Yesterday’s post began a series on potassium deficiency.

You may wish to read it before continuing with today’s entry which contrasts the experience of a South American tribe with agribusiness and medicine.

This series is inspired and based on the late Joe Vialls’s article on potassium deficiency, which affects most of us. Emphases mine below.

The Yanomami tribe in South America

Vialls read about the Yanomami tribe who live along the Orinoco River, which runs through Venezuela and Colombia.

It should be noted that the Wikipedia entry on Yanomaman languages states:

Yanomami is not what the Yanomami call themselves (an autonym), but rather it is a word in their language meaning “man” or “human being”. The American anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon adopted this term to use as an exonym to refer to the culture and, by extension, the people.

But, as we have no other term available, we shall refer to them as Yanomami.

Back to Vialls. He rightly noted that by the early 20th century, the blood pressure of Americans was beginning to rise. By contrast, in the latter part of the century, the Yanomami had much lower blood pressure because they were living closer to undisturbed nature and could get all the nutrients they required — especially potassium.

In fact, anyone living close to the land in an ancient way would have access to potassium, unlike those in industrialised cultures (emphases mine):

Learned doctors published papers on the ‘potassium-sodium balance needed by all humans’, when a quick field trip to almost any Indian Reservation would have reversed their absurd findings in seconds. More and more sodium found its way into every kind of food imaginable, and blood pressures started to rise sharply. By the nineteen-forties, relatively new diseases such as arthritis, hypertension and angina started to climb through the roof, to be met with a veritable shock wave of expensive ‘patent medicines’ to help with the new ‘disease’ problems.

On the Yanomami:

Despite the Yanomami’s overall levels of sodium being incredibly low, researchers who examined more than 10,000 of these cheerful people found that there was a direct correlation between marginally increased sodium intake and increased blood pressure. “… a highly significant statistical relationship was observed between sodium excretion and systolic blood pressure for the 10,079 participants. The higher the urinary sodium excretion [and, therefore, the sodium intake], the higher the blood pressure.”

The reader should remember that for the Yanomami Indians, normal blood pressure averages out at 95/60 and does not increase with age. Try comparing this with the AMA western ‘normal’ blood pressure of 120/80, which then goes up in incremental steps as you ingest more sodium and lose more potassium while getting older. Of course, the medical apologists will claim this is because we are more civilized, have evolved, and are thus ‘different’, but rest assured this is pathetic rubbish.

The only significant difference between the Yanomami and Americans or Australians, is that the Yanomami are stuffed full of healthy potassium, while we are stuffed full of toxic sodium.

There is also a link between potassium intake and weight:

The researchers also noted that another benefit for the Yanomami related to their lack of obesity. “Adults of industrialized populations have an increase in weight with age. The Yanomami Indians did not increase their weight with age.” Short, but to the point. Somebody remind me to add “obesity” to my shopping list of potassium deficiency-related ailments.

Potassium deficiency has been linked to water retention and weight gain.

Vialls’s graphic tells us the rest we need to know about the Yanomami:

Note that the caption mentions ‘slash and burn’ farming with the resulting ash adding potassium to the soil and water.


Today, burning fields is becoming outmoded in parts of the West. Africa’s Farm Radio has a transcript of an interview which presents both sides. Interestingly, it ends with an agricultural researcher who condemns this practice, making her argument the more powerful:

I feel that today, this practice of burning crop residues and grass should not be encouraged. The nutrients that are released after burning are usually washed away or leached by rain, or eroded by wind. Soil declines in productivity after burning because its nutrients are depleted. Because of this, the ancient farmers who practiced slash and burn had to leave the land for five to 25, even up to 40 years before they could farm the land again. This is impossible today because of population growth, which leaves no time for land to lay idle to regain fertility.


Spreading residues in the field stops weeds by a combination of shading and smothering. The residues also stop the sun from drying out the ground. This keeps water in the soil so it’s available for crops. Farmers can make holes in the residue layer and plant their crops. Or they can simply spread organic mulch by hand around plants after they emerge. The crops get nutrients from the decaying leaves. The trees’ roots absorb the excess nutrients which are returned to the ground when the trees are pruned.

And, of course:

burning residues and grass releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.

That leads to the host’s conclusion:

Though ash is a natural product that contributes positively, we should be cautious when using it. This is just like snake poison. Snake poison is natural, but can we use it to kill bugs on our farm? …

I urge you to follow the advice we have heard from the researcher if we want to experience great results as farmers.

I’m somewhat suspicious of that line of reasoning. Everyone used to burn their fields. The Yanomami still do.

If anyone reading this has farming experience and can shed light on the subject, please feel free to comment.

The medical establishment and potassium supplements

Vialls’s article states that in the 20th century, the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies realised that heart patients were potassium deficient.

However, what could have been resolved simply and cheaply turned into big business:

In fact these treatments were entirely successful, but the use of a basic mineral that could not be patented by the pharmaceutical companies was frowned on, and medical research grants in this field mysteriously started to dry up. By the late sixties such research has been suppressed, as you can see from the [limited] general references provided at the bottom of this page.

Big Pharma increasingly became a benefactor of medical schools, which has also had a profound and lasting effect on what doctors learn and the way they think:

The pharmaceutical multinationals were by now exerting increasing pressure on the medical fraternity, providing all kinds of ‘assistance’ during their university training, with copious quantities of fancy-sounding scholarships and research grants. Both were vital in helping to get medical doctors to “see things the right way”, meaning of course that profitable drugs were the answer to all ills. As more doctors peddled more drugs to their patients, pharmaceutical corporate profits rose sharply, allowing perks for the doctors to be extended to include ‘training seminars’ at luxury hotels and golf complexes, along with other varied forms of discreet bribery.

By the seventies, all meaningful references to serious mineral deficiencies had been removed from the curriculum, with medical students taught that patients could obtain all the minerals they needed from a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, although their university tutors knew this was a complete lie. Deficiencies manifesting as cramps, arthritis, osteoporosis, hypertension, angina and strokes etc, became ‘diseases’ that could be treated by a truly dazzling array of brightly colored and highly profitable pharmaceutical drugs.

It was all a terrible illusion of course, but the show had to go on. As toxic sodium increasingly overwhelmed healthy potassium, the resulting potassium deficiency caused hardening of the cardio vascular system, and ‘essential hypertension’ [high blood pressure of ‘unknown’ origin] became the order of the day. Incidences of angina, stroke and heart attack increased dramatically, as did stress, with the latter feeding on the former. Because of a lack of space, this report will only cover the effects of potassium deficiency on the cardio-vascular system. Other directly related horrors such as arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes etc. will have to wait for another day.

Tomorrow: Joe Vialls’s experience — don’t try this at home