Fulvic Acid: Is Eating Dirt Actually Good For You?
There was a time when telling someone to “eat dirt” was an insult.
But what if eating dirt was actually a suggestion for better health? A tip for improved digestion, reduced risk of cancer, or slowing memory loss. Would you do it?
If eating dirt could smooth wrinkles, promote heart health, or even protect you against the next outbreak of swine flu, would you take a great big bite of mud pie?
What if it was proven that actually eating dirt could boost your health and vitality, thanks to a rich mixture of special compounds found deep within the soil? How about then?
Well, it’s time to get dirty…
An Acid By Any Name…
For decades, gardeners and farmers across the country have used peat moss to boost the health of their flowerbeds and crops. But did they know that the very nutrients found in that soil could also boost their own health.
Enter fulvic acid.
Fulvic acid is one of the main components of humus—the dark, nutrient-rich organic soil layer. It is considered organic because it is comprised of partially decomposed plant and animal matter. It ranges in color from yellow to nearly black.
In addition to fulvic acid, humus also contains humic acid and the insoluble humin material. While the terms are often used interchangeably, there are a few distinct differences between fulvic acid and humic acid.
According to a 2009 study, while fulvic and humic acids have very similar properties and benefits (which we’ll get to in a moment), they are in fact different molecules.1 And the key difference? How they behave in the presence of acid.
Researchers found that, when in an alkaline solution, both fulvic and humic acid dissolve. But when they are placed in an acidic solution, only humic dissolves. Fulvic remains intact.
Okay, that’s interesting. But what does it have to do with health?
Get Dirty to Get Healthy…
Fulvic acid contains more than 77 macro and trace minerals, most of which occur in their ionic form. This means that they are masters at conducing electricity and aiding in absorption.
It is this benefit that gardeners most admire. Fulvic acid is often added to the soil to help hold water in the soil, thus promoting better hydration of the soil.
Also, thanks to the fulvic ionic minerals, fulvic acid also helps to increase the bioavailability of minerals in a plant.2 Because it binds so easily to minerals, paired with the fact that it has a fairly small molecular size, fulvic acid can transport the minerals into the roots, stem, and leaves of the plant.
When you apply this to the human body, this means that fulvic acid keeps you well hydrated, helps transport much-needed minerals directly to your cells, and then helps those cells properly absorb the nutrients. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Of course, when these critical minerals get into the circulatory system, they are used as electrolytes. (Think Gatorade, but without the high fructose corn syrup, calories, and artificial colors.) That’s when they really go to work, especially when it comes to heart and vascular health.
While fulvic acid has clear cardiovascular benefits, its strength seems to really lie in other areas, namely immune function.
A Natural Immunity Booster…
Given that fulvic acid is found in some of the most unsanitary places, it is quite ironic that one of its key benefits is boosting immune function.
In one study, researchers tested the effects of both fulvic and humic acids on rats.3 They fed rats different concentrations of either fulvic or humic acid for 26 days. Regardless of which acid they had, the rats exhibited significant increases in immune response. In fact, these increases were seen as soon as day 14.
Interestingly, in the fulvic acid groups, there were also dose-dependent increases in thyroid-stimulating hormone, and decrease in the T3/T4 ratio. This indicates a hypothyroid state, which is not good. While researchers simply state this observation, we’d like to see more research in this area, as hypothyroidism seems to be reaching near epidemic proportions in this country.
In another study done on humic acid alone, researchers tested its effects on liver mitochondria and cultured cancer cells in a lab.4 They found that humic acid helped to boost the antioxidant capabilities of the cells and enhance immune function.
Additionally, of the six cancer cell lines they tested, T lymphoblastic leukemia cells seemed to be particularly sensitive to the humic acid.
These Petri and animals studies definitely seem to indicate that fulvic and humic acids hold great promise in boosting immunity. It would be great to see some human studies, though, proving this out even more.
And one area that fulvic acid has been tested on humans is in improving your skin. Yes, there is something to those mud masks.
Beauty is In the Eye of the Beholder…
Whether it is due to its detox benefits, super-hydration, or more, it appears that fulvic acid benefits your body inside and out.
One study from 2000 found that fulvic acid has potent anti-microbial as well as anti-inflammatory properties.5 As such, researchers concluded that it may prove to be an “effective and safe treatment for skin infections.” Turns out they were right.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study (yes, gold standard!) looked at the use of fulvic acid for the treatment of eczema. Researchers divided 36 participants with eczema into two groups.6
The first group received a topical ointment that contained fulvic acid. The second group was given a placebo ointment. Both groups used the treatments twice a day for four weeks.
At the end of the study period, there was a significant improvement in the fulvic acid group, as compared to the control. And when it came to the visual appearance of the eczema, there was a statistically significant difference in the fulvic acid group versus the placebo group.
One likely reason that people using fulvic acid report such great skin results is likely due to its anti-inflammatory benefits. And that is likely due to its great mineral makeup.
To this point, a Korean study looked at the use of sea mud for skin care. Specifically, they were testing the water retention and anti-inflammatory properties of the humic substances.7
They found that the sea mud contained more than 19 different mineral elements, including sodium, magnesium, and zinc. They concluded, “The anti-inflammatory effect of the sea mud is largely due to the minerals in the mud.”
So, when used topically, fulvic acid appears to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial benefits. And when taken internally, this mineral-rich water attractor helps to boost immunity. What more could you want? Great health and great beauty!
And a slight risk.
Rare Disease With Odd Solution…
We talked about the slightly hypothyroid effect fulvic acid can have. And now it turns out there is also a connection between fulvic acid and a rare condition known as Kashin-Beck disease.
Kashin-Beck is found almost exclusively in China. It affects the joints, often resulting in pain, restricted movement, and enlarged joints. It seems to primarily target the wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles.
Four main factors seems to associated with this disease: selenium deficiency, iodine deficiency, contamination of grain by a mycotoxin-producing fungi (often a mold), and water polluted by organic material or fulvic acid.8 Yes, fulvic acid. And clearly we were not the only ones surprised by this.
Chinese researchers conducted both animal and lab studies to determine if fulvic acid really did play a role in Kashin-Beck disease.9 They hypothesized that organic material that contained fulvic acid may increase free radicals, and that this may contribute to the disease.
Using cartilage cells, they found that hydroxy functional groups in fulvic acid (the very things that allow it to improve water solubility) might also interfere with the cell membranes in a way that promotes oxidation. In fact, blocking this hydroxy group reduced the toxicity from the fulvic acid.
In a rat study, researchers also found that fulvic acid tended to accumulate in bone and cartilage, two locations that the mineral selenium rarely gathers. By simply adding selenium to the rodents’ drinking water, they were able to offset the free radical production in the bone.
They concluded that while fulvic acid appears to generate free radicals, simply supplementing with selenium undercuts this damage.
The Kashin-Beck/Thyroid Connection…
This selenium issue may also be the reason for the increase in TSH and decrease in T3/T4 ratio shown in the earlier study. According to a 2000 Lancet study, selenium plays a critical role in the production of thyroid hormones.10
If fulvic acid is somehow blocking the absorption or uptake of selenium, it could interfere with thyroid health, while also contributing to Kashin-Beck disease.
Yet another demonstration that nothing in our body operates in isolation.
Where to Go From Here…
The fulvic acid benefits are clearly there when it comes to skin health and seem to be strong for boosting immunity. Then there is the possible downside of it somehow interfering with selenium.
So what to do?
If you would like to give fulvic acid a try, you have a couple of options. A quick Internet search will bring up more product possibilities that you can shake a stick at. The majority of the offerings will be in liquid form.
For an average weighted adult (120 to 180 pounds), you’ll want to start with about one tablespoon mixed into water once or twice a day. You can up that in subsequent weeks to 2 to 4 tablespoons, depending on how well you tolerate it.
When choosing a fulvic or humic acid supplement, look for one that is free of preservatives, fillers, binders, excipients, flow agents, shellacs, coloring agents, gluten, yeast, lactose, and other allergens. Ideally you’ll also be able to find independent analysis done by a third party to verify the active ingredients and identify any contaminants.
Additionally, you’ll want to also be sure to supplement with an additional 200 mcg of selenium to offset any possible issues caused by the fulvic acid consumption.
And, most importantly, remember that no supplement, not even one that truly is the salt of the earth, can replace healthy food choices and regular exercise when it comes to great health.
1Baigorri, R et al. Complementary multianalytical approach to study the distinctive structural features of the main humic fractions in solution: gray humic acid, brown humic acid, and fulvic acid. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Apr 22;57(8):3266-72.
2Sanmanee N and Areekijseree, M. The effects of fulvic acid on copper bioavailability to porcine oviductal epithelial cells. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2010 Jun;135(1-3):162-73.
3Vucskits, AV et al. Effect of fulvic and humic acids on performance, immune response, and thyroid function in rats. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2010 Dec;94(6):721-8.
4Vaskova, J et al. Effects of humic acids in vitro. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Anim. 2011 Jun;47(5-6):376-82.
5van Rensburg, CEJ et al. An in vitro investigation of the antimicrobial activity of oxifulvic acid. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2000;46:853-4.
6Gandy, JJ et al. Randomized, parallel-group, double-blind, controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of carbohydrate-derived fulvic acid in topical treatment of eczema. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2011;4:145-8. Epub 2011 Sep 8.
7Kim, JH et al. Water-retentive and anti-inflammatory properties of organic and inorganic substances from Korean sea mud. Nat Prod Commun. 2010 Mar;5(3):395-8.
8Sudre, P and Mathieu, F. Kashin-Beck disease: from etiology to prevention or from prevention to etiology? Int Orthop. 2001;25(3):175-9.
9Peng, A et al. The role of humic substances in drinking water in Kashin-Beck disease in China. Environ Health Perspect. 1999 April;107(4):293-6.
10Rayman, MP. The importance of selenium to human health. Lancet. 2000 Jul 15;356(9225):233-41.
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