By Dr. Mercola
You may have at one time or other noticed a small, painless bump under your skin, possibly behind your ear or on your chest, shoulders or back. Many people refer to these as sebaceous cysts, but they may be a more common variety called epidermoid. Generally speaking, there are three types of skin cysts:
- Epidermoid cysts occur when surface skin cells form a fluid-filled sac. They’re generally slow growing, harmless and measure 1 to 5 centimeters across. They aren’t painful unless infection sets in, at which point it turns into an unsightly abscess.
- Pilar cysts form when the lining of the bump is composed of cells like hair roots, appear most often on the hair follicles of your scalp, and may catch when you comb your hair.
- Sebaceous cysts, which are much less common, contain oil while regular skin cysts don’t.
A splinter or small cut, sunburn, waxing and shaving, swollen hair follicles, increased skin sebum and acne can cause cysts. Picking them or subjecting them to chafing (such as a bra strap) can aggravate the problem, making them even more uncomfortable and potentially causing infection.
If you have a cyst, most doctors agree that doing nothing is actually better than doing something, as WebMD notes:1
“You might be tempted to try to pop and drain an epidermoid cyst on your own, but this isn't a good idea. First, if the cyst is infected, the infection could spread if the cyst ruptures and drains beneath the skin.
Second, if any of the cyst’s sac is left behind, it could grow back. If the cyst doesn't bother you, it’s fine to leave it alone. If it seems to be infected, is uncomfortable, or you don't like the way it looks, it’s best to have it checked by a doctor.”
If it’s on your face or in an area that’s constantly irritated, a doctor may lance it off. Surgical cyst removal may entail a local anesthesia and removal of the entire sac; otherwise, it may reappear.2 A deep infection may be packed with sterile gauze so it continues to drain.
Blocked sweat glands (hidradenitis suppurativa or HS) may appear as painful, pimple-like bumps. Surgical removal may work for a short time, but the glands may become blocked again and the bumps return. WebMD explains:
“Laser therapy and cryosurgery are promising treatments for HS. They use beams of light or cold gases to destroy the hair follicles that get infected, and remove HS bumps. Some people’s breakouts clear up after a few treatments.”3
What are epidermal or cutaneous cysts made of? According to Medical News Daily:4
“Both epidermoid and pilar cysts are filled with a substance that is like toothpaste in consistency, and cheesy and smelly. However, the substance is not — except for complicated cysts — infected by microbes like bacteria. The pus smells worse when it is infected.”
Gross, right? But experts say nearly everyone gets at least one of these in their lifetime, usually during their 20s and 30s. However, cysts are nearly twice as common in men than in women, according to U.K.-based Patient.5 Most of these cysts go away on their own.
Scientists don’t know why every type of cyst occurs, although they believe it may have something to do with genetics. Case in point: A genetic disorder known as Gardner’s syndrome causes multiple skin cysts.
Sebeceous Cysts Are Different
Sebaceous cysts, on the other hand, appear when the sebaceous gland is blocked by the fibrous protein keratin,6 which is the makeup of hair, as well as hooves, claws and horns.7 Mirriam-Webster describes “sebaceous” as “secreting sebum,” relating to fatty material.
The cysts contain oil from the sebaceous glands surrounding the base of normal hairs. They contain a clear, oily liquid, have a pungent smell and can appear anywhere on your body except for your palms or soles of your feet. On your skin, sebaceous cysts may show redness and soreness, indicating a minor infection.
Boils and abscesses are similar, but sebaceous cysts are not as large and are not inherently cancerous.
Faruncles, Carbuncles and Boils, Oh My!
A boil is a common condition that may begin as a small lump that becomes red and slightly painful, then fills with pus. Carbuncles are more prevalent in men, deeper than boils and take longer to heal. Up To Date8 describes variations:
“A furuncle (or ‘boil’) is an infection of the hair follicle in which purulent material extends through the dermis into the subcutaneous tissue, where a small abscess forms. A carbuncle is a coalescence of several inflamed follicles into a single inflammatory mass with purulent drainage from multiple follicles.”
Similar eruptions are more specific:
- Folliculitis is an infection caused by an inflamed hair follicle. It may look like tiny pimples around individual hairs, with reddened skin. Not as deep as a boil, it’s still an infection, and a gateway, of sorts, for staph to enter.
- Boils and abscesses in your groin or armpit areas may be hidradenitis suppurativa, which typically starts in blocked sweat glands and hair follicles.
- A pilonidal abscess occurs just above the crease of your buttocks and may involve a hair follicle. The “pilonidal dimple” some babies are born with may create a place for this type of boil to form.
- A sty on the eyelid is usually a puffy, painful infection when an eyelash becomes infected. Styes are sometimes confused with a chalazion, which is painless and not infected.
- Rose gardener’s disease caused by a fungus is called Sporothrix schenckii.9 Small cuts from handling vegetation eventually form a small nodule on your finger or arm that turns into an ulcer.
Other skin conditions can develop in people with skin or nasal Staphylococcus aureus without causing problems, but infection can come about via community-acquired methicillin-resistant S. aureus (CA-MRSA) and occur more often than abscesses due to other bacteria.
If a staph infection causes a boil, it can spread easily, so skin-to-skin contact should be avoided, and do not share towels, bedding or articles like yoga mats. Keep the boil covered and wash your hands frequently.
Boils are usually treatable at home unless they’re in a vulnerable area or a place you can’t easily get to. While usually smaller than a pea, they can become golf-ball-sized.
If you experience something similar and start feeling tired, feverish or generally unwell, you may want to call your doctor. In an article listing such skin problems, WebMD notes:
“Rarely, the staph bacteria from a boil or carbuncle can get into the bloodstream, which can then affect the heart and other internal organs.”10
Nutritional Deficiencies That Show Up on the Skin
Diabetes and a weakened immune system may exacerbate boils of different types. Nutrient deficiencies sometimes reveal themselves through skin problems and potentially cause cysts, such as:
• A red, scaly rash, particularly on your face, might indicate a vitamin B7, or biotin, deficiency. Organic, pastured egg yolks are one of the best sources of biotin to metabolize fats, amino acids and carbohydrates. Biotin strengthens your hair and nails and helps smooth out your skin.
Eating raw, pastured, organic eggs (both the white and the yolk) is an excellent way to combat this skin malady. Avocados, mushrooms, cauliflower, nuts, raspberries and wild-caught Alaskan salmon are more good biotin sources.
• Red or white bumps resembling acne may appear on your cheeks, arms, thighs or buttocks, revealing a possible need for more essential fatty acids in your diet, including animal-based omega-3 fats.
Eating sardines, anchovies, wild-caught Alaskan salmon and taking krill oil supplements will introduce more of these nutrients into your system. For more skin-enhancing vitamin A,11 eat more leafy green veggies, sweet potatoes, carrots and red bell peppers.
• Sores or cracks at the corners of your mouth may be a sign that you’re not getting adequate iron, zinc, B12 or protein in your diet. Again, organic, free-range poultry and eggs and wild-caught Alaskan salmon are good sources.
Assuming they’re derived from non-polluted waters, oysters and clams are another good way to get more of these vitamins and minerals into your diet, as well as Swiss chard, and tahini because of the sesame.
Home Remedies for Sebaceous Cysts, Boils and Other Skin Problems
At-home treatments for cysts start with keeping them clean — simple soap and water is best, rinsed well and air-dried, especially if a cyst is infected. Many natural topical treatments are very effective and may even cure the problem, such as:
- A warm, soothing compress a few times a day will stimulate your circulation and hasten the healing process.
- Epsom salt is an effective treatment when it’s put into your bath water for a 20-minute, allover soak, or just soak the infected area. Follow it up with one of the following treatments for a double whammy of healing.
- A combination of dandelion and viola herbs placed in an herbal bag and soaked in a teacup for 45 minutes can be squeezed lightly and applied directly to the cyst for several minutes, after which you can drink the tea, three or four times a day for up to two weeks.
Oils, creams and liquid remedies can be applied directly to the cyst, covered with a compress and secured with plastic tape for a few hours or overnight, which also serves to protect the cyst from germs. Repeat the process until the cyst is healed. These remedies include:
✓ Tea tree oil, which is both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, should be mixed with water at a 1:9 ratio
✓ A few drops of potassium iodide, applied two or three times daily to deal with infection
✓ Bee pollen, topical or in pill form, is a natural blood purifier and may be effective for skin cysts
✓ Colloidal silver may stimulate your lymph system and help heal cysts
✓ Castor oil helps bring the cyst to a head quickly, after which it will drain and shrink away
✓ Aloe vera is both pain relieving and healing, because it’s antimicrobial12
✓ Proanthocyanidins in witch hazel help reduce inflamed cold sores, canker sores and wounds13
✓ Raw manuka honey is a natural wound healer and has even destroyed MRSA
Turmeric is another anti-inflammatory healer, as is potassium iodide, according to one study:14
“ … Kills all types of germs, i.e., bacteria, viruses and fungi … (and) is preferred in treating boils, cysts and skin infections. Acne pustules are very responsive, the sebaceous duct discharging easily and permitting prompt healing without scar … Large furuncles, i.e., boils, are equally responsive although they take longer to resolve.
Sebaceous cysts soften within minutes of the application of iodide and the sebum plugged hair follicle usually opens so as to permit easy expression of the contents.”
When Would a Cyst Be Considered Dangerous?
While you may have a boil that looks like many others — painful, red, inflamed and maybe filled with pus — MRSA looks very similar. It’s different in that MRSA is a staph infection that’s often antibiotic resistant, which is why it’s dangerous. Check with your doctor if you’re not sure, as prompt treatment may prevent a more serious infection.
You may also want to call your doctor if the boil is large or painful, is on your spine or face, has red streaks coming from it, keeps coming back or won’t heal, becomes crusty, or bleeds easily.
The Age of Antibiotics Is Coming to an End, as Wider Variety of Bacteria Are Now Impervious
FDA Warns About Benzocaine — Do NOT Use This Pain Reliever... You Could Turn Blue and Die
By Dr. Mercola
As of 2012, up to 14 percent of the American population had type 2 diabetes, and as much as 38 percent were pre-diabetic. This suggests about HALF of all American adults are either pre-diabetic or diabetic.1,2
Recent research suggests one-third of normal-weight adults may also be pre-diabetic without knowing it.4 Children are also getting fatter and unhealthier.
According to recent research, 7 million children in the U.S. have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and close to one-third of these kids also have either pre-diabetes or diabetes.5
Great Britain has also seen a rapid rise in these conditions. In 2003, 11.6 percent of people in Great Britain were diagnosed with pre-diabetes. That number had tripled by 2011, reaching over 35 percent.
As noted by BBC News,6 "The world is facing an 'unrelenting march' of diabetes that now affects nearly 1 in 11 adults" worldwide. Statistics such as these point to two very important facts:
• Genetics cannot be a primary cause of diabetes
• Something we're consistently doing must be horribly wrong
In this case, that "something" is a combination of seriously flawed food choices, poor exposure to natural sunlight and lack of physical activity.
Optimal Sun Exposure Required for Health and Diabetes
You may have the perfect diet but if you have failed to optimize your exposure to the sun and assiduously avoid blue light from artificial sources, not just at night but all day, then you will likely be challenged to achieve high level health.
Why? It's a very complex explanation, but the end summary is that it helps to optimize your mitochondrial function.
Please also review my recent article on using indoor sunglasses to minimize your exposure to blue light from artificial lights. They only need to be used when the lights are on and you are indoors, even in the daytime. Most people think they are only for night time use but this is incorrect.
Additionally, establishing an optimal circadian rhythm is important, so going outside, ideally barefoot, shortly after waking up and close to sunrise, exposing your eyes to natural sunlight for 3 to 5 minutes, is an important health practice.
If you have a night job, please consider changing your job as it is seriously damaging your health. Additionally, it would be ideal to get one to three hours of unfiltered sunlight (not through a window or sunglasses) every day and expose as much skin as you can.
Understanding the Cause of Type 2 Diabetes
Conventional medicine has type 2 diabetes pegged as a problem with blood sugar rather than the underlying problem of improper insulin and leptin signaling.
The reality is that diabetes is a disease rooted in insulin resistance, and perhaps more importantly, a malfunction of leptin signaling, caused by chronically elevated insulin and leptin levels. This is why treating type 2 diabetes with insulin does not resolve the problem.
What's worse, this treatment actually exacerbates it, and can lead to the development of type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes — an autoimmune disease in which your immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of your pancreas, resulting in an inability to produce any significant insulin.
If left untreated, this condition will ultimately cause death from a hyperglycemic coma. Lifestyle choices are the best strategies to controlling your blood sugar, reducing your risk of diabetes and preventing secondary health problems from the condition.
Historically, the rise in diabetes was prompted by a flawed nutritional and exercise program initiated by the now-refuted Seven Countries Study.
The study, published in the 1950s by the sugar industry-funded researcher Ancel Keys, Ph.D., sparked an increase in the quantity of net carbohydrates recommended in your diet and a severe reduction in healthy fats. This imbalance affects your cellular resistance to the hormones insulin, leptin and ghrelin.
This cellular resistance is the real foundation to problems with diabetes — not high blood sugar, which is a symptom, not the cause.
Diabetics Need to Rigorously Avoid High-Carb Diets
Most of the food people eat these days is skewing their metabolism toward insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Most Americans are burning glucose as their primary fuel, which elevates blood sugar and promotes insulin resistance and inhibits your body's ability to access and burn body fat — hence, the connection between obesity and diabetes. Healthy fat, meanwhile, is a far preferable sort of fuel, as it burns far more efficiently than carbs.
The good news is that insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes can all be resolved through proper nutrition and exercise. One of the most important dietary recommendations is to limit net carbs (total carbohydrates minus fiber) and protein, replacing them with higher amounts of high quality healthy fats.
Most Americans consume harmful fats like industrially processed vegetable oils, which will invariably cause health problems.
So when we're talking about eating more fat, we're referring to natural, unprocessed fats found in real foods like seeds, nuts, butter, olives, avocado or coconut oil. Another good one is raw cacao — it's a phenomenal source of healthy saturated fats and many beneficial polyphenols.
One of the most efficient way to train your body to use fat for fuel is to remove sugars and starches from your diet.
The reason why low-net carb diets work so well for diabetics is because it helps you shift out of this nonfiber carb-based metabolism that depends on elevated insulin levels to drive blood sugar into cells and use carbs for fuel.
Diabetic? Track Your Net Carbs
The most important number to keep track of is your net carbs. This is calculated by subtracting the amount of fiber in grams from your daily total of carbohydrates in grams. The resulting number is your net carbs. A key way of preventing diabetes is to keep your net carbs below 50 grams per day.
The only way you'll know how many total carbs, fiber and net carbs you eat is to keep a food diary. The simplest way of doing this is to use an online nutrition tracker.
You need not do this forever, only as long as it takes for your body to remember how to burn fat as your primary fuel. This can be a few weeks to a few months. Once your body shifts, you can increase your healthy net carbs based on your activity level.
But be careful initially as you may be surprised at how quickly sandwich bread, pasta, soda, cookies and cakes add up — sometimes to over 350 grams per day. This high carb level increases your resistance to insulin and malfunction of leptin, increasing your risk of diabetes.
There are a number of trackers available, but my first choice is Cronometer.com/Mercola. That's my revision of the basic Cronometer tracker, and it's already set to default to calculate macronutrient levels based on a healthy high-fat, low-carb diet to get you into nutritional ketosis.
With these basic guidelines in place, following are nine "superfoods" for diabetics7 that you'd be wise to add to your diet on a regular basis.
1. Fatty Fish Low in Mercury
One of the most important foods for diabetes is seafood, as it provides the essential animal-based omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from a food source.
DHA is vitally important as it is the only fat we know of that allows your body to take advantage of the photoelectric effect, the one that Einstein received his Noble Prize for. It converts the photons from the sun into DC electric current (electrons), which help fuel your mitochondria.
Optimal levels of DHA are one of the most important nutritional interventions that you can choose to make. If you haven't already checked your omega-3 index test to confirm your levels are adequate, I would strongly encourage you to do so.
That said, as levels of pollution have increased, you have to be very choosy about which types of seafood you eat. Most major waterways in the world are contaminated with mercury, heavy metals, and chemicals like dioxins, PCBs and other agricultural chemicals. If you're not careful, the toxic effects from the pollutants in the fish will outweigh the benefits of the omega-3 fats. Here are some important factors to consider:
• Choose fatty fish from cold-water locations, as not all seafood is a good source of omega-3. Good choices include wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring and fish roe.
• Avoid farm-raised fish, as they can actually be more hazardous than wild in terms of their toxic content. For example, researchers warn that farmed salmon may be one of the most toxic foods in the world, thanks to toxins found in the feed. Levels of omega-3 fats may also be reduced by as much as 50 percent in farmed salmon, compared to wild salmon, due to the grains they're fed.
• To evaluate your mercury exposure from various seafood sources, check out the online mercury calculator at GotMercury.org.8 The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also has a seafood calculator9 that can help you identify fish that are high in omega-3 and low in pollutants.
Avocado (which is actually a fruit, not a vegetable) is a great source of healthy fat, fiber and about 20 different vitamins and minerals, including magnesium. As noted by Medical News Today:
"Eating foods that contain healthy fats may help increase fullness. Eating fat slows the digestion of carbohydrates, which helps to keep blood sugar levels more stable. Avocado is high in fiber too, with half a fruit containing 6 to 7 grams … Eating high-fiber foods can … improve weight loss, and make insulin more efficient. Spread avocado on toast in the morning instead of butter. Use avocado instead of mayonnaise in chicken or egg salad."
3. Seeds (Sunflower, Black Sesame, Black Cumin, Pumpkin and Chia)
Magnesium is a very important nutrient that many are deficient in. Lack of magnesium may raise your risk of insulin resistance, as it plays an important role in carbohydrate and glucose metabolism. Besides that, your body needs magnesium for more than 300 other biological and chemical processes, so make sure you're getting enough. As noted by Medical News Today:10
"For every 100 [milligram per day] mg/day increase in magnesium intake (up to a point), the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases by approximately 15 percent.11 Most magnesium intake in these studies was from dietary sources, not supplements. Clinical studies have shown improvement in insulin sensitivity with magnesium intake between 300 and 365 mg/day. Researchers were also able to show that low magnesium levels resulted in impaired insulin secretion and lower insulin sensitivity."
Some of the most magnesium-rich foods are seeds. Additionally, although most of us are overloaded on unhealthy industrially processed omega 6 oils, we clearly need some, and unprocessed seeds are a terrific source:
• Sunflower: One-quarter cup of sunflower seeds gives you 128 mg of magnesium.
• Black sesame: 1 ounce of sesame seeds contain about 101 mg of magnesium.
• Black cumin: Black cumin has a long history of medicinal use. Packed with antioxidants and immune-boosting components, black cumin has even been shown to have potent anti-cancer activity.12 Studies have also shown black cumin can help prevent both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In one study, black cumin (nigella sativa) improved glucose tolerance as efficiently as metformin.13
• Pumpkin: 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds will provide you with 74 mg of magnesium (about 25 percent of your recommended daily intake). Pumpkin seed butter can be made at home; simply blend whole, raw pumpkin seeds in a food processor until smooth.
• Chia: Besides magnesium, chia seeds are also a good source of healthy fats, fiber and antioxidants. Just 1 ounce of chia seeds provides 10 grams of fiber. Add them to smoothies and salads
Other foods high in magnesium14 include nuts (especially almonds and cashews) and dark leafy greens (especially boiled spinach, which provides 78 mg of magnesium per cup). Avocados also contain magnesium.
4. Fiber and Digestive-Resistant Carbs
Diabetics also need to mind their fiber intake. Research15 shows that people with high intakes of dietary fiber not only have a significantly lower risk of obesity and diabetes, but also a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and gastrointestinal ailments.
Importantly, higher fiber intake has been shown to improve glycemia, leptin and insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic and diabetic individuals alike. The best sources of fiber in your diet come from whole foods and include the following. Aim for about 50 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed.
✓ Chia seeds
✓ Root vegetables and tubers, such as onions and sweet potatoes
✓ Green beans
✓ Vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts
✓ Organic psyllium seed husk
✓ Freshly ground flaxseed meal. Never use pre-ground as it is oxidized and damaged
✓ Black beans
Digestive-resistant starches also help maintain a steady blood sugar level. This refers to low-viscous dietary fibers that resist digestion in the small intestine and slowly ferment in your large intestine.16 Here, resistant starches act as prebiotics, feeding healthy bacteria. Since they're indigestible, resistant starches do not result in blood sugar spikes. In fact, research suggests resistant starches help improve insulin regulation, reducing your risk of insulin resistance.17,18,19,20
Foods high in digestive-resistant starch include certain underripe fruits, specifically banana, papaya and mango, as well as white beans, lentils, seeds and products like potato starch, tapioca starch and brown rice flour. Interestingly, cooking a normally digestible starch such as potato or pasta and then cooling it in the refrigerator will alter the chemistry of the food, transforming more of it into resistant-type starch.21
Research shows higher nut consumption is associated with lower body weight, which is helpful for maintaining normal blood sugar levels.22 Walnuts, in particular, are a healthy choice for diabetics as they're high in fiber and healthy fats.
In one recent study,23 participants at increased risk of developing diabetes who added 2 ounces of walnuts to their daily diet for six months showed improvements in blood vessel wall (epithelial) function, and lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Walnuts are great for snacking when you might otherwise be tempted to reach for chips or crackers. You can easily make your own trail mix, combining walnuts, pumpkin seeds and raw cacao nibs, for example. They're also a great addition to salads.
Besides magnesium, spinach is also a superb source of potassium, low levels of which have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and diabetes complications. Cooked spinach provides 839 mg of potassium per cup. For comparison, one cup of banana — well-known as a potassium-rich food — contains 539 mg of potassium. One way to dramatically increase your spinach intake is to juice it. You can also add it to salad along with other mixed greens.
Fisetin, a substance found in strawberries, has been shown to prevent kidney and brain complications in diabetic mice.24 Human studies have also demonstrated that people who eat plenty of berries, such as strawberries and blueberries, have a lower risk of both diabetes, heart attacks and dementia — outcomes thought to be related to the anthocyanins (a class of flavonoids) found in red, blue and purple-colored berries.25
Studies have also linked the high vitamin C content of strawberries to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. One cup of fresh strawberries provides 160 percent of your daily need of vitamin C. They're a delicious addition to salad (spinach, walnut and strawberries make a tasty combination). You can also blend fresh or frozen strawberries into your smoothies. According to one such study:26
"Though diabetes is not traditionally considered a risk factor for vitamin C deficiency, patients with diabetes should all receive dietary advice about healthy eating and vitamin C dietary sources, including fresh fruits and vegetables. The recommended dietary intake of vitamin C is 45 mg per day for adults.
There are some data suggesting that people with diabetes may have increased cellular uptake and turnover of vitamin C that would necessitate increased intake, and they also have an increased risk of deficiency."
Research suggests ginger may help reduce fasting blood sugar in diabetics.27 Part of this effect relates to its anti-inflammatory capacity. Indeed, anti-inflammatory diets in general are helpful for the prevention of diabetes. Ginger is often used in cooking. For example, you can add fresh, grated ginger to sauces, marinades and dressing. Alternatively, drink a cup or two of ginger tea each day. Simply steep a slice of fresh ginger in boiling water for a few minutes.
Cinnamon is another common cooking spice that has garnered attention for its anti-diabetes benefits. Besides sprinkling it on sweet potatoes or carrots, you can add it to tea for a flavorful kick in lieu of sugar, which is best avoided anyway. As noted in Medical News Today:28
"Participants in one study29 who took a high dose of cinnamon reduced their average blood sugar levels from 8.9 percent to 8.0 percent. Participants who took a low dose of cinnamon reduced their average blood sugar levels from 8.9 to 8.2 percent. Participants who did not take cinnamon saw no change."
Tips to Avoid Diabetes
Diabetes Remission Possible with Diet, Exercise
By Dr. Mercola
Scurvy is a disease most commonly associated with sailors who didn’t realize their teeth were falling out because they weren’t consuming enough vitamin C. But this disease, thought to be from another age, may be on the rise.
Scurvy, once called “the scourge of the sea,” may be returning simply because modern diets don’t always contain enough vitamin C, aka ascorbic acid, a crucial nutrient to maintain healthy skin, bones, teeth, tissues and blood vessels.
Vitamin C is also required to absorb iron and produce collagen, a major component of connective tissue.
From the Latin term “scorbutus,” scurvy has been an affliction for which the cause was unknown for possibly thousands of years, such as in ancient Egypt and Greece. Until recently, scurvy had been thought of as quite rare, but this seems to be changing.
‘Scourge of the Sea’ Was a Sailor Killer
In the 18th century, scurvy killed more sailors on long-distance runs than enemy combat. In 1747, a British voyage had the “sailor’s bon voyage” for 1,300 scurvy victims from a crew of 2,000 in just 10 months (indicating how serious this disease really is).
A doctor who conducted what may have been the first scurvy trials described the usual diet of seals’ livers and fat in his journals. Sailors suffered from ulcers, blackened skin and gum disease so severe their breath smelled rotten and their teeth fell out. They also had a terrible craving for citrus fruits.
The study involved 12 test subjects who were paired up and given either cider, acid, seawater or lemons along with their rations. Those given lemons recovered miraculously, while the others got worse.1 Finally, someone had put two and two together, as a BBC News article noted:
“When they reached land, it was celery, cabbage and plants which helped them recover. Future voyages carried dried vegetables, fruit and palm wine and sauerkraut to help ward off the dreaded scurvy and in 1752 a Scottish doctor, James Lind, found proof that citrus had a rapid beneficial effect.”
While it’s now common knowledge (to most) that vitamin C intake is the way to prevent this dreadful disease, there are still areas of the world — including highly developed countries — where people don’t think of scurvy in relation to themselves.
Scurvy — Not Just an Ancient Disease or In Third-World Countries
Today, some people may be able to buy whatever food they want, yet still may experience a wide array of mysterious physical symptoms ranging from brain fog to unexplained pain to chronic fatigue that is later diagnosed as scurvy.
Blood tests are beginning to reveal that many patients with these and other symptoms have low vitamins C, B and D levels, according to Dr. Reeta Achari, a Houston-based neurologist. She told Houston Public Media:
“What I discovered was that a lot of people, in an effort to get healthy, [were] taking on diets that were very restrictive, so gluten-free or paleo, something where they were eliminating an essential food from their diet.”2
Describing her first scurvy patient, Achari noted joint and stomach pain, bruising and a skin rash. Other extensive tests showed nothing adverse. An epiphany of sorts caused her to check the patient’s vitamin C, and sure enough, the levels were dangerously low.
When Achari asked the patient what she normally ate, it turned out to be fairly negligible: Her steady diet consisted of canned chicken tortilla soup and not much else — no fruits, no vegetables.
Vitamins B and C level checks are now a prerequisite in Achari’s office, as similarly poor dietary habits seem to be on the rise, as well, often due to an overly limited paleo or gluten-free diet.
Besides external factors such as famine and food shortages, other causes of insufficient vitamin C intake include anorexia and food allergies.
Another patient, Annarose Harding, who worked full time and had a demanding schedule, admitted her diet was “terrible” and consisted largely of caffeine in the form of Monster drinks, frozen lunches and late dinners. Her first symptoms when she arrived at the doctor’s office included shooting pains in her feet and legs.
Harding’s first fear was multiple sclerosis, but she was diagnosed with low vitamin C as well as other nutrient deficiencies. While she’d gained weight in law school, actual practice found her malnourished. She was prescribed vitamin D and over-the-counter vitamin C, B12 and B6 supplements. By week three, she had remarkably improved.
Scurvy Symptoms and Diagnosis
Some of the first signs of scurvy modern doctors see, such as gum problems and joint pain, were likely experienced by those sailors before their symptoms became devastating. Initial indicators are:
✓ Loss of appetite
✓ Inability to gain weight
✓ Rapid breathing
✓ Leg tenderness and discomfort
✓ Swelling in long bones
✓ Bleeding (hemorrhaging)
✓ Feelings of paralysis
✓ Brain fog
Further along in the disease, symptoms become more severe and may include:
✓ Bleeding gums
✓ Loosened teeth
✓ Pinpoint skin hemorrhaging
✓ Bleeding of the eye
✓ Protruding eyes
✓ Beading of joint cartilage
✓ Corkscrew hair
✓ Hyperkeratosis skin disorder
✓ Sicca syndrome autoimmune disorder
✓ Wounds that won’t heal
Medical News Today3 describes signs of scurvy in babies:
“Infants with scurvy will become apprehensive, anxious, and progressively irritable. They often will assume the frog leg posture for comfort when struck with pseudoparalysis.
It is common for infants with scurvy to present subperiosteal hemorrhage, a specific bleeding that occurs at the lower ends of the long bones.”
How Can Scurvy Be Treated and Prevented?
No longer considered a thing of the past, scurvy is showing up in increasing numbers in England, where from 2013 to 2014, it was the leading cause of admission to 16 hospitals, and the primary or secondary reason for 94 hospital check-ins. Between 2009 and 2014, the prevalence escalated by 27 percent.
Low-income families in both cities and rural areas of the world may be at risk, as may (to be expected) individuals where drug or alcohol dependence is a factor. Sometimes elderly individuals don’t eat enough, and what they omit may be a nutrient like vitamin C.
In some cases, however, children with similar problems are diagnosed with a disorder that is entirely preventable, which a pediatric dietician for the British Dietetic Association, Lucy Jackman, called “fussy eaters.” She told BBC News:
“The key is to catch it early, get the message across about balanced eating and to make sure they are eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.”4
The good news is adding vitamin C and other important nutrients to your diet isn’t an expensive proposition. Fruits and vegetables come fresh, raw, cooked and canned, dried and frozen, and are arguably available in most stores where food is sold. Fruits, veggies and other foods containing some of the highest amounts of vitamin C include:
✓ Lemons, limes, grapefruit
In fact, the vitamin C in one large orange or a bowl of strawberries a day is enough to prevent scurvy. BBC News noted, however:
“Without it, we lack a protein called collagen which can't be replaced and we end up with symptoms that were common hundreds of years ago in sick sailors and malnourished children.”5
If a vitamin C deficiency is serious enough, medical intervention may include vitamin C injection until dietary supplementation or food intake is sufficient.
Recommended Vitamin C Intake for Children and Adults
Vitamin C deficiency is particularly detrimental to developing fetuses. One study indicated that when pregnant mothers don’t get enough ascorbic acid, their babies’ brains did not develop properly.6 According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the current recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is as follows.7 However, some experts recommend amounts of 1,000 mg or even higher.
✓ Infants up to 6 months need around 40 milligrams (mg)
✓ Babies 7 to 12 months need around 50 mg
✓ Children aged 1 through 3 need around 15 mg
✓ Children aged 4 through 8 need around 25 mg
✓ Children aged 9 through 13 need around 45 mg
✓ Boys aged 14 through 18 need 75 mg; girls need 65 mg
✓ Male adults need around 90 mg; women need 75 mg
✓ Pregnant women should ingest 80 to 85 mg of vitamin C, and breastfeeding mothers from 115 to 120 mg
✓ People who smoke require about 35 mg more per day than non-smokers
Other Dietary Deficiencies Cause Problems Just as Debilitating
Nutritional deficiencies in general may be increasing, and again, not just in developing nations. The Environmental Working Group reports that more than 40 percent of adults in the U.S. are experiencing vitamins D, E, A and E deficiencies and also get inadequate levels of calcium and magnesium.
“Inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals is most common among 14-to-18-year-old teenagers. Adolescent girls have lower nutrient intake than boys. But nutrient deficiencies are rare among younger American children; the exceptions are dietary vitamin D and E, for which intake is low for all Americans, and calcium. Approximately one-fifth of 2-to-8-year-old children don’t get enough calcium in their diets, compared to a half of adults and four-fifths of 14-to-18-year-old girls.”8
Research from 2014 confirms that in the U.K. one in 40 people suffer from gout, commonly linked with “too much port” and a generally unhealthy lifestyle, something not uncommon throughout the world.
How to Recognize Nutrient Deficiencies
Vitamin C Benefits: May Be as Helpful to Your Heart as Walking
Recipe From Healthy Holistic Living
Subtly sweet, moist and chewy on the inside, and delectably crisp on the outside, coconut macaroons are an irresistible treat. This healthy yet delicious snack can suit your gluten-free diet, and is lactose-free too.
Here’s a quick and easy gluten-free coconut macaroons recipe from Healthy Holistic Living. Try it, and an appetizing batch of these macaroons can be yours in less than half an hour!
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 Tbsp. coconut flour
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. coconut milk
3 Tbsp. raw honey
¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place parchment paper or reusable non-stick baking sheet on tray.
3. Mix all ingredients in a saucepan over high heat, and then bring down to a simmer for two minutes, or until it thickens.
4. Remove from the heat. Scoop mixture into balls and place on the baking sheet.
5. Bake until golden brown on top (five to 15 minutes, depending on your oven. Be sure to check every few minutes).
6. Allow to cool and set for several minutes, and then enjoy!
This recipe makes 10 to 12 macaroons.
Go Nuts for Coconuts With This Recipe
While coconut is considered exotic in the U.S. and most Western countries, it is a dietary staple in the Pacific islands and tropical countries. Coconut is a healthy, delicious and refreshing tropical fruit hailed for its many nutritional benefits. This recipe uses three kinds of coconut products, all of which have an impressive nutritional profile:
• Unsweetened Shredded Coconut – Also called desiccated coconut, this is a flavorful addition to a variety of foods, including pastries, soups and pies. A one-cup serving of shredded coconut gives you:
o 2.68 grams of protein
o 1.79 milligrams of iron
o 1.68 milligrams of zinc
Shredded coconut also contains essential minerals, including selenium and manganese, which both stimulate enzymes like antioxidants. Your cells need antioxidants for protection against cellular damage caused by free radicals — the common pathway for aging, tissue damage, cancer and other diseases. Selenium helps relieve arthritis symptoms by controlling free radicals and reducing the risk of joint inflammation. On the other hand, manganese promotes healthy bone structure and nerve function.
• Coconut Flour – This product is made from finely grated dried coconut meat, with a powder-like texture similar to grain flours. It has a mild coconut scent and flavor that will not overwhelm your recipes, but rather will impart a natural sweetness and rich texture. Coconut flour is light and airy, making it an ideal alternative for baking. Here are others reasons to ditch your regular flour for coconut flour:
o It’s 100 percent gluten-free. Coconut flour is a healthy gluten-free alternative to wheat. Gluten is highly allergenic and can even be fatal for people with Celiac disease, a digestive and autoimmune disorder where gluten damages the lining of the small intestine, and interferes with the absorption of nutrients in food.
o Coconut flour is rich in dietary fiber. Fiber encourages proper digestion and regular bowel movements. It also helps lower cholesterol levels and improve blood sugar control. Each tablespoon of coconut flour contains 6 grams of dietary fiber per serving, which is triple the amount compared to whole flour, and almost double that of wheat bran.
o It’s packed with protein. Coconut flour is exceptionally filling because it contains more protein than other flours. Protein is an essential component in rebuilding cells and maintaining healthy tissues and muscles.
o It helps regulate blood sugar level spikes. It has a lower glycemic index than regular flour, making it a healthier option for diabetics and prediabetics. The glycemic index measures how foods affect blood sugar levels — the higher the glycemic index, the greater an effect a particular food has on raising blood sugar.
However, coconut flour’s composition is very different from other flours, and there are a few things to keep in mind when using it for cooking or baking:
o You cannot substitute coconut flour for wheat or other grain-based flours at a 1:1 ratio. Generally, you should use only one-quarter to one-third cup of coconut flour for every one cup of grain-based flour.
o You need to increase the number of eggs. Because coconut flour is extremely absorbent and dense, you should add in one egg per ounce of coconut flour to take the place of gluten and help bind the mixture together.
o Coconut flour is clumpy. For this reason, you should mix it thoroughly with the other ingredients in your recipe to end up with a fine-textured dough or mixture.
• Coconut milk – This is the liquid extracted from grated coconut meat. Its rich and creamy consistency makes it a scrumptious ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine, such as for cooking curries and soups. Coconut milk is lactose-free, so it is suitable for people with lactose intolerance.
In terms of health benefits, the fatty acids in coconut milk may improve immune function because it is a good source of lauric acid, capric acid and antimicrobial lipids, which have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.
The medium-chain saturated fatty acids in coconut may help reduce your heart disease risk. These fatty acids help eradicate the three major types of atherogenic organisms, which are bacteria that cause plaque formation in the arteries.
Coconut milk may also aid weight loss on a reduced-calorie diet because it is rich in fiber, which can potentially increase your body’s metabolism.
Raw Honey Adds Sweetness to This Snack
Raw honey, also touted as “liquid gold,” is a natural sweetener with many nutritional and medicinal values. A tablespoon of raw honey gives you 17 grams of carbohydrates. It is fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free as well. Raw honey’s natural unprocessed fructose and glucose directly goes into the bloodstream and can provide a quick boost of energy.
However, since raw honey is high in fructose (averaging around 53 percent), it should be consumed in moderation. If you have insulin resistance or are taking medications for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, it would be wise to avoid or reduce your consumption of sweeteners, including honey.
About the Author:
Healthy Holistic Living is an independent alternative health news resource that provides innovative, alternative health-related content, resources and product information that empowers individuals to make positive change in their lives and in the world.
By Dr. Mercola
If you're at all passionate about health, it's likely you will eventually reach the conclusion that you need to grow your own food. Hendrikus Schraven, founder of Hendrikus Organics, is a magnificent resource in this regard.
Hendrikus has an innovative approach to environmental landscape design, including a focus on edible landscaping, and he's an expert at restoring contaminated soils, which so many of us have. The key to this approach, of course, is to improve the quality of the microbiome in the soil.
Early Lessons in Chemical Farming
Born right after the end of World War II on a farm in Holland, about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the German border, he learned to farm the organic way right from the start.
"In those days, farming was done with horse and plow ... You smelled your soil to figure out what it needed. It's a technique I still teach people today. Smelling the soil is actually [picking up on] the activity of the biology. That is what creates the smells ...
We, of course, knew that the healthier the soil was, the healthier the [end] product ... That was just called farming."
Then a kind of chemical revolution in farming took place, and the Schraven family started using chemical fertilizers like everyone else, having fallen for the promise of being able to grow more food for less money and time.
"Of course, they didn't tell you how dangerous it was to the body. We started applying [fertilizer] with our bare hands. Everybody did. You spread it out of buckets over the fields. After doing that for a few days, your fingernails were bleeding.
I finally said to my dad, 'Growing food shouldn't hurt. There's something really wrong here.'
He said, 'Yeah. We are [also] needing more of this stuff. The first two times it was fine, but now we need a little bit more to get the same results. The soil doesn't smell as good as it used to. OK, let's go back to the old ways.'"
Today we call the old way of farming "organic farming." But truly, this is how it was done for ages before chemicals became the norm of farming. There's nothing really "new" about it, historically speaking.
Not All Organics Are Equal
After being part of the rock 'n' roll business for a number of years as a youth, Hendrikus moved to the United States and started his own landscape construction company in Seattle. Unable to locate organic fertilizers and soil amendments, he ended up developing his own organic versions from scratch.
"I started going to feed stores to see what they had available. I found alfalfas, I looked at what chicken food, rabbit food, horse and cattle food was made of and I made a combination of that ...
And started using, on a small scale, my own organic fertilizers in my company and turning other people on to it."
Because the majority of soil is not made from fertilizer, Hendrikus also sought out the available materials for biomass.
"The fertilizer we have is pretty dynamic, but (for biomass) what we were doing is I was going to farmers. I would get well-decomposed material from them. I would then mix that into my soils. That's really a little bit before the composting (era).
When we started looking for the particulars on biomass, on what we could use and how to use it, my old knowledge from growing up on a farm came very handy.
Because the danger is when you're using, say, cow manure, and it's not aerated, you are going to get anaerobic conditions, which could then be detrimental to what you're doing ... People said, 'How do you know?'
I said, 'It's very simple. The farmers always threw all their cow and horse manure and everything else in the springtime on the fields. It would stink to high heaven. Within the day, two days, the stench was gone.
What do you think that means, when the stench is gone? It has gone from anaerobic to aerobic. This is the time you can actually plow it into your fields and mix it into your soils, because this change has happened in the biology.'"
What About Wood Chips?
I'm fond of using wood chips to promote soil regeneration, but Hendrikus advises caution. The common recommendation to place 6 to 8 inches of wood chips beneath trees and shrubs may not always be advisable.
"When was the last time you walked into nature and saw a tree dumping 6 to 8 inches of wood chips underneath itself?" Hendrikus asks. The source of the wood chips also matters. If the trees that were pruned and chipped were diseased, the wood chips may spread that disease to your trees or plants.
"You have to be extremely careful when you're just starting to use woodchips," Hendrikus says.
"Also, there's an enormous amount of nitrogen withdrawal for the decomposition of those chips. If you don't balance that out, you all of a sudden have yellow anemic plant material. You have to be careful with that."
Soil quality is another factor. "If you have a clay soil and you start mixing woodchips, it gets in that clay and gets wet, and if you don't know what time of the year to work this [mix] and you compact it, those woodchips will turn into alcohol.
They will go anaerobic because they have no oxygen. You're actually making it worse. You're thinking you're doing good but you're actually doing the opposite."
Tilling Still Plays a Part in the Big Picture
Most people who are in the business of regenerating soil will rely on no-till techniques. According to Hendrikus, tilling does have its place, though. When rescuing devastated, "raped" soils, he often uses heavy equipment to till the area. The specifics thereafter, however, vary depending on the state of the soil.
A general review of the process he uses when the soil is heavily abused starts with tilling up the area, making sure not to compact the soil by driving over it again.
Then compost that is fully matured, 100 percent decomposed, is added, followed by specially produced above-ground living humates, soil biology and a suitable food source for the microbes, air, compost tea and worms (about 1 to 3 pounds of worms per quarter-acre). Worms provide valuable vermicompost, one of nature's best fertilizers.
"I grow food, I repair farmland, I do erosion control, I do landscape. Because for me, everything is interconnected. There's no such thing as disconnectedness," Hendrikus says. "I can produce a soil that is extremely balanced, where you're growing your vegetables and you get the highest nutritional value possible brought up from that soil into that vegetable. But that's not where it stops.
The erosion control work that I do is the same [because] whatever filters through that soil ends up into our waterways, and whatever ends up into our waterways ends up into our marine life and our bellies somewhere along the line. So for me, it's an entire cycle."
What I've done in our company is encompass the overall; I apply different methods that all come to the same [result]. I look at the situation. I use my intuition to tell me what do I need to do here. But I have a large kitchen, so to speak, with lots of goodies to draw from.
Heavy Contamination Cleaning
Using his strategies — which include a mix of old school farmer's knowledge, experience and intuition — even heavily polluted areas, such as areas in Hawaii where sugar cane and pineapple plantations using large doses of herbicides and pesticides had destroyed and severely polluted the soil, have been able to be cleaned up to a significant degree within a matter of about six months. Here, the primary remediation was mycorrhizal fungi, plus the addition of microbially rich organic matter.
"We do till it in. We need a food source [in the soil], and Hawaii is [an area] where you can't leave everything just on top. It'd just dry out. The microbes will go dormant and nothing will happen unless you irrigate. In a lot of cases, you can't afford to do that.
You have to get it back into the ground. I look at that situation in that point in time. A little damage in playing [tilling] with the soil is better than a lot of damage by not doing it. I don't go for any one method per se. I go for a combination of many, and what I feel intuitively works."
Upping the Ante on Organic Foods
Truly organic food is not just about the absence of chemicals. While that's certainly important from a health standpoint, you can have organic food that is neither tasty nor exceedingly nutritious, for the fact that it's been grown in denatured soils.
It's important to realize that the nutrition really comes from the soil, with healthy soil creating more nutrient-dense produce. So even though the organic market is steadily growing, not all organic farmers are using methods that will regenerate and optimize soil health.
"The way to change the paradigm is by requesting the farmers grow higher nutritional food," Hendrikus says. "You go to the market and you say to one of the stands, 'Hey, can I have a little slice of that?' You taste it and you go, 'Nah, sorry. That isn't doing it.' You move on to the next stand, and you immediately set into motion that everybody has to up the ante," Hendrikus says.
"You're not going to get it via politics. You're not going to get it via the government ... You're going to get it by the demand of the people to the people that are growing it. They are going to turn that around ... If you say, 'If it's GMO I'm not buying it,' automatically it shuts GMOs down. You don't have to fight them [by protesting] in the streets."
In order for that strategy to work, however, people need to be aware that there are differences between genetically engineered (GE) foods, chemically farmed foods and organic. Many are still unaware of these differences and therefore cannot vote with their pocketbook, which is a most powerful strategy.
"I've traveled all over the world. Malnutrition will create this dead stare in the eyes. I'm starting to see that more and more even in the United States of America. When you have a whole population that's just watching TV and is just in this kind of haze, the wake-up moment is difficult.
Like you said, how do you wake them up? But what I have seen — and we've been doing this a very long time — in the last 40-somewhat years, [organic awareness] has really increased. I'm pleasantly surprised."
Learn to Read Weeds
If you grow your own food, one of the first things you might want to do is to learn to read your weeds. "Weeds are the healers," Hendrikus says. Weeds are what nature uses to break open hardened soil and add calcium, boron, nitrogen and other nutrients. Each weed is a sign of a particular soil issue. Once you address that, the weeds will be history.
"What people can do is: No. 1, get some books. Google it. See what weeds are prevalent in the areas that you want to grow food in. Then you come to understand what your soil is short of," Hendrikus says.
Convert to Edible Landscaping
Most American homes have lawns; a most unnatural feature if there ever was one. You really won't find grass lawns anywhere in the wild. I've converted my quarter acre of ornamental to mostly edible landscaping. I only have about 10 percent lawn left. Hendrikus agrees that lawns are a useless landscaping feature, and recommends putting in edible landscaping, or a vegetable garden.
Alternatively, if you don't want a large vegetable garden, convert part of your area into a wildflower garden. This will encourage the survival of bees, and attract bees and other insects to pollinate whatever fruits and vegetables you (or your neighbors) do have.
"Most of the clients I do work for, they're creating vegetable gardens, whether we're landscaping or not. More and more people are getting into that. All of a sudden, the family gets back together. They're outside, reconnecting with nature. That's a good therapy, by the way.
Then, from the seed to where you actually eat it, I don't know of any child that isn't excited by this. I've given lots of talks at schools. I work with children creating vegetable gardens and things like that, and they're all excited ... This is what should be done more in our schools."
Besides getting fresh air and negative ions from the earth, interacting with the soil will also expose you to the beneficial microbes within it, which can help improve your own microbiome. This is perhaps even truer for children, who play in the dirt and have a tendency to get dirt in their mouths.
The Importance of Humates
Humic acid (humate) promotes the proliferation of beneficial microorganisms in the soil and helps sequester carbon in the soil. Humate is extracted from nature's process of creating coal, from fully decomposed humus through the leonardite stage of coal. Most of the commercially-available humate is mined underground from leonardite, just before it turns into coal.
Unfortunately, humate from underground can have a lot of heavy metals in it, so Hendrikus recommends using a living humate from a surface mine. It contains lignans, folic acid, high-quality carbon, natural beneficial microbes and more than 78 trace minerals. Hendrikus' company sells it in both liquid and granular form, and adds it into virtually all soil regeneration jobs. The resulting plant material and the water savings are phenomenal.
"I met up with this farmer in Berkley, California, named Al. He had 158 acres of fruit orchard. He had some problems. I looked at his compost pile. I looked at some of the methods they're using. I said, 'No, you're not doing it right. But I'm going to give you something.' I gave him two bags — one of my food source and one of what we call HuMagic, which is a humate.
Because he had sick peach trees, I said, 'Put it on these 20 (he had 40) and not these. You'll be calling me back in four to six weeks.' He called back saying 'Oh, my god.' He sent pictures. The difference was astonishing. He's now doing his entire orchard. Last year we had a lot of drought in California. He ended up buying another 100 acres, [because he learned these principles].
When everybody was suffering from the drought, he was doing fine. His fruit had more than enough moisture. His peaches were to die for. He needed a bowl to eat the peach, because the juice. Once you have [humate] in your soil ... you are the king of your soil."
Never Forget Crop Rotation
Another word to the wise: never grow just one thing. Even if all you have is a vegetable garden, draw out a plan and make sure to rotate your crops. If you have potatoes in one area this year, plant something else there next year. After rotating crops for three years, your potatoes can be grown in their original spot again.
The reason for this is because different vegetables extract different minerals out of the soil, and you don't want to deplete your soil of any given mineral or the plant simply won't grow well. In addition to that, you'll want to make sure you replenish the soil each year using organic matter from your garden. Turn it into compost and layer it on top of your soil. Biochar is another phenomenal addition to improve soil quality.
For a visual tour of what actually happens in healthy soil, see this video, produced by a Japanese company that used a microscope to capture live footage of soil microbes at work. For more information about Hendrikus' soil restoration work, the soil to health connection, the soil microbiome, urban and rural farming and more, please visit HendrikusOrganics.com. If you have specific questions, you can also find an email contact form on his site.
Regenerative Farming — One Solution That Solves Many Problems
How Regenerative Agriculture Can Go Large-Scale, with the Help of Chickens