Health benefits of eating organic “clean” produce

Intuitively, most of us know that eating foods without chemical pesticides and fertilizers has to be a healthier option.  However, as a medical professional, everything that comes out of my mouth must be backed up with data, right?  So here it is.

1.  Pesticides are toxic by design.  They are created expressly to kill living organisms — insects, plants, and fungi that are considered “pests.”  Many pesticides pose health dangers to people. These risks have been established by independent research scientists and physicians across the world.
As acknowledged by U.S. and international govenment agencies, different pesticidies have been linked to a variey of health problems including:
  • brain and nervous system toxicity
  • Cancer
  • Hormone disruption
  • Skin, eye, and lung irritation
2.  Three epidemiological studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives in April 2011 show a clear link between a mother’s exposure to organophosphate insecticides during pregnancy and deficits to children’s learning and memory that persist through the ages of 6 to 9.
3. ADHD study  
Does eating organic, pesticide free produce make a difference?
A study published in the Journal Pediatrics, May 2010 looked at a cross section of 1139 US children; One hundred nineteen of them had a diagnosis of ADHD.  Their urine was tested for DMAP (Dimethyl Alkylphosphate) concentrations.  DMAP is a breatk down product of organophosphate pesticides.  Children with DMAP levels higher than the median of detectable concentrations had twice the odds of having ADHD compared to children with undetectable levels.

Furthermore, a study done at the University of Washington in May 2010 showed that children eating non-organic foods were switched for five days to an organic diet.  Pesticide levels were measured in their urine before and after the switch.  Some of the pesticides completely disappeared from the urine after only five days on organic produce.  And previously, Richard Fenske, a professor at the University of Wasthington’s School of Public Health, published results showing that children consuming produce and juice grown using conventional farming practices had urine levels of some pesticide types that were five to seven times higher than for children with a 75 percent organic diet.
Clearly the evidence is mounting about the health benefits of eating clean, pesticide free food.  It is enough for me to recommend this type of diet to all my patients, not just those who have ADHD.
It is expensive to buy organic, are there any alternatives?
The environmental working group (EWG) publishes a list of produce called the clean fifteen and the dirty dozen; fruits and vegetables which have the highest and lowest levels of chemicals.  By following their list, it is possible to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals by about 92%. (Website for the “clean 15 and dirty dozen is:   http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/).  The EWG also has an app called Dirty Dozen.   So if ea
ting organically is not an economic reality for your family, the options are to follow the EWG lists and/or eat locally and this may make a big difference in the health of your family.
What does this mean to eat locally?  Many small, local farms practice what is called sustainable farming.  It is organic in nature, does not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and includes crop rotation (which helps to maintains the health of the soil).  In addition, it does not contribute further chemicals to the environment which may be leached into the soil and ultimately into our drinking water.
Since it is expensive to undergo the US certification process to become organic, many small farms practicing sustainable farming cannot use the USDA organic seal.  Buying locally also dramatically reduces the carbon footprint.  Most food travels thousands of miles before it is consumed.
References:

1.  Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides

        Maryse F. Bouchard, David C. Bellinger, Robert O. Wright and Marc G. Weisskopf.   

        Pediatrics; originally published online May 17, 2010; 

2.  Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides

        Chensheng Lu, Kathryn Toepel, Rene Irish, Richard A Fenski, Dana B Barr, & Roberto Bravo.


Environ Health Perspect. 2006 February; 114(2): 260–263.

        Published online 2005 September 1. doi:  10.1289/ehp.8418

3.  Pesticides

  • Bernard Weiss,
  • Sherlita Amler,
  • and Robert W. Amler

Pediatrics 2004; 113:Supplement 3 1030-1036


4.  Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org

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