Organic: Does it matter?
We’ve all heard of organic foods by now. Supermarkets everywhere now have a special spot dedicated to organic produce, and a little “nature’s market” for other goods. It wouldn’t be there if the demand didn’t exist, but a lot of people don’t really know what organic food is, and immediately walk away when they see that they are in the organic section. The same thing often happens with gluten-free products. We fear what we don’t know.
Organic food is simply food that was raised without the aid of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers. Since these crops are more susceptible to damage from things of nature, they are more expensive to grow, and often, the farmer ends up with a smaller yield and higher cost than ones who use chemicals.
So, is it worth it? As is true in so many other facets of life, especially food, you get what you pay for. It’s much easier to make a profit on your crop by spraying them with thousands of gallons of chemicals so that no pests will touch them without getting sick or dying. Then it is washed and given to you at a cheaper price and with only FDA approved levels of chemicals, hopefully.
If you’re like me, you like to see proof… to see the science. Do you ever wonder what this stuff maybe doing to you or your children or your animals, or your mom or dad with Parkinson’s Disease or dementia?
Let’s take a quick look at some common chemicals most of us are consuming at low levels regularly. A quick look is all we can afford; because there are over 20,000 FDA approved chemicals now in use. It would take a few dictionary sized books and a year of study on your part to make it through them all.
What are some of the more commonly used chemicals, and why do we use them?
Organophosphate Pesticides – These pesticides affect the nervous system by disrupting the enzyme that regulates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Most organophosphates are insecticides. They were developed during the early 19th century, but their effects on insects, which are similar to their effects on humans, were discovered in 1932. Some are very poisonous (they were used in World War II as nerve agents).
Carbamate Pesticides affect the nervous system by disrupting an enzyme that regulates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter.
Organochlorine Insecticides many have been removed from the market due to their health and environmental effects and their persistence (e.g. DDT and chlordane). They still persist in environment today.
Pyrethroid Pesticides were developed as a synthetic version of the naturally occurring pesticide pyrethrin, which is found in chrysanthemums. They have been modified to increase their stability in the environment. Some synthetic pyrethroids are toxic to the nervous system. (EPA, 2012)
These are a few groups of widely used pesticides that have been extensively studied, and have been shown to be particularly harmful to humans. For those of us who have looked into the dangers of chemicals in our food supply, the first thing that comes to mind is likely to be Cancer. This is the biggest and most obvious concern, as many studies suggest that pesticide exposures may have a significant effect on cancer risk. Efforts to reduce worldwide pesticide use are recommended by these same studies, numbering in the hundreds. But did you know that pesticides also have direct negative impacts on carbohydrates and blood glucose levels, lipid (fat) metabolism, as well as protein synthesis and metabolism?
Clinical studies indicate hyperglycemia following exposure, and in the first trimester of pregnancy these exposures increased the risk of gestational diabetes. The pancreas, which has a critical role in secretion of insulin, glucagon, and digestive enzymes, is a target organ for toxicity of pesticides. So they tend to build up to toxic levels quickly. The effect of pesticide on this organ “. . . can alter metabolism of carbohydrate, lipid, and protein. Mortality from pancreatic cancer was more frequent after exposure to DDT and OP” (Karami-Mohajeri, 2011).
ATPase activities (natural enzyme reactions) that contribute to production of mitochondrial ATP (every cells energy source) were depleted in the liver post exposure to the pesticide quinalphos. Ranked ‘moderately hazardous’ in World Health Organization‘s (WHO) acute hazard ranking, use of quinalphos is either banned or restricted in most nations. It is classified as a “. . . yellow label (highly toxic) pesticide in India, is widely used in the following crops: wheat, rice, coffee, sugarcane, and cotton” (WHO). So it is illegal to use it here, but it is not in other countries where many of our goods come from. This speaks volumes for buying organic, and as local as possible.
To cite a few examples, one review of over 2,000 studies done on these chemicals found that “Carbofuran decreased liver and muscle total protein. Accumulation of lipids (fats) inside the muscle occurred following exposure to isofenphos probably due to down-regulation of metabolic activity in fat tissues” (Karami-Mohajeri, 2011).
Mitochondria as our cell’s source of energy has critical role in the production of ATP as energy in direct correlation with metabolism of carbohydrates. Because of its effects “. . . on production of ATP, ROS, and promotion of cell death, this organelle associates with metabolic alterations as a consequence of exposure to pesticides. For instance, swelling of mitochondrial vacuoles in the cytoplasm, dissolution of mitochondrial matrix, and picnotic nucleus in B cells in the islets of Langerhans were observed following exposure to endosulfan” (Kalender, 2004). Persistent organic pollutants are associated with metabolic syndrome (obesity, diabetes, hypertension).
Pesticides can influence serum concentrations of reproductive and metabolic hormones, particularly thyroxin. Thyroxin, the major secretary product of the thyroid and a principal regulator of metabolism, increases oxidation of acetate and synthesis of fatty acids. Thyrotoxicosis is “. . . known to induce a broad range of changes in carbohydrate metabolism” (Klieverik, 2008).
In addition, a negative relationship was found between insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF1) and aldrin and other pesticides that are involved in the pathogenesis of several diseases like cancer, diabetes, and growth disorders. There are a number of reports indicating estrogenic effect of metoxychlor that can cause alterations of metabolism. (Rawlings, 1998)
And this is just scratching the surface of pesticides, we haven’t even talked about herbicides, and don’t worry, we’ll save those for future research.
The mechanisms here involve not only the disturbed balance of free radicals and anti-oxidants, but also by induction of toxic stress. Many times, when your significant other doesn’t catch the flu that you’ve clearly exposed them to, it could be because you have inadvertently been exposed to chemical toxins, and they haven’t. Sure, if you stumbled upon a nuclear waste site, you would hopefully know to go the opposite direction, but we are talking about low-level exposures here, ones that you may not notice, or have become so accustomed to having around that you no longer think about it, like the roach bait under your sink, the toxic dust and fumes from the ongoing home improvement projects, the traces of over 60 different possible pesticides to be found on your apples and peppers, lawn “care” chemicals, etc. These low-level exposures tend to build up, since we did not evolve to metabolize and safely eliminate these substances.
If organophosphates had been sprayed around since the dawn of man, perhaps we would have a specialized organ, or particular enzyme to do the job. Alas, it has only been a couple hundred years since petro-corporations began racing to come up with new chemicals to patent before their competitors did, with little to no regard to long-term effects on health and environment. In terms of evolution, that’s not even enough time to observe genetic changes in bacteria, which multiply generations 6 times a day. Who knows what we already face down the road.
Just as one cigarette doesn’t cause lung cancer, neither does one common exposure cause permanent damage. Eating conventionally grown produce is something that most of us have gotten away with, so far. It is impossible in most cases to quantify a lifetime of potential toxicity and pinpoint the specific damage done to our bodies. What we do have is science that tells us what can and does happen. It is up to us to be vigilant in choosing for our families the cleanest food possible, and speaking up to any damaging chemical disposal in your community.
Buying organic foods and being mindful of which chemicals you use is obviously the first step in protecting yourself, but daily exposures from exhaust, occupational hazards, plastics, water contamination and other pollutants are inevitable. Nature has provided us with many antioxidants that interfere with the free radical cascades caused by chemicals to reduce or prevent damage. We can find them in fresh vegetables, fruits, and other whole, unrefined foods.
Selenium, found higher concentrations in Brazil nuts, wild caught salmon, chicken, mushrooms, grapes, or supplemented in diet or combination of vitamins E and C can reduce toxic effects. In addition, reduced glutathione, found in foods or supplemented with alpha lipoic acid, can actually re-generate vitamin C and E, doubling its power.
Alpha lipoic acid is at the center of what Dr. Lester Packer calls The Antioxidant Network. Packer is a leading antioxidant researcher and author of the book, “The Antioxidant Miracle” (1999). “Vitamins C and E may be well-known to you, but less familiar antioxidants such as Alpha Lipoic Acid, Coenzyme Q10 and Tocotrienols (mixed forms of vitamin E) are vital. These antioxidants interact in a network to recycle and regenerate each other and to counteract the age associated decline in gene functions which can leave us vulnerable to infection and disease” (Lester Packer, 1999). When vitamin C, for example, quenches a free radical, it becomes a harmless version of a free radical, but alpha lipoic acid can regenerate it back to vitamin C again. Antioxidant cocktails are markedly more effective than single antioxidants, and there are many sources found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. Supplementing alpha lipoic acid 100mg/day can help shield daily exposures, but for smokers, 300-600 is often recommended. It helps keep the powerful antioxidants you get from fruits and veggies active and fighting longer.
Lester’s studies found that alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), found in nuts, seeds, oily fish, eggs, the bran of many grains, and oils, protected the liver and blood from diazinon-induced oxidative stress. The fruit of date palm was shown to be useful in prevention of dimethoate-induced oxidative stress in the rat liver. Recently, it was found that essential oil from Satureja khuzestanica improves malathion-induced AChE inhibition and hepatic mitochondrial GP and PEPCK activities, by its antioxidant potential.
Hormones are also affected. Melatonin administration led to a significant increase in antioxidant activity and inhibited LPO in most tissues. Moreover, zinc prevented hepatotoxic effect of chlorpyrifos in disruption of the membranous organelles and narrowing/blocking of biliary channels. (Shadnia S, 2007)
One could switch to an all organic diet today, but will still have built up toxins in the liver and lymph, therefor, one or more rounds of a detox program, which can be researched online, can kick start healing and prevent further oxidation and exposure.
This is a very broad subject to breach, with thousands of pesticides, herbicides, and others causing metabolic, genetic, immunologic, psychological changes. Fortunately for all of us, there are also thousands of phyto-chemicals and antioxidants that we can seek out to prevent, reduce, and even reverse damage. We looked at why organic food is important, and presented examples of the science behind the reason many scientists, nutritionists, doctors, and people in-the-know are demanding a cleaner food system and environment. Taking any steps to reduce exposure now can greatly reduce serious risks to your health. Spending a little at a time and money on your health now is way better than spending a lot of money and strife trying to recover it later.
EPA. (2012, 5 9). About Pesticides. Retrieved from EPA: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/about/types.htm
Francheschini, B. P. (2009). Human cord blood stem cells transplanted to nod-scid mice provide conditions for regeneration of olfactory neuroepithelium after permanent damage induced by dichlobenil. Stem Cells, 824-835.
Kalender, U. O. (2004). Effects of endosulfan on B cells of Langerhans islets in rat pancreas. Toxicology, 205-211.
Karami-Mohajeri, A. (2011). Toxic influence of organophosphates, carbamate, and organochlorine pesticides on cellular metabolism of lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates: a systematic review. Human & Experimental Toxicology, 1119-1140.
Klieverik, S. A. (2008). Effects of thyrotoxicosis and selective hepatic autonomic denervation on hepatic glucose metabolism in rats. American Journal of Physiology: Endocrine Metabolism, 294.
Lester Packer, C. C. (1999). The Antioxidant Miracle. Canada: John Wiley and Sons.
Rawlings, C. W. (1998). Effects of the pesticides carbofuran, chlorpyrifos, dimethoate, lindane, trillate, trifluralin, 2, 4-D, and pentachlorophenol on the metabolic endocrine and reproductive endocrine system in ewes. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 21-36.
Shadnia S, D. M. (2007). Protective effects of alpha tocopherol and N-acetyl-cysteine ondiazinon-induced oxicdative stress and acetylecholinesterase inhibition in rats. Toxicology Mechanical Methods, 109-115.
WHO. (n.d.). Pesticide Documents. Retrieved from WHO.int: http://www.inchem.org/pages/pds.html
About Chef Brandon
Chef Brandon Schlunt is co-owner of HealthSavor, a Cincinnati Ohio based healthy, organic, gluten-free meal delivery service, created to help busy families, individuals and children eat nutritious meals easily and affordably. Chef Brandon focuses on helping his customers lose weight, lower their blood sugar and feels very honored to have earned the trust of many doctors, students, parents, athletes, and on-the-go businessmen and women all over the city. In his non-existent spare time, Chef B enjoys music, hanging with his daughter and fiance, and continuing his education in nutrition.Join The HealthSavor Newsletter Here ORDER TODAY!