Gaia’s Body: Gut Soil Connection
As a gardener, I have known for many years the importance of good soil for a healthy and productive garden. In the garden the health of the soil is dependent on what nutrients the gardener feeds the soil microbiome; these are the cells of the organisms inhabiting the soil. When I studied horticulture in the mid-90s, I was taught to add fertiliser, not always organic, to the soil every year prior to planting and dig it in. To support the growth of the plants, I was directed to feed the plants weekly with a liquid fertiliser like fish emulsion or a seaweed solution. To keep competing weeds, pests and diseases away, I learnt how to use synthetic and polluting herbicides, fungicides and pesticides.
There was hardly, if any, teachings on the highly specialised and beneficial microbiotic life forms which give form and life to the entire eco-system that makes up a garden. It wasn’t until I studied permaculture that I acquired a deep understanding and appreciation of the diversity of organisms interacting with each other to create each specialised system, interlocking in a symbiotic relationship to give life to this planet, including human beings.
In horticulture I learned how to keep the garden externally focused for its nutrients and to kill whatever life form competed with the plants for space and food or destroyed plants in their effort to feed themselves. Permaculture enlightened me to the specialised role very organism has within the eco-system as a whole and to see myself as an element functioning within the system and not separate to it. I struggled with my garden despite my training in horticulture and even though I love growing food and being in my garden, I felt as tired as my garden looked. Until I began to address the soil as a living diverse system of micro-organisms which deserves my respect and protection, the soil in my garden was dead, water repellent and nutrient deficient.
“It’s not the soil itself – it’s the soil life that is the most important element” Geoff Lawton.
I realised during my studies in living food nutrition and gut health that the similarities between the Earth’s soil and the human gut are profound. Both the soil and the gut are dependent on microbiota for health and life. This means that the organisms supported by the soil and the gut, are also dependent on the microbiota for health and vitality. That’s right, the human body like plants is completely dependent on micro-organisms, like bacteria, for life. It is said that bacteria cells out number human cells 10-1 and are responsible for all the functionality of the human body. The friendly bacteria make it possible for us to digest and absorb nutrients, they line our respiratory tract and filter the air we inhale for impurities. They protect our skin from the environment and assist in producing all the vitamins our body needs. These friendly bacteria also assist brain function through detoxification and the production of neuro transmitters like serotonin. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, who is more intelligent? Is it the human or the bacteria? Herbalist and author, Stephen H Buhner, says that bacteria are more intelligent and sophisticated than humans. Without them we would die.
Soil is alive when its microbiome is diverse, healthy and strong and it achieves this status naturally through the decomposition of organic matter by worms, fungi, slaters and a variety of other organisms. Many of these organisms rely on the plants to make carbon through photosynthesis and feed them through extradites from the plants roots. In return for this carbon exchange the biota gift the plants with minerals. All the organisms in the eco-system from bacteria, fungi, protozoans, nematodes, to the larger organisms like worms and insects up to the large mammals, benefit from this carbon exchange. The eco-system is a wonderful world of biodiversity where organisms are working and living in harmonic symbiosis with each other to bring about a meaningful experience; the experience of life.
It is clear to see that the human gut is the soil of the body from where the body draws its nutrients. This is why we need to ensure that we are feeding the friendly bacteria in our gut with as much fresh living plant based foods as possible. Their reward to us is a healthy and vibrant body.