Tag Archives: pesticides

Fruits and Veggies to Eat and to Avoid

My posts have recently focused on pesticides and their effect on human physiology in a variety of ways.  See Solving Childhood Obesity – Part II – Chemical Exposures, Toxins causing ‘grievous harm,’ cancer panel says, or Baby Bottles and BPA – You need to know the facts… for just a few examples.

The pesticide problem in this country is obviously a major one that contributes to everything from obesity to cancer.  The problem?  Most of our exposure to these pesticides is through eating the most nutritious foods – fruits and vegetables.

The Environmental Working Group recently released the ‘Dirty Dozen’ of fruit and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide counts.  They also provided a list of fruits and vegetables that are less problematic when consumed.  I have reprinted the list below.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ – Only Consume From Organic Sources

  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Domestic blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Spinach, kale and collard greens
  9. Cherries
  10. Potatoes
  11. Imported grapes
  12. Lettuce

You May Consume from Non-Organic Sources

  1. Onions
  2. Avocados
  3. Sweet corn
  4. Pineapples
  5. Mango
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Kiwi fruit
  9. Cabbage
  10. Eggplant
  11. Cantaloupe
  12. Watermelon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Sweet potatoes
  15. Sweet onions

I always recommend that my patients eat as much as possible from organic sources.  I am, however, a realist and know that it is almost impossible to find all of your food from organic sources.  Even I don’t eat everything organic.

In the first list you see that they are all ready to eat.  You could pick any one of those dirty dozen right off the tree or vine and pop it in your mouth and enjoy.  However, that means that the pesticides are also applied directly to the skin of the fruit or vegetable.  The skin of these fruits and vegetables are soft and the pesticides are absorbed directly into the flesh of the produce.  Washing does you no good.  In fact, the tests were conducted only on produce that had been washed with a USDA high-power pressure water system.  The Environmental Working group found that you could potentially reduced your pesticide exposure by 80% by avoiding the dirty dozen or only eating them from organic sources.

In the second list you see fruits and vegetables that are consumed only after the tough skin has been removed.  The Environmental Working Group found little to no pesticide in the flesh of this produce.  I still recommend that you eat these organically because of the other benefits of organically grown produce.

Conventional wisdom has been that as long as you wash your produce you protect yourself from the dangers of pesticide exposure.  It always seemed naive to me to assume that spraying pesticides on the outside of our produce had no effect on the inside of it.  Now we have proof that at least soft skinned produce absorbs these dangerous chemicals and transfers those neurotoxins to us.

There is no better way to get your vitamins, minerals and antioxidants then by consuming fresh produce.  However, make sure you eat as organically as possible to avoid unnecessary pesticide exposure.

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Pesticides and your child’s health

I am going to take a one day break from my series on solving childhood obesity to mention this study that I just read about.  The study shows that children exposed to small amounts of pesticides have a significantly higher risk of developing ADHD.

In my last blog I spoke about controlling chemical exposures to limit obesity in children.  This study reveals yet another reason you should be wary of what goes in your child’s mouth.  The study looked at pesticides that are used on fruits and vegetables to improve the yield of a crop.  Sure, the pesticides work because they stop insect infestation but at what cost.

The pesticides are in a class of compounds called organophosphates.  These organophosphates are neurotoxins (toxic to the nervous system).  They act by inactivating an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (A-see-tal-kole-in-es-ter-ace).  By inactivating this enzyme in an insect they die.  The problem?  Humans also need this enzyme to function.

In the human brain the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (A-see-tal-kole-een) is used for many things.  It is essential for learning and memory.  Acetylcholinesterase is also present in the brain.  It is designed to breakdown excess acetycholine.  By inactivating this key enzyme you may have too much neurotransmitter causing detrimental side effects.

This recent study isn’t the first to link organophosphates to ADHD, but it is the first to look at exposure to the general population.  Other studies have looked at farming communities and workers.

Researchers measured the levels of pesticide byproducts in the urine of 1,139 children from across the United States. Children with above-average levels of one common byproduct had roughly twice the odds of getting a diagnosis of ADHD, according to the study, which appears in the journal Pediatrics.

Where is the exposure coming from?  The EPA has banned most organophosphates from general lawn and garden use so the exposure is likely our fruit and vegetable supply.  That’s a scary thought because these are supposed to be our healthiest options.

Detectable levels of pesticides are present in a large number of fruits and vegetables sold in the U.S., according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited in the study. In a representative sample of produce tested by the agency, 28 percent of frozen blueberries, 20 percent of celery, and 25 percent of strawberries contained traces of one type of organophosphate. Other types of organophosphates were found in 27 percent of green beans, 17 percent of peaches, and 8 percent of broccoli.

Nearly 95% of the children studied had detectable levels of organophosphate metabolites in their urine.  The children with the most had the highest rates of ADHD.

I always encourage my patients to eat organic or at the very least buy local.  Organic is best because it ensures that there is very little, if any, pesticide residue on your fruit or vegetable.  Buying local is also good because studies have shown that local produce also has less pesticide on it.

In my practice I see children with ADHD very frequently and our first step is always to clean up the diet and go as organic as possible.  In general parents are receptive to this which is good.  Most of the time, however, they get very little support from their family doctor or their child’s pediatrician.  In general I find, pediatricians don’t believe diet or chemical exposure has anything to do with ADHD.  It’s nice to finally have a study that will be published in their own trade journal that proves it does matter what a child eats.

The authors of the study suggest washing and peeling fruits and vegetables before you eat them.  I agree with the washing advice but don’t suggest you peel anything.  The skins of fruits and veggies is where some of the best nutrients are.  They are important to consume.  My advice is to buy organic and still wash the fruit or vegetable.  This will significantly reduce your risk of consuming organophosphates.

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Dangerous Pesticides Found In Tap Water. Find out how to protect yourself

A common herbicide has been found to contaminate the drinking water of millions of Americans.  Now a new study shows that this chemical, called atrazine, causes serious health issues in living organisms.  The issues that occurred were very frightening and were induced in levels that a human could ingest through contaminated drinking water.

The atrazine was found to “chemically castrate” male frogs and turned others into females.  Atrazine is a common weed killer used to control grasses in areas where more desirable crops are grown.  In a recent study, 10% of male frogs exposed actually changed sex and nearly all of the males had low testosterone and sperm count levels. Atrazine has been linked in human studies to low birth weight, premature development, birth defects and low sperm count.

Atrazine has been banned in Europe, but it is still the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. with 76 million pounds applied each year.  Atrazine is a known endocrine disruptor.  Endocrine disruptors are exogenous substances that act like hormones in the endocrine system and disrupt the physiologic function of endogenous hormones.

About 75% of stream water samples and 40% of groundwater samples contain atrazine, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, detected atrazine in 90% of tap water samples from 139 water systems.

The company that makes atrazine denies that it is unsafe stating that its own studies show it has no sexual effect on frogs despite the fact that many studies show the opposite.  This is another instance of a major corporation trying to keeps its product on the market at all costs.  By most accounts this is the most widely used herbicide in the world so it’s a huge money maker for Syngenta, the main producer of atrazine.  You will be surprised to know Syngenta is actually just an arm of the pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca and Novartis.  On their website they state that their name means “bringing people together.”  Seems like a funny name for a company that refuses to admit their products are potentially dangerous for entire populations of people.

Endocrine disruptors like atrazine are a major problem in the U.S.   Atrazine appears to act on animal physiology by mimicking the hormone estrogen.  That would explain how it could change male frogs to female frogs and would also explain the observations of low sperm counts seen in both frogs and humans exposed to atrazine.  Syngenta would have you believe this happens at high levels of exposure but it simply is not true.  Even exposure to low levels of these chemicals can be harmful.  Also take into account that atrazine is not the only endocrine disruptor in our environment.  They are found in plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys and cosmetics.

This chemical is obviously dangerous because Europe has banned its use, but Big Pharma has much too much power for that here in the United States.  Unfortunately, it will continue to be in our water supply until something very serious happens to a large group of people.  There are ways for you to protect yourself.  A simple filter on your faucet will filter out this chemical.  If you have small children or value your own health, it would be wise to consider a filtration system for your home.

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Filed under Environmental Health, Public Health