Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease
(The Soil and Health)

by Sir Albert Howard C.I.E., M.A.

Chapter 11
The Nature of Disease

In the four preceding chapters the diseases of the soil, the crop, the animal, and mankind have been discussed, and my observations and reflections on these matters have been recorded. This recital is of necessity somewhat fragmentary, because such a mass of apparently unrelated detail has had to be described. At least one question will occur to the reader at this point: Is there any underlying cause for all this disease? If the birthright of every plant, animal, and human being is health, surely all these examples of disease must have something in common. It has been suggested throughout these chapters that much of this disease is due to farming and gardening methods which are inadmissible. If this is so, how do these mistakes in practice operate?

For many years I have been on the look-out for some guiding principle which would explain matters and feel convinced that I have at last found it in the writings of a distinguished investigator of human diseases -- Mr. J. E. R. McDonagh, whose work is not very widely known, due perhaps to the fact that an attempt has been made by the author to convey a too complete scientific picture of a very difficult and very intricate subject. I have therefore asked Mr. McDonagh to set out in the simplest possible language the gist of his results on the nature and causation of disease which are discussed in full in his The Universe Through Medicine and other writings. He has very kindly done so in the following note dated 8th September 1944:

"The Nature of Disease. Every body in the universe is a condensation product of activity. Every body pulsates, that is to say it undergoes alternate expansion and contraction. The rhythm is actuated by climate. Protein in the sap of plants and in the blood of animals is such a body, and it is also the matrix of the structures in the former, and of the organs and tissues in the latter. If the sap in plants does not obtain from the soil the quality nourishment it requires, the protein over-expands. This overexpansion renders the action of climate an invader, that is to say climate, instead of regulating the pulsation, adds to the expansion. The overexpansion results in a portion of the protein being broken off, and this broken-off piece is a virus. The virus, therefore, is formed within, and does not come from without, but protein damaged in one plant can carry on the damage if conveyed to other plants. The protein in the blood of animals and man suffers the same damage if it fails to obtain the quality food it needs. In animals and man a third factor enters, and that is an invasive activity of the micro-organisms resident in the intestinal tract. This activity causes still further expansion, and the tissue and organ damaged is the one which originates from that part of the protein which is made to undergo the abnormal chemico-physical change, hence there is naturally only one disease, and this is regulated by the damage suffered by the protein wherein the host's resistance lies. As a result of the micro-organisms in the intestinal tract having played an invasive role for so long, they have in addition given rise to micro-organisms which can invade from without, but from these few remarks you will see that microorganisms do not play the causative role in disease with which they are usually credited."

According to this view of disease, the heart of the subject must reside in the proteins. If these are properly synthesized in the plant, their disease- resisting powers first protect the crop and are afterwards duly handed on to the animal and to man. If, therefore, we see to it in our farming and gardening that the effective circulation of protein from soil to plant, and then to livestock and mankind is maintained, we shall prevent most of the departures from health -- that is to say, disease -- except those due to accidents or to abnormal climatic conditions.

Extremes of climate, by tending to damage the proteins, remain as factors in the causation of disease. We cannot always completely control the climate. For this reason it will be impossible to prevent all disease. We can only reduce its amount and soften, as it were, its incidence.

But in one important direction we can do much to control climate -- in the effective regulation of the pore spaces of the soil -- where those portions of the plant occur which are least protected -- the root hairs and absorbing areas of the root. By maintaining the water and air supplies of these internal portions of the soil -- the pore spaces -- and also by providing the soil population there with constant supplies of humus of the best quality, we can do much to give this important section of the machinery of our crops ideal climatic conditions. Both the root hairs and the mycorrhizal association can then function effectively. The soil population will also thrive. There will be abundant material for repairing the compound particles: so soil erosion will become impossible. The microbial life of the soil will remain aerobic, so the formation of alkali soils will not occur.

In the case of livestock and mankind the extremes of climate can, of course, be mitigated by the provision of fresh food from fertile soil and by providing warmth and shelter. All this will help the proteins to carry out their duties in resisting the onslaught of all kinds of invaders and in the prevention of virus diseases.

The synthesis of proteins in Nature is intimately bound up with the nitrogen cycle. The proteins made in the green leaf represent the last phase in this nitrogen cycle between soil and plant. When these proteins are manufactured from freshly prepared humus and its derivatives, all goes well; the plant resists disease and the variety is, to all intents and purposes, eternal. But the moment we introduce a substitute phase in the nitrogen cycle by means of artificial manures like sulphate of ammonia, trouble begins which invariably ends with some outbreak of disease and by the running out of the variety.

A simple explanation of the relation of soil fertility to health is thus provided. All my own experiences and observations fall into line with this principle. The cure, by growing the affected plants in freshly prepared compost, of virus troubles in crops like strawberries, raspberries, tobacco, and sugar-cane, is explained. Imperfectly synthesized protein is then replaced by normal protein.

In all future studies of disease we must, therefore, always begin with the soil. This must be got into good heart first of all and then the reaction of the soil, the plant, animal, and man observed. Many diseases will then automatically disappear. Only the residue will provide the raw material for the studies of the diseases of to-morrow.

Soil fertility is the basis of the public health system of the future and of the efficiency of our greatest possession -- ourselves.

How the vast amount of humus needed to get the soil of the British Empire into real shape can be prepared and used will be dealt with in the third section of this book.

Next: 12. Origins and Scope of the Problem

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