Of selenium deficiency, hypothyroidism, indigestion, food intolerance, cow?s milk, rye grass - and homogenisation...

Tom Stockdale is a past chair of the Scottish branch of the MacCarrison Society, a retired farmer and farm recorder for ICI, and a long time sufferer from selenium deficiency.
Following on from David Thomas? article on the mineral depletion of the soil in Foods Matter in January 2006 he offers the following contributions to the debate.

Since the importation of Canadian hard wheat for bread-making was stopped the average intake of dietary selenium has decreased significantly (see note 1) and it is not unreasonable to think that a considerable section of the UK population is now deficient.

The enzyme which activates thyroxine is a selenoprotein so those who are selenium deficient may exhibit one or more of the symptoms of hypothroidism. Hypothyroidism lowers the basal rate of metabolism by decreasing the rate at which ATP is synthesised. (See notes 2 & 3)
One consequence of this is that tissues with a high energy requirement are unable to operate at full capacity and can become unable to meet the demands placed upon them. One such tissue is the pancreatic gland, which releases bicarbonate and enzymes into the duodenum.

It is generally assumed that indigestion is caused by over production of gastric acid, but this is incorrect. Indigestion is caused by underproduction of bicarbonate by the pancreas because more energy (in the form of ATP) is needed to produce bicarbonate than is needed to produce an equivalent amount of gastric acid.
Because of its unnatural physical condition white flour is especially effective in stimulating the release of gastric acid with the result that people who are selenium deficient cannot produce the bicarbonate needed for its neutralisation.

Not only does this situation cause material in the duodenum to be returned to the stomach but it means that the material entering the small intestine is too acidic to be broken down normally by enzymes, and readily absorbed. As this incompletely digested material contains potentially toxic substances and can act as a substrate for microbe activity it is the cause of most food intolerances. My own experience suggests that a supplement of 200 micrograms of selenium a day will correct indigestion within 2-3 weeks.

Inherited selenium deficiency
Women who are selenium deficient when their children are born will have children who, if not already deficient, are likely to become deficient at an early age. There is no reason to suppose that the symptoms of congenital selenium deficiency are identical to those which develop when adults become selenium deficient. Consequently it can be argued on biochemical grounds that in addition to food intolerance conditions such as asthma, hyperactivity, depression, diabetes and obesity are all manifestations of selenium deficiency. These diseases have only become public health problems during the last 50 years.

I suggest that the primary concern of physicians who attend poorly infants should be to ensure that their gastrointestinal tracts are functioning correctly. This cannot happen if the material passing into the small intestine is too acidic, because lactase and other enzymes can only act efficiently when the acid material from the stomach has been properly neutralised by bicar-bonate from the pancreas.

Milk from cows fed on rye grass
The quality of cow’s milk has been attracting comment. But two points have escaped attention. The first relates to the fact that the most common grass grown on dairy farms is perennial ryegrass.
Although farmers have a choice in the varieties of crops they grow their choice is restricted to those varieties that have been tested and have come out well in trials. These trials are organised by scientists who follow established protocols and tend to favour the varieties that produce the most dry matter. Often the latter are those that are least subject to attack by insects and nematodes.

It has only recently been discovered that the most resistant strains are resistant because they contain a fungal parasite (similar to ergot) which produces potent toxins. Much of our ryegrass seed comes either directly or indirectly from New Zealand where there are problems with insect pests and where scientists have deliberately infected some varieties of ryegrass with these parasites to give them protection from the pests.

But these endophytic fungi produce toxins, which, once ingested by cows, can be released within the milk. Because the toxins combine with serotonin receptors and those associated with the autonomic nervous system they have the potential to cause upsets when milk containing them is consumed.

Some of these genetically modified varieties were imported into the UK about 20 years ago. Their toxicity seems to have been greater than the indigenous combinations already present in the UK. Defra do not wish to discuss what has happened but I understand that the sale of ryegrass seed that is infected with this fungus has been stopped. But we don’t know how much toxin has entered our milk.
The reason why some people find goat’s milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk may be that goats do not usually feed upon allegedly improved strains of ryegrass. However, as long as people are replete with selenium, rye grass toxins are probably harmless.

Homogenisation of milk
My second point relates to homo-genised milk.

The veteran nutritionist, Rex Newnham (best known for recognising that boron deficiency can cause arthritis) has suggested in one of his regular newsletters that the tiny globules of fat in homo-genised milk cannot be digested and are absorbed directly from the intestine into the blood. As these globules contain an enzyme called zanthene oxidase he has suggested that they damage the surface of blood vessels in a way which facilitates cholesterol deposition.

He has also pointed out that although a large goat and a human have similar weights the former can synthesise 5-6 grams of vitamin C a day from glucose while humans are unable to synthesise any. There is evidence that a supplement of vitamin C can prevent the deposition of cholesterol within arteries and prevent strokes and heart attacks.

When children are unable to digest milk and other foods properly I believe it to be essential for their selenium status to be determined. It is also desirable for their milk to come from a source where neither the cows nor the milk itself have been subjected to industrial management practices.

Note 1.
Selenium is an essential element for humans. The COMA has recommended RNIs of 0.06mg/day in women an 0.075mg/day in men. Concerns have been raised that intakes of selenium in the UK are falling. Estimates for population dietary exposures of 0.063 mg/day and 0.06 mg/day were recorded in 1985; 0.043mg/day in 1994 and 0.039mg/ day in the 1995. Dietary exposures for the UK population have also been estimated in other studies at 0.06mg/day (1974) and 0.034mg/day (1993/ 94).These figures are averages so that some people must have very low intakes. It appears that there has not been a further decline in selenium intakes since 1995.
Note 2.
ATP stands for adenasine triphasphate. It is a compound that provides the energy for many of the anabolic reactions which take place in our bodies. It does this by releasing energy when it is degraded to adenosine diphosphate. The carbohydrates, fats and proteins in our food that are surplus to maintenance requirements are usually broken down in a complex process to
produce ATP and carbon dioxide. When this process fails, people either become obese or diabetic or both. The rate at which ATP is generated is carefully regulated, the usual rate being largely
controlled by the supply of thyroxine from the thyroid gland.

First published in 2006


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