Why it’s worth buying organic
Science of Food
IF YOU GO
What: “Eat Your Electrons” with Dr. Lisa Julian
When: Saturday, March 12; 1-2:30 p.m.
Cost: $20. Advanced registration required; Call (970) 401-2071
For more information or to register visit: http://elevatedyogacolorado.com/events-workshops/
This month’s Science of Food column introduces the topic of synthetic pesticide use in our food and the effects on human health and the environment. Because this topic warrants more than the 800 words that is typical for my monthly column, I am running the next few columns as a series on this very important topic. Stay tuned for upcoming editions focusing on GMOs, hormones and antibiotics present in meat, poultry and eggs and how these chemicals persist in the environment contaminating groundwater, altering sensitive aquatic ecosystems and destroying the very precious soil that produces all the crops allowing our modern 21st century human species to survive. In this first part, I will focus on the use of man-made chemicals in our produce, examining the fruits and vegetables we eat, the common insecticides and herbicides currently used and how these chemicals can be harmful to human health.
TOP PESTICIDES IN USE
There are three main classes of pesticides according to their chemical structure currently used in conventional growing: the organophosphates, organochlorines and the relatively new class of chemicals called the neonicotinoids, discussed in more detail below. Current pesticides have the ability to cause cancer and to disrupt normal functioning of the endocrine system.
The endocrine system involves our hormones, and pesticide use is known to interfere specifically with normal reproduction in fish and mammals. For example, a recent study published from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2015 correlated lower sperm counts and a greater percentage of morphologically abnormal sperm in men eating fruits and vegetables with higher levels of pesticide residues. The widespread use of pesticides in the food supply can cause adverse biological effects in humans and the environment, and we are collecting more and more data that supports the elimination of such toxic chemicals in modern agriculture.
Glyphosate is an example of an organophosphorus and is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. It was recently touted as the most heavily-used agricultural chemical in the history of the world, despite the fact that it is banned in many countries due to mounting evidence, including the World Health Organization’s recent study in 2015 concluding that the synthetic agent “probably” causes cancer in humans. Many organophosphate insecticides were discovered initially as nerve agents during the war as they act on ion channels and receptors in the central nervous system. Their use in agriculture increased in the 1970s after many organochlorine pesticides were being banned.
The notorious DDT is an example of an organochlorine pesticide. It was this chemical and the famous book “Silent Spring” written in 1962 by Rachel Carson that launched the public debate about using potentially-dangerous chemicals in our food and in the environment without fully understanding the effects on human health. DDT is known to cause cancer by forming free radicals inside the body and mutating genes, not too different from the chemistry of how the controversial CFC’s (chloroflourocarbons) work to destroy the atmosphere. It is the carbon-chlorine bond that can metabolize to from free radicals in the body, a fundamental chemical reaction of molecules containing such bonds.
DDT and organochlorine compounds, in general, are also known to disrupt normal endocrine function and are especially prone to bioaccumulation as they store well in the fatty tissues of the body. Molecules containing carbon-chlorine bonds are very rare in nature until man started synthesizing such unique molecules, and we now know that they persist in the environment. In fact, the government’s latest Pesticide Reside Study still showed traces of DDT in our food supply, even though it was banned in 1972.
The third class of pesticides is the neonicotinoids, chemically similar to nicotine they act on neurological receptors in the brain. Imidacloprid is one of the top chemicals used around the world. It and others in this class are under much scrutiny currently, as neonicotinoids are being linked to honey-bee colony collapse and other ecological devastation. Despite all this scientific evidence, we continue to use these pesticides in modern agriculture.
The government has a Pesticide Data Program led by the FDA that attempts to monitor if conventional and “certified organic” produce meets standards. In reality, the government cannot enforce all the rules and regulations and, therefore, does periodic sample testing to determine if the food we are eating is safe. Results from the last study of samples collected in 2010-2012 analyzing over 195 different pesticides showed that produce does often contain significant residues, with amounts being highly dependent on the type of produce and place of origin. Many violations were noted with levels exceeding the maximum tolerated levels that are set by the EPA. Note that it is possible that some plants actually take up the chemicals into their cells, which is quite different than having a residue on the outside and not accounted for in this type of study.
Do be aware that just because something claims to be organic, there may still be pesticides applied to your produce, classified as “natural” agents. These naturally-derived pesticides are typically safer than any of the synthetic chemicals listed above, but know that the food may still have a residue, so proper peeling and washing of produce is important. There are various lists that advise consumers which conventional fruits and vegetables to completely avoid due to high levels of pesticide residues (“the dirty dozen”). For example, apples, spinach, berries, potatoes, rice and peppers are often found on these lists and are known to have higher levels of pesticide residues. Do a quick Internet search to find such lists.
I understand that organic food can be more expensive than conventional, especially difficult for those on a low budget. However, the extra money you invest now in buying quality organic whole foods will pay off later. Your body and your mind will be healthy and happy as you are taking measures to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases that can incur huge medical costs.
I hope that I have provided some initial convincing evidence describing the fundamental chemistry of pesticides currently in use and how they may be harmful to human health. This is not a trendy fad. I myself choose to buy organic food after knowing this powerful information, and I encourage you all to start exploring organic options. In considering also the adverse effects to the environment, the fish, the honeybees, our drinking water and our precious Earth, there are innumerable reasons why it’s worth buying organic.
Dr. Lisa Julian Ph.D. has a passion for organic chemistry the “molecules of life,” and its application to food and health. She’s the owner of Elevated Yoga & Holistic Health in Frisco and teaches Science and Nutrition at CU Denver and CMC. She can be reached at (970)401-2071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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