THE BLOG
11/14/2012 11:08 am ET | Updated Jan 14, 2013

Wait a Minute -- I Thought Organic Was Supposed to Be Better?

You've probably heard about the recent organic food study in which Stanford University researchers conclude that organic foods aren't any more nutritious than conventional foods.[1] The way the media has jumped all over this study, inferring that the organic food movement is a waste of time, is disheartening and confusing to those who are genuinely trying to eat healthier.

It's true that we don't have all the facts on pesticide-sprayed conventional vegetables and non-organic meats because we haven't been using modern, industrial-style farming methods for very long. The reality is, organic farming methods used to be the norm. Things have changed dramatically in as little as twenty years and we don't have all the answers yet. But let's take a look at the information we do have so you can make up your own mind about organic food.

Updated List of The Dirty Dozen

The following 12 fruits and vegetables are highest in pesticide residue. If you'd like to limit your pesticide exposure, it's best to buy these foods organic.
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Sweet bell peppers
4. Peaches
5. Strawberries
6. Imported nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Spinach
9. Lettuce
10. Cucumbers
11. Domestic blueberries
12. Potatoes

Adapted from the Environmental Working Group

Tougher Plants Make Healthier Foods

There is a term in science called "hormesis," which describes a theory that living things that survive in the face of stress, become stronger. I'm sure you've heard of the phrase: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." When it comes to plants, the more they have to defend themselves against pests and adversities in nature, the stronger they are. So what does that have to do with us?

Organic plants make noxious chemicals to prevent organisms and insects from eating them. These noxious chemicals cause a low-grade stress in human bodies, but it is not enough to affect us adversely, so they, in turn, make our cells and systems stronger. They do this by regulating the way certain disease-prone genes are turned on and off.[2] Plants that are sprayed and protected from pests in the environment do not have the same amount of beneficial phytochemicals because they haven't had to adapt to adversity in the same way as organic produce has.

Conventional produce may hold the same amount of vitamins and minerals as their organic counterparts, but hormesis provides them with even more beneficial phytonutrients -- not to mention the fact that pesticides aren't exactly healthy, either.

Nutrients Aren't Everything

The authors of the Stanford study write, "Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."[3] We use more than a billion pounds of pesticides a year in the United States. They are sprayed on farm crops, in businesses, schools, parks, homes and many more public places.

Let's face it, pesticides are harmful to human health. Though we don't have extensive long-term data, we do know that pesticide exposure has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia, cancer,[4] Parkinson's disease,[5] and low sperm counts in men.[6] We also know that childhood cancer is on the rise, and many scientists feel this is because of the amount of chemicals we have in our food, water, air, and homes.[7] We know that pesticides in the environment may also be connected to the development of Type 2 diabetes, as a 2006 study on persistent organic pollutants showed us. So even if conventionally grown produce has equal vitamins and minerals, the harmful health effects of pesticides and the load of chemicals we are already dealing with makes a good case to buy organic.

Looking At The Big Picture

In my line of work, it's hard not to notice how cancer rates in children and adults are continually going up, how more and more children have behavioral disorders. We live in a polluted word, that is added to daily with more plastic, more radiation (from cell phone and wireless technology), and more pesticides. We don't have a choice about a lot of it, but when it comes to organic food, we do. Choosing to eat organic, when you can, means that you are taking one more burden off of your body. And if you ask me, organic food tastes much better, anyway!

References:

1. Mattson, Mark P. 2008. "Hormesis defined." Ageing Res Rev, 7(1):1-7. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2248601/.

2. Bassil KL, Vakil C, Sanborn M, Cole DC, Kaur JS, Kerr KJ (October 2007). "Cancer health effects of pesticides: systematic review". Can Fam Physician 53 (10): 1704-11. PMC 2231435. PMID 17934034

3. Gilden RC, Huffling K, Sattler B (January 2010). "Pesticides and health risks". J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs 39 (1): 103-10. doi:10.1111/j.1552-6909.2009.01092.x. PMID 20409108.

4. Ascherio A, Chen H, Weisskopf MG, O'Reilly E, McCullough ML, Calle EE, Schwarzschild MA, Thun MJ (2006). "Pesticide exposure and risk for Parkinson's disease". Annals of Neurology 60 (2): 197-203. doi:10.1002/ana.20904. PMID 16802290. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/112660877/ABSTRACT.

5. Sheiner EK, Sheiner E, Hammel RD, Potashnik G, Carel R (April 2003). "Effect of occupational exposures on male fertility: literature review". Ind Health 41 (2): 55-62. doi:10.2486/indhealth.41.55. PMID 12725464.

6. Butterworth, T. 2010. "Is Childhood Cancer Becoming More Common?" URL: http://stats.org/stories/2010/childhood_cancer_may28_10.html.

7. Lee, DH, et al. 2006. "A strong dose-response relation between serum concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and diabetes: results from the National health and Examination Survey 1999-2002." Diabetes Care, 29(7), 1638-44. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16801591?dopt=Abstract.

For more by Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN, N.P., click here.

For more healthy living health news, click here.

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