Is Organic a Scam? – Fetal and Child Development and Antibiotic Resistance

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by Mark Sisson Mark's Daily Apple

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A few weeks ago in Weekend Link Love, I mentioned the great big much-ballyhooed study that appeared to show organic produce was no more healthy than conventional produce. Many people with an axe to grind championed its findings, with some proclaiming the undeniable ringing of the final death knell of organic farming. Science Based Medicine wasted no time in weighing in on the current state of organic food, which they said “represents the triumph of marketing over scientific reality.” Strong words, words that seem to be — at first glance — supported by the study in question. But are they? Are you falling for marketing hype when you buy organic? Is it worth it?

Today, I’m going to discuss the impact of organic and conventional food on two aspects of wellness: fetal health and development and antibiotic resistance. I’ll follow this post up with more articles in coming weeks on the differences between organic and conventional food, and give my opinions on their impact on your health so that you can make an informed decision for yourself. Consider this Part 1 in a series.

Fetal Health and Development

It may be that humans are able to withstand chronic, low-level pesticide exposure without any glaringly negative health effects arising. Heck, maybe the occasional shot of organophosphate pesticide provides a hormetic, net-beneficial effect (I wouldn’t bet on it)! But what about the kids, the tots, the fetuses, the embryos? Might it be possible that what bounces off the thick manly hide of a fully-developed adult human with nary a flick of the eye could throw a wrench in the gears of fetal development? Perhaps the unabashed skeptic who instead of rinsing pesticides off his peach with water rinses water off his peach with pesticides can get away with it, while the pregnant woman craving peaches and Greek yogurt would be better off going organic. I suspect it might.

Earlier this year, a guy named David Bellinger also suspected it might, and so he looked at several studies which examined the relationship between prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides (in addition to other environmental pollutants) and cognitive development:

In one study, a ten-fold increase in DAP urine metabolites of pregnant women (the more organophosphates you take in, the more DAP urine metabolites you produce) meant a 4.25 point loss in IQ of their children.

Another study found that the same increase was associated with a loss of 1.39 points.

And in 2007, researchers found that “prenatal levels of organophosphate pesticide metabolites are associated with anomalies in primitive reflexes [in the children], which are a critical marker of neurologic integrity.”

Bellinger didn’t cover them all, though. There’s considerable evidence that chlorpyrifos, a pesticide often used on apple crops, causes brain abnormalities — thinning in some areas, enlargements in others — in children with significant prenatal exposure. Fetal organophosphate exposure has also been linked to ADHD (especially in boys).

Of course, these studies can’t establish causality, and it would be unethical and highly illegal to conduct controlled trials in which pregnant mothers were dosed with pesticides and fungicides to see how their offspring were affected, but we can look at animal studies to get an idea. Although the results are a bit mixed, this review (PDF) generally concludes that the older studies on organophosphate pesticides found them to be “safe,” while the more recent animal studies find evidence of mutagenic and teratogenic effects, particularly on the fetus.

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