About humic acids

The healing effects of mud, as well as the beneficial effects of black coal on the digestive tract, have been known to humans since the Middle Ages, but the fact that humic acids play a role in these processes has only been known to us for a relatively short time. Research in this area has made progress in the last decade, which has led to the increasing use of humic acid-based products, not only in human medicine but also in plant and animal production. Humic acids are natural organic substances that are formed by the chemical and biological decomposition of organic matter of plant origin and the synthetic activity of microorganisms. Together with fulvic acids and humin, they are among the humic substances that are part of humus. They are based on lignin together with other components of plant biomass (sugars, fats, proteins, waxes, and resins). Humic acids are polymeric aromatic macromolecules in which amino acids, sugars, peptides, and aliphatic compounds provide linkages between aromatic groups. They contain primarily carboxyl groups, but also include carbonyl, quinone, semiquinone, hydroxyl, ester, and amide groups. The complex structure of humic acids makes them practically insoluble in water and at the same time shows high biological activity.

Traces of humic acids in nature are found in stagnant waters, in sandy and clayey soils. Larger quantities are in medicinal muds, manure, arable land, and most of all in peat, lignite, and brown coal. However, their richest natural resources are oxyhumolites, which are 50-80%. Oxihumolites are formed with the access of air and with a sufficient amount of water from lignite or brown coal.

…health from our land

Humic acids have a polyanionic character and are able to form ions with ions by various mechanisms. Inorganic cations in particular bind well by ionic chelate or polar absorption. They are among the ion exchangers of reductive character. They have an excellent ability to bind metals that replace the protons of carboxyl and phenolic groups, forming insoluble complexes which are subsequently eliminated from the body. This ability also increases with increasing molecular weight, which allows them to be used for detoxification in heavy metal poisonings, such as lead, copper, mercury, cadmium, or barium. In addition to metals, they are able to bind to each other toxic compounds of endogenous and exogenous origin, e.g. microbial toxins, mycotoxins, phytotoxins, ammonia, PCBs, dioxins, benzopyrenes, and others, which thus become inaccessible to the organism and leave the feces.

They play an important role in protecting the gastrointestinal tract from infections and positively affect its functions. They form a protective coating on the mucous membrane of the digestive tract and thus reduce the risk of infections and poisonings. Through catalytic processes, they interfere with the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates in microbes, which leads to damage or destruction of bacteria and viruses. They have anti-inflammatory effects, bind free radicals, and also stimulate immune system receptors in the intestinal villi against pathogens. They have a very good buffering ability – they stabilize the pH in the entire digestive system. As ion exchangers and chelating agents, they increase the utilization of nitrogen and phosphorus and also increase the resorption of iron and copper. They affect the composition and activity of the intestinal and rumen microflora in favor of symbiotic microorganisms (lactobacilli, bifidobacteria), potentiate the effect of probiotics, and suppress the development of ketoacidoses in ruminants. By stabilizing the intestinal microflora, they help to make better use of nutrients from food. They increase feed conversion by promoting pancreatic enzymes. A very important positive of humic acids is their low resorption in the gastrointestinal tract (up to 0.1%) and even after partial resorption, they are only slightly toxic to the organism. Most of the humic acids are eliminated from the body by feces, some can be degraded by the intestinal microflora. This allows their risk-free use in both plant and animal production and in human medicine.

In plant production, the use of humic acids finds its justification in the fact that they play a significant role in increasing soil fertility and thus in increasing the production of biomass for feed and food purposes. At the same time, they increase the content of nutrients and reduce the content of toxic substances in plants.

complex action in the animal body…

Thanks to their excellent properties and ability to act comprehensively in the body of animals, humic acids are increasingly used in animal production. Prophylactic application of humic acid-based preparations in feed ensures good animal health and positively affects all production parameters.

In broiler and pig farms, significantly higher daily gains, lower feed consumption per kg gain, and higher carcass yield are recorded after widespread application of prophylactic doses of humic acids. Animal mortality is reduced, especially during the juvenile period, and better herd conditions and balance are achieved. This leads to a clear increase in the fattening efficiency index in individual farms. The application of a humic acid-based absorbent in poultry and pig housing on the floor or on litter significantly reduces the ammonia content in the environment, which improves working conditions, animal health, and the costs associated with environmental pollution. The benefit is also the possibility to use the manure to enrich the soil with nitrogen and humic acids and thus prepare waste-free technology. The use of humic acids here represents an alternative approach to reducing the concentration of ammonia in the housing environment of broilers and pigs using domestic raw materials.

The administration of humic acids to laying hens has a significant effect on feed conversion, leading to an increase in laying weight and egg production. Hatchability also increases and the quality characteristics of the eggs (weight, shell strength…) improve. It also improves the animal condition, feathering, and reduces mortality and ammonia levels in the environment. From an ecological but also an economic point of view, the possibility of using the droppings of such laying hens for composting in order to obtain a high-quality organic fertilizer with a higher proportion of humic acids, which transfer their activity to the soil, is not negligible here either.

Preparations based on humic acids are also used in dairy farms, where they increase milk yield within a few days from the start of administration while reducing feed consumption. With regular preventive application to feed, animal health will improve, gynecological problems and hoof diseases will be less common, service periods will be shortened and animal mortality will decrease, which will ultimately result in increased milk production while reducing its production price. In addition, they support the development of the desired microflora, including probiotics, stabilize the physiological pH in the rumen, slow down the release of ammonia, thereby suppressing the development of ketoacidoses, and also significantly reducing the fat odor.

The administration of humic acids is important in order to improve health, production, reproduction, resistance, exterior, and performance in the breeding of other animal species. It is best to add sheep, goats, and mares to their feed before and after farrowing, to carnivores before farrowing, during lactation, hair change, and sport horses before and during intensive training.

Slight resorption, low toxicity, and almost no side effects allow the use of humic acids for prophylactic purposes in all animal species. It is also a great benefit that the animal products obtained in such farms are clean without residues of foreign substances (drugs, toxins).

Also in all animal species and all age categories, oral administration of therapeutic doses of humic acids or their salts for the treatment of several acute and chronic diseases. Due to their properties, the application is recommended in case of diarrhea, dyspepsia, or skin diseases. An excellent therapeutic effect is achieved by the administration of acute intoxications. Very good results have also been reported in the treatment of swine anemia or metabolic diseases in ruminants. A more pronounced effect is achieved when co-administered with probiotics. The advantage of the application of humic acids from the point of view of food products of animal origin is that they do not require any withdrawal periods.

…humic acids also help people

In human medicine, humic acids are indicated for heavy metal poisoning such as lead, cadmium, mercury, chronic eczema, hair loss, and also for ischemic heart disease. They have a positive effect on cancer patients, where, in addition to the overall support of the immune system, they also alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Side effects after their application in humans appear sporadically and even only temporarily. These are mostly nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea with a relatively easy course.

It follows from the above that the spectrum of use of humic acids, whether in plant production, animal husbandry, veterinary practice, or human medicine, is really very wide and offers one way to reduce the currently relatively high consumption of antibiotics, chemotherapeutic, and other drugs.

MVDr. Danica Černeková
Published:  Spravodajca Bioveta SK, 1 / 2010