The Relationship between Carbon Dioxide and Global Nutrition - myfoxcarolinas.com

The Relationship between Carbon Dioxide and Global Nutrition

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Carbon Dioxide and its Effect on Crops Carbon Dioxide and its Effect on Crops
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  • The Relationship between Carbon Dioxide and Global Nutrition

    The Relationship between Carbon Dioxide and Global Nutrition

    Sunday, June 1 2014 3:31 PM EDT2014-06-01 19:31:03 GMT
    Carbon Dioxide and its Effect on CropsCarbon Dioxide and its Effect on Crops
    Change can be a good thing, but new research shows increasing levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere will affect global nutrition, and not in a positive way.
    Change can be a good thing, but new research shows increasing levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere will affect global nutrition, and not in a positive way.
Charlotte, NC -

If you’ve ever sat in a science class, you have learned about Carbon Dioxide (CO2). If you pay attention to the news, you’ve heard it mentioned a few times there too.

I’m sure you associate CO2 with many things, but new research now links increasing CO2 levels with decreasing nutrition in global key crops. That makes a global nutrition problem even larger in the years to come.

We know that CO2 levels are on the rise, and they are projected to reach 550 ppm (parts per million) within 40 to 60 years. The study tested key crops at the projected CO2 levels and found significant decreases in crucial nutrients needed for healthy living.

Dr. Samuel Myers, a research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health and clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, was the study’s lead author. “What we found was that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are threatening global human nutrition by reducing the amount of key nutrients, very important nutrients, for human health in food crops like rice and wheat and soybeans.”

The key finding he and his team discovered has global implications acknowledges Dr. Myers, “About 63 million life years are lost every year from iron and zinc deficiencies today…and when we look at where those two billion people who are iron and zinc deficient, where they get iron and zinc in their diets, almost 2 billion people get at least 70% of their iron and zinc from the kinds of food crops we tested and found to be losing those nutrients. That’s why it’s a big public health problem.”

So which crops were included in the study? Rice (C3), wheat (C3), maize [corn] (C4), soybeans (C3), field peas (C3) and sorghum (C4) were tested across seven different experimental locations in three countries, Australia, Japan and the United States.

Essentially, almost all of Earth’s plant life can be placed in either a C3 or C4 category based on how the crops integrate carbon dioxide into their systems. More than 95% of the plants on this planet are C3 plants. That’s why decreases in iron and zinc in these crops will affect everyone in some way or another.

In the study, C3 crops were more affected by changes in CO2 than C4 crops, but nutritional value was still observed to be reduced.

But why are iron and zinc so important? Cheryl Kuhta-Sutter, RD, LDN at the Novant Health Heart and Vascular Institute, says that iron and zinc are two nutrients you don’t need to slack on.

“Iron is needed to make red blood cells. And we need red blood cells of course to carry oxygen to our body. And also the side effect of not having enough red blood cells would be anemia and fatigue then could possibly be there. Zinc is for immune system and fighting infections. So both of those particular nutrients are very important to have in the diet.”

She sees nutrition problems on a daily basis, and tells her patients that portion control is key to living a healthy life.

“Most of the time it’s #1-portion control. I think we eat too much. To kind of go with that, when we go out to eat we’re eating too much. So portions don’t need to be as big as what maybe you’re used to when you’re younger. So we need to cut back on portions.”

You also need to venture outside of just one food group. “You need to eat a variety of foods. That is hands down the most important. Because there’s not perfect food. No matter what. There’s not one food group, there’s not one perfect food.”

In many developing countries, people do not have the opportunity to eat a variety of foods like those in developed nations. That’s why a solution to the problem needs to be discovered, and quickly before more lives are lost.

“We all eat these crops, but we all don’t depend on them in the same way for dietary iron and zinc. Those of us in the developed world tend to eat a certain amount of meat or seafood, which are also rich in iron and zinc, and the people who are going to be at the very highest risk from these changes are people who get most of their zinc and iron from agricultural crops…in many parts of the world, this is going to make what’s already a very big health problem even worse,” said Dr. Myers.

We could already be seeing the effects, known as hidden hunger. Where you may be lacking nutrients, but never notice it until your health starts to be affected.

Cheryl realizes the problem and knows we need a solution. “We know that things are going to happen in our environment that we don’t have control over. Okay, that’s foreseen. What exactly is going to happen, we don’t know. However, we want to be prepared in case something does happen, so why not have technology in place or be working on it, so we have less of a nutrient loss in the foods that we currently do eat and enjoy… and address it now so it’s not an emergency situation when the time comes.”

It’s a problem that needs addressing, no matter what side of the fence you are on.

“And what we’re showing is that at those levels of carbon dioxide, there will be important impacts on the nutrient content of the food that we eat. So one thing I would say is this isn’t the climate change effect, this is the carbon dioxide effect, and nobody’s debating that,” said Dr. Myers.


The study appeared online earlier in May in Nature

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