People who eat organic produce may have lower levels of some pesticides in their bodies than people who eat similar amounts of conventionally grown fruits and veggies, according to a new study.
The study is among the first to predict adult exposures to organophosphate pesticides based on people's usual diets, the researchers said. Organophosphates are the pesticides commonly used on conventionally grown produce.
While health-conscious individuals understand the benefits of eating fresh fruits and veggies, they may not be aware of the amount of pesticides they could be ingesting along with their vitamin C and fibre.
A new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives is among the first to predict a person’s pesticide exposure based on information about their usual diet.
The study was led by Cynthia Curl, an assistant professor in Boise State University’s School of Allied Health Sciences.
Curl and her colleagues analysed the dietary exposure of nearly 4,500 people from six US cities to organophosphates (OPs), the most common insecticides used on conventionally grown produce in the United States. The study participants were from many ethnic backgrounds.
OP pesticides are linked to a number of detrimental health effects, particularly among agricultural workers who are regularly exposed to the chemicals.
Predicting health problems linked to pesticides
The researchers were able to predict each participant’s exposure to OP pesticides based on the amount and type of produce each participant typically ate and the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) measurements of pesticide residue levels on those foods. The researchers then compared these predictions to pesticide metabolite levels measured in urine samples from a subset of 720 of these people.
While Curl’s study is not the first to link organic produce with reduced pesticide exposure, the method she used may have significant implications for future research. By combining self-reported information on typical food consumption with USDA measurements, researchers will be able to conduct research on the relationship between dietary pesticide exposure and health outcomes in bigger populations, without needing to measure urinary metabolites.
“If we can predict pesticide exposure using dietary questionnaire data, then we may be able to understand the potential health effects of dietary exposure to pesticides without having to collect biological samples from people,” Curl said. “That will allow research on organic food to be both less expensive and less invasive.”
“The next step is to use these exposure predictions to examine the relationship between dietary exposure to pesticides and health outcomes, including neurological and cognitive endpoints. We’ll be able to do that in this same population of nearly 4,500 people,” she said.
One way people can reduce their pesticide exposure, said Curl, is to eat organic versions of those foods that are listed on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” pesticides list, which ranks fruits and vegetables according to pesticide residue level.
Although some studies have estimated the effect of organic diets on body burden of pesticides in children, the new study is the first published research on the same phenomenon in adults. The researchers randomly assigned 13 adults to eat a diet composed of at least 80 percent organic food or at least 80 percent “conventional” food (produced using pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified organisms). After seven days, all participants were switched to the other diet for another week. Urine samples were taken the day after the conclusion of each diet intervention.
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