Scientists Pull a Fast One:
Let's Change the Meaning
of the Word "Nutritious."
It's the Pesticides, Dorks!
A study published last week by two Stanford researchers, Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD and Margaret Brandeau, Ph.D. in the Sep. 4 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine1 claims that organic produce is no more nutritious than conventional food.
But this sensational claim ignores a primary concern consumers have about the safety of today's industrialized food supply and what it serves up: unhealthy doses of pesticides.
The Stanford study acknowledges that organic food comes with substantially lower pesticide residues. But it claims organic food is not more nutritious because both organic and conventional produce meet EPA standards for pesticide residues most of the time. It does confirm that organic produce is less contaminated with detectable levels of pesticide.
Yet millions of Americans vote with their dollars at Whole Foods every day. The 40-year success of the organic foods industry shows that substantial segments of the public question the very concept of “safe” levels of pesticide residues below which measurable effects allegedly don’t occur.
The Chicago Tribune reports2 that the EPA has placed a chemical industry lobbyist in charge of the program that decides whether household chemicals are safe. This lobbyist has a long history of claiming that fire retardants and other chemicals added to household products are safe in concentrations hundreds of times above current standards. Practices like these feed the public’s concerns.
There’s also a substantial body of research suggesting that pesticides and the crops genetically modified to tolerate them may be affecting the public in ways that may not be reflected in current safety standards.3-6
Pesticides are often tested by exposing lab animals to relatively high doses for relatively short periods of time, compared to the exposures humans get in real life,7 in part for economic reasons.8 Pesticides are usually tested one at a time, and analysts often assume that the effects of pesticide combinations can be arrived at by addition9 instead of multiplication (aka: synergistic effects.) This practice can underestimate the effects of combinations of pesticides, the kind of complex randomized exposures humans receive from the food supply.10
UK researchers recently tested three widely used toxins in combination for their effects on human brain cells. They observed significant damage to the cells’ ability to generate energy and protect themselves from inflammation.11
The kind of inflammation observed, along with the falloff in energy production the inflammation creates,12 has been shown to have adverse effects on human moods,13-15 on childrens’ ability to learn,16 autism17,18 and appears to invite the onset of neurodegenerative diseases19,20 including dementia21,22 and Alzheimer’s Disease.23
The conventional agriculture community is aware that combining many pesticides appears to enhance their effects beyond what one would expect by simply totaling their separate actions. A growing body of evidence suggests that old models underlying the EPA’s safety standards may be flawed, and that current standards are far too relaxed if the goal is to protect the most vulnerable members of society: children.24-26
For decades the only long-term issue screened for by pesticide testing was cancer. More recently it’s been determined that endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with or enhance the action of hormones, may also be a major risk.
Children are more vulnerable than adults27,28 and especially the developing fetus. Damage can occur at exposure levels encountered commonly today.29,30
By accepting EPA "safe" levels for pesticide exposure at face value and subsituting a highly-technical definition of "nutritious" for the one in common usage, Smith-Spangler and Brandeau ignore a principal reason some consumers prefer organic food and consider it more "nutritious" than conventionally-produced food.
Researchers may decide, for technical reasons, that the presence of pesticides in our food supply doesn't matter. For the rest of us ... there's plenty of hard evidence supporting the idea that organic food is more "nutritious."
1. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML,. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Sep 4;157(5):348-66.
2. Hawthorne, M. Chemical firm's champion now EPA expert. Chicago Tribue Sep. 20, 2012.
3. Relevant research indexed here.
4. Verma, C., Nanda, S. A Review on Impacts of Genetically Modified Food on Human Health. The Open Nutraceuticals Journal, 2011. (4):3-11.
5. de Vendômois JS., Roullier F., A comparison of the effects of three GM corn varieties on mammalian health. Int J Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 10;5(7):706-26.
6. Vandenberg LN, Colborn T, Hormones and endocrine-disrupting chemicals: low-dose effects and nonmonotonic dose responses. Endocr Rev. 2012 Jun;33(3):378-455.
7. Alink G., Barlow S., et al. Safety and nutritional assessment of GM plants and derived food and feed: the role of animal feeding trials. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Mar;46 Suppl 1:S2-70.
8. Boobis AR, Ossendorp BC., Studying toxicants as single chemicals: does this strategy adequately identify neurotoxic risk? Neurotoxicology. 2005 Aug;26(4):491-510.
9. Gennings C., Carter, WH. Jr., A Unifying Concept for Assessing Toxicological Interactions: Changes in Slope. Toxicological Sciences 2005 88(2): 287-297.
10. Cory-Slechta DA. Studying toxicants as single chemicals: does this strategy adequately identify neurotoxic risk? Cory-Slechta DA. Neurotoxicology. 2005 Aug;26(4):491-510.
11. Coleman, MD., JO'Neil, JD., et al. A Preliminary Investigation into the Impact of a Pesticide Combination on Human Neuronal and Glial Cell Lines In Vitro. PLoS One. 2012; 7(8):e42768.
12. Sas K., Robotka H., Mitochondria, metabolic disturbances, oxidative stress and the kynurenine system, with focus on neurodegenerative disorders. J Neurol Sci. 2007 Jun 15;257(1-2):221-39.
13. Kodydková J, Vávrová L,Antioxidative enzymes and increased oxidative stress in depressive women. Clin Biochem. 2009 Sep;42(13-14):1368-74
14. Behr, GA., Moreira, JCF., Preclinical and Clinical Evidence of Antioxidant Effects of Antidepressant Agents: Implications for the Pathophysiology of Major Depressive Disorder. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 22012:609421.
15. Vaccarino, V., Brennan, ML., et al. Association of Major Depressive Disorder with Serum Myeloperoxidase and other Markers of Inflammation: A Twin Study. Biol Psychiatry. 2008 64(6):476–483.
16. Marks, AR>, Harley, K. Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Attention in Young Mexican-American Children: The CHAMACOS Study. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 118(12):1768–1774.
17. Rossignol1, DA., Frye, RE., A review of research trends in physiological abnormalities in autism spectrum disorders: immune dysregulation, inflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and environmental toxicant exposures. Mol Psychiatry. 2012 17(4):389–401.
18. Adams, JD., Audhya, t., Nutritional and metabolic status of children with autism vs. neurotypical children, and the association with autism severity. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2011 8:34.
19. Rao AV, Balachandran B. Role of oxidative stress and antioxidants in neurodegenerative diseases. Nutr Neurosci. 2002 Oct;5(5):291-309.
20. Deschamps V., Barberger-Gateau P., et al. Nutritional factors in cerebral aging and dementia: epidemiological arguments for a role of oxidative stress. Neuroepidemiology. 2001 Feb;20(1):7-15
21. Glade MJ. Oxidative stress and cognitive longevity. Nutrition. 2010 Jun;26(6):595-603.
22. Dröge W., Schipper HM., Oxidative stress and aberrant signaling in aging and cognitive decline. Aging Cell. 2007 June; 6(3): 361–370.
23. Ramesh, BN., Rao, S., et al. Neuronutrition and Alzheimer's Disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010 19(4):1123–1139.
24. Colborn, T. A Case for Revisiting the Safety of Pesticides: A Closer Look at Neurodevelopment. Environ Health Perspect. 2006 114(1):10–17.
25. Freire C., Lopez-Espinosa MJ., Prenatal exposure to organochlorine pesticides and TSH status in newborns from Southern Spain. Sci Total Environ. 2011 409(18):3281-7.
26. Freire C, Ramos R, Newborn TSH concentration and its association with cognitive development in healthy boys. Eur J Endocrinol. 2010 163(6):901-9.
27. Liu J, Schelar E., Pesticide exposure and child neurodevelopment: summary and implications. Workplace Health Saf. 2012 May;60(5):235-42.
28. Biello D., Bad for bugs and brains? A common pesticide may interfere with a child's brain development. Sci Am. 2012 Jul;307(1):22.
29. Rauh VA, Perera FP, et al., Brain anomalies in children exposed prenatally to a common organophosphate pesticide. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 May 15;109(20):7871-6.
30. Rauh V, Arunajadai S. Seven-year neurodevelopmental scores and prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos, a common agricultural pesticide. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Aug;119(8):1196-201.