With studies now indicating that even low-level exposure to pesticides may lead to serious adverse health effects, there is increasing interest in the consumption of organic diets as a means of minimizing agricultural chemical intake. Recognizing this, a new study from Spain analyzes the effects of an organic diet on the levels of pesticide metabolites in a group of 32 adults. Just six days after starting the diet, metabolite levels in the participants’ urine were found to be significantly lower – thus suggesting a marked reduction in the potential adverse health effects.
Published in the Food Research International journal, the study began with the participants eating a conventional diet for a period of one week. Following this, a five-day dietary intervention with organic food was conducted. The levels of six specific pesticide metabolites in the participants’ urine were measured before and after the intervention. Prior to switching to the organic diet, the participants’ urine samples contained detectable levels of all six pesticide metabolites. At the end of the intervention, however, on day six of the experiment, the researchers found a significant decrease in the concentrations of three metabolites.
Additionally, screening for 204 pesticide residues in the organic food products eaten during the study confirmed either the absence or very low levels of most of them. This further supported the conclusion that organic diets reduce pesticide exposure.
As the study points out, even at low levels, pesticide exposure may lead to serious adverse health effects including cancer, asthma, allergies, and hormone disruption. However, the scientifically proven benefits of organic food go far beyond the mere avoidance of agricultural chemicals.
Research has convincingly demonstrated that foods produced organically contain higher levels of micronutrients than their conventionally farmed counterparts. In 2014, in what was arguably one of the most comprehensive meta-analyses on the topic to date, an international team led by Professor Carlo Leifert from Newcastle University in the UK found organic food contains up to 69 percent more of key antioxidants than regular food, as well as lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides. Based on an analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies from around the world, Leifert’s findings destroyed the myth that organic food is nutritionally indistinguishable from that produced using pesticides.
Other research refutes the oft-heard claim that organic agriculture is unable to produce enough food to feed the global population. In findings from the University of Michigan published in 2007, scientists showed that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land. Describing as “ridiculous” the idea that using organic farming approaches supposedly causes people to go hungry, Professor Ivette Perfecto, one of the paper’s principal authors, explained that “corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies, as well as fertilizer companies, all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food.”
As Dr. Rath memorably stated in his Barletta Declaration in 2014, in order to create a truly effective, preventive health care system we have to tear down the artificial barriers that exist between nutrition and health, as well as between medicine and agriculture. The increasing awareness of the benefits of organic farming can go a long way towards bringing this about.