Last week I mentioned the late Joe Vialls and his investigations.

I don’t agree with everything Vialls wrote, but he looked at every aspect of a topic. His research into health matters was spot on.

One of his articles concerns potassium deficiency, which I’ll write about this week. At the end of that article are ‘Verbatim Unabridged extracts from the 74th Congress 2nd Session, Senate Document #264, 1936’.

The contents of this came from a popular American magazine of the day, Cosmopolitan, a very different iteration of the current title.

‘Dr Z’ of the eponymous medical reports says in ‘Senate Document #264 debunked’ what you will read below is rubbish. It was heartening to see that so many of his readers took exception to what he wrote.

Dr Z did a poor job of debunking. One of the glaring errors was not even bothering to look up Cosmopolitan in a search engine.

Dr Z says, rather irresponsibly:

these are verbatim unabridged extracts of an article from Cosmopolitan magazine in 1936 and probably have about even less scientific credibility as an article from Cosmo would have today.

Had he done a few minutes of research, he would have read that Helen Gurley Brown launched the current Cosmo in 1965. He looks old enough to have known that.

Since its inception in 1886 The Cosmopolitan was, for years, a family-friendly magazine with investigative journalism, short stories and fashion spreads. In the 1950s, it was transformed into a literary magazine and, finally, a decade later, became the single women’s publication we recognise today.

What Dr Z does provide, albeit dismissively, is useful information as to how the extracts from The Cosmopolitan‘s article came to appear in a Senate document:

It’s not research, it wasn’t commissioned by and had absolutely nothing to do with the government other than the fact that Senator Duncan Fletcher, Democrat of Florida, asked that it be put into the Congressional Record (two weeks before his death of a heart attack at the age of 77).

This is the original document, still on the US Senate website. The title page says that it was presented by Fletcher. It is a reprint of Rex Beach’s article about the work of Dr Charles Northen, a physician who went into soil replenishment to better nourish man and beast. He was based in Orlando, Florida, and could have been resident in Fletcher’s constituency. The article says that Northen was considered

the most valuable man in the State.

Poor soil = poor nutrition

The Depression produced hardship, however, as Beach revealed, Northen found it relatively inexpensive to replenish soil with missing minerals necessary for health.

Also, whilst we today wonder how our forebears of the 19th century survived without calling the doctor except in a severe emergency, food had much more nutritional value to it in those days.

Excerpts and a summary of Beach’s article follow. If you prefer a version other than the PDF, an alternative format is here. I’ve added sub-headings for easier navigation. Emphases in bold below are mine.

Food poor and more needed

Do you know that most of us today are suffering from certain dangerous diet deficiencies which cannot be remedied until the depleted soils from which our foods come are brought into proper mineral balance?

The alarming fact is that foods — fruit and vegetables and grains — now being raised on millions of acres of land no longer contain enough of certain needed minerals, are starving us — no matter how much of them we eat!

This talk about minerals is novel and quite startling. In fact, a realization of the importance of minerals in food is so new that the textbooks on nutritional dietetics contain very little about it. Nevertheless it is something that concerns all of us, and the further we delve into it the more startling it becomes.

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. Laboratory tests prove that the fruits, the vegetables, the grains, the eggs and even the milk and the meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago. (Which doubtless explains why our forefathers [and foremothers] thrived on a selection of foods that would starve us!) No one of today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply their system with the mineral salts they require for perfect health, because their stomach isn’t big enough to hold them! And we are running to big stomachs.

No longer does a balanced and fully nourishing diet consist merely of so many calories or certain vitamins or a fixed proportion of starches, proteins, and carbohydrates. We now know that it must contain, in addition, something like a score of mineral salts.

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. Any upset of the balance, any considerable lack of one or another element, however microscopic the body requirement may be, and we sicken, suffer, shorten our lives.

Northen ridiculed

Following a wide experience in general practice, Dr. Northen specialized in stomach diseases and nutritional disorder. Later, he moved to New York and made extensive studies along this line, in conjunction with a famous French scientist from Sorbonne. In the course of that work he convinced himself that there was little authentic, definite information on the chemistry of foods, and that no dependence could be placed on existing data.

He asked himself how foods could be used intelligently in the treatment of disease, when they differed so widely in content. The answer seemed to be that they could not be used intelligently. In establishing the fact that serious deficiencies existed and in searching out the reasons therefore, he made an extensive study of the soil. It was he who first voiced the surprising assertion that we must make soil building the basis of food building in order to accomplish human building.

“Bear in mind,” says Dr. Northen, “that minerals are vital to human metabolism and health–and that no plant or animal can appropriate to itself any mineral which is not present in the soil upon which it feeds.

When I first made this statement I was ridiculed, for up to that time people had paid little attention to food deficiencies and even less to soil deficiencies. Men eminent in medicine denied there was any such thing as vegetables and fruits that did not contain sufficient minerals for human needs. Eminent agricultural authorities insisted that all soil contained all necessary minerals. They reasoned that plants take what they need, and that it is the function of the human body to appropriate what it requires. Failure to do so, they said, was a symptom of disorder.

“Some of our respected authorities even claimed that the so-called secondary minerals played no part whatever in human health. It is only recently that such men as Dr. McCollum of Johns Hopkins, Dr. Mendel of Yale, Dr. Sherman of Columbia, Dr. Lipman of Rutgers, and Drs. H.G. Knight and Oswald Schreiner of the United States Department of Agriculture have agreed that these minerals are essential to plant, animal, and human feeding.

“We know that vitamins are complex substances which are indispensable to nutrition, and that each of them is of importance for the normal function of some special structure in the body. Disorder and disease result from any vitamin deficiency.

“It is not commonly realized, however, that vitamins control the body’s appropriation of minerals, and in the absence of minerals they have no function to perform. Lacking vitamins, the system can make some use of minerals, but lacking minerals, vitamins are useless.”

What mineral deficiency means

“The truth is that our foods vary enormously in value, and some of them aren’t worth eating, as food. For example, vegetation grown in one part of the country may assay 1,100 parts, per billion, of iodine, as against 20 in that grown elsewhere. Processed milk has run anywhere from 362 parts, per million, of iodine and 127 of iron, down to nothing.

“Some of or lands, even 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.

The more I studied nutritional problems and the effects of mineral deficiencies upon disease, the more plainly I saw that here lay the most direct approach to better health, and the more important it became in my mind to find a method of restoring those missing minerals to our foods.

“The subject interested me so profoundly that I retired from active medical practice and for a good many years now I have devoted myself to it. It’s a fascinating subject, for it goes to the heart of human betterment.”

The results obtained by Dr. Northen are outstanding. By putting back into foods the stuff that foods are made of, he has proved himself to be a real miracle man of medicine, for he has opened up the shortest and most rational route to better health.

He showed first that it should be done, and then that it could be done. He doubled and redoubled the natural mineral content of fruits and vegetables. He improved the quality of milk by increasing the iron and the iodine in it.He caused hens to lay eggs richer in the vital elements.

By scientific soil feeding, he raised better seed potatoes in Maine, better grapes in California, Better oranges in Florida, and better field crops in other States. (By “better” is meant not only an improvement in food value but also an increase in quantity and quality.)

Before going further into the results he has obtained, let’s see just what is involved in this matter of “mineral deficiencies”, what it may mean to our health, and how it may effect the growth and development, both mental and physical, of our children.

We know that rats, guinea pigs, and other animals can be fed into a diseased condition and out again by controlling only the minerals in their food.

A 10-year test with rats proved that by withholding calcium they can be bred down to a third the size of those fed with an adequate amount of that mineral. Their intelligence, too, can be controlled by mineral feeding as readily as can their size, their bony structure, and their general health.

Place a number of these little animals inside a maze after starving some of them in a certain mineral element. The starved ones will be unable to find their way out, whereas the others will have little or no difficulty in getting out. Their dispositions can be altered by mineral feeding. They can be made quarrelsome and belligerent; they can even be turned into cannibals and be made to devour each other.

A cage full 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.

Many backward children are “stupid” merely because they are deficient in magnesia. We punish them for OUR failure to feed them properly.

Certainly our physical well-being is more directly dependent upon the minerals we take into our systems than upon the calories or vitamins or upon the precise proportions of starch, protein, or carbohydrates we consume.

It is now agreed that at least 16 mineral elements are indispensable for normal nutrition, and several more are always found in small amounts in the body, although their precise physiological role has not been determined. Of the 11 indispensable salts, calcium, phosphorous, and iron are perhaps the most important.

Regional statistics from the 1930s

The article goes on to list some of the mineral deficiencies around the United States in the 1930s, which I shall summarise below:

  • Calcium is essential for proper nerve and cell functions. Yet, a Columbia University study showed that 50% of Americans were calcium ‘starved’. A study of patients in a New York hospital showed that, out of 4,000, only 2 had adequate calcium in their bodies.
  • A city in the Midwest had calcium-poor soil. Of 300 children examined, 90% had bad teeth. Sixty-nine per cent had nose and throat problems, swollen glands and either enlarged or diseased tonsils. Over a third had poor eyesight, joint problems and anaemia.
  • Calcium and phosphorus need to be consumed together for either to work properly. Children require the same amount as adults. Adequate phosphates in the bloodstream prevent tooth decay. Livestock died when one or the other mineral was deficient in the soil they grazed on.
  • Our blood requires iron, yet our bodies cannot process it unless we have adequate amounts of copper. Florida’s cattle were dying of ‘salt sickness’. When the soil of their pastures was examined, it lacked iron and copper. As the grass they consumed lacked these elements, there was no way anyone eating the beef of the surviving cattle could obtain these necessary nutrients.
  • A lack of iodine disrupts thyroid function and can cause goiters. Humans only need a tiny amount each day — fourteen-thousandths of a milligram — yet the Great Lakes region was a ‘goiter belt’ and pockets of the Northwest showed severe iodine deficiencies.

Then, as now, medical specialists giving vitamin and mineral supplements to people seemed to be the way forward. Ironically, we need only trace amounts a day yet cannot manage to get that. However, the body best absorbs these when they are present in food rather than tablets, capsules or liquids. This is because they are colloidal — in fine suspension — when present in food and easily absorbed into the body.

Tomorrow: Why the medical establishment didn’t — doesn’t? — care

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