Wednesday, 3 August 2016

One Week of Going Organic and Pesticide Accumulation

Organic food has become increasingly popular in recent years, with a growing range of available products, growing acceptance and sometimes even a reduction in prices. This is partly because of the negative health effects of pesticides, but how long does it take to make a dent or two in the amount of pesticides that we have all accumulated over the years?

A small study conducted in my country, Australia, shows that an organic diet may work its magic faster than you think. Thirteen participants were assigned to diets that were either 80% organic, or 80% conventional, for one week before switching to the other. The metabolites of six organophosphate pesticides were measured by urine tests on the last day of each week, then compared between the two groups. The average reduction in metabolites among those on the 80% organic diet was 89%; with a 96% reduction in the "dimethyl" metabolites and the "diethyl" metabolites falling by half. While the study size was too small to be deemed "clinically significant", it shows how fast some people are able to detoxify when given the chance to avoid toxic chemicals, even if we cannot say the same is true for everyone. 

Source: Oyvind Holmstad
But, why should we avoid pesticides as much as possible? The authors of this study wrote that long-term exposure to organophosphate pesticides can impair neurobehavioural functioning, as well as impair intellectual development and even contribute to ADHD in children. Fortunately, children have shown rapid detoxification rates of these pesticides. A study of farmers who had occupational exposure to OP pesticides also found lower vital capacity and expiratory volume, which are two measures of lung function. The fishermen who participated as a control group had much lower levels of exposure, so any reduced lung function wasn't seen as significant. On top of this, OP pesticides may even increase the risk of some cancers. Research involving thirty thousand women whose husbands worked as pesticide applicators showed a 20% increased risk of breast cancer with exposure to any OP. The most common OP, Malathion, was associated with around double the risk of thyroid cancer (and somehow the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was reduced by a third, but there are better ways to prevent cancer). Diazinon use was linked with an 87% rise in ovarian cancer risk. These three cancers are all associated with hormone imbalances too, meaning that further research is needed on their possible effects as endocrine disruptors. Overall, with these and other studies demonstrating the harm caused by pesticides, it makes sense to eat an organically-grown diet as much as possible.

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