and possess an extremely high diversity of these small carbon molecules that Zach and his team at ION turned into a fantastic microbiome supplement. This revolutionary approach to improving diversity in our microbiomes also delivers nutrients in a way our bodies innately understand. Therefore taking ION is truly like experiencing 60 million year old biodiversity that hasn’t recurred on our planet since. 

How to Reconnect With and Improve the Soils in Your Environment

  • Attend garden clubs that teach you about the unique ecosystem in your backyard
  • Remove invasive plants that reduce species biodiversity (like Kentucky bluegrass) from your yard whenever possible and replace them with native plants
  • Plant a diverse food forest that you can cook and eat from
  • Shop at farmers markets, or, better yet, support a local CSA 
  • Volunteer at your community garden
  • Encourage your communities to start building gardens back into our cityscapes 

How to Enhance Your Microbiome With Lifestyle Choices

Much of the microbiology that ends up in your body isn’t coming from your food. Rather, it’s coming from breathing in and touching nature. The more you touch and breathe in different environments, the more you expose your body to different microbial communities in the soil, air and your surroundings. So it makes sense that venturing into new spaces and places, even if they are human-made, introduces new beneficial microbes to your body, enriching the diversity of your microbiome.

More than anything, though, it’s about shifting your mindset around your daily habits. Most of us are locked into a pattern or a routine at this point in our lives. But the more that you can do things slightly differently than you normally would, the more diverse and resilient your microbiome will be. So start to think creatively about how you can alter your environment a little bit each day. These small changes can look like:

  • Commuting a different way to/from work than you normally do
  • Trying out a new coffee shop than your regular morning spot 
  • Walking on a new path/route/trail
  • Setting your toothbrush in a new spot in your bathroom
  • Eating a new fruit or vegetable
  • Shopping at a different grocery store each week
  • Hanging out with new friends 
  • Riding your bike instead of taking your car
  • Sitting at a different chair at the table
  • Hugging someone

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