Problems With Pesticides
If you’ve read the blog post on Organic Food for Sustainability you will be aware that there is no doubt that growing food organically, without the use of pesticides, fungicides and artificial fertilisers, is more sustainable for the planet.
Evidence shows that eating a largely organic diet reduces exposure to toxic pesticides and herbicides (1). Switching to organic foods appears to contribute to good health and to decrease the risk of developing chronic diseases. This may be due to the higher content of bioactive compounds and lower content of toxic compounds in organic foods compared to conventionally farmed products (2). When researchers put a group of people on an organic diet for just 6 days the levels of pesticide metabolites in their urine significantly decreased (1).
The bad news is that many conventionally grown foods contain pesticide residues higher than the legally permitted levels.The good news is that in the last decade, the production and consumption of organic foods have increased steadily worldwide (2).
Here are just a few of the health problems associated with pesticides:
Pesticides and Disease Risk
The Pesticide-induced Disease Database includes studies from around the world linking pesticide exposure to many serious health conditions including:
- Various types of cancer
- Birth defects and developmental disorders
- Increased behavioural and attention problems in children
- Negative effects on the endocrine system especially the reproductive system
- Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Decreased scores on cognitive tests
Some pesticides are listed as being probable carcinogens by the World Health Organisation.
The cocktail effect of consuming multiple types of pesticides is hard to study but it is likely that the negative effects are amplified when more than one pesticide is ingested.
Pesticides and Hormones
Some chemicals disrupt hormones and may be one of the causes of the earlier onset of puberty in girls which is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer in later in life. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are also implicated in the development of endometriosis (3)
Pesticides and Fertility in Men and Women
Recent research has found that a woman’s chance of having a successful pregnancy through IVF could be increased by avoiding or reducing the consumption of fruit and vegetables containing high amounts of toxic pesticides. The researchers estimate that simply swapping one pesticide contaminated fruit or vegetable a day for a lower pesticide option could increase pregnancy rates by 79% and the chance of a live birth by 88%.
Pesticide exposure also reduces male fertility by reducing sperm quantity and quality (4).
If you care about your health and the health of the planet eating organic foods where possible seems like a no brainer.
For more information about the health benefits of eating organic foods see the blog post on Reasons to Go Organic. For lists of foods that are most heavily contaminated and those that aren’t see The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen.
1. Hyland C, Bradman A, Gerona R, et al. Organic diet intervention significantly reduces urinary pesticide levels in U.S. children and adults. Environ Res. 2019 Jan 29. pii: S0013-9351(19)30024-6.
2. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(4):704-714. Organic food and the impact on human health. Hurtado-Barroso S et al.
3. Fertil Steril. 2016 Sep 15;106(4):959-66. Endocrine disrupting chemicals and endometriosis. Smarr MM et al.
4. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2014 Oct;33(10):1017-39. Environmental toxins: alarming impacts of pesticides on male fertility. Sengupta P, Banerjee R.