According to a report published by the US Environmental Protection Agency, it is estimated that every year over 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United State (US) and approximately 6 billion pounds are used worldwide. (Atwood, & Paisley-Jones, 2017) Pesticides are defined as: “chemical substances used to prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate any pest ranging from insects, rodents, and weeds to microorganisms, such as fungi or bacteria.” (Atwood & Paisley-Jones, 2017) Pesticides are toxic by design and aimed to eliminate any organism, such as bacteria, that can threaten public health and the economy. Pesticides were initially aimed to benefit us. According to Aktar, Sengupta, and Chowdhury, (2009) the use of pesticides benefits humanity worldwide by protecting and improving productivity of crops grown as a food supply. They protect the crops and increase the amount of available fresh food, such as rice, fruits, and vegetables. However, since pesticides are toxic, is it possible for them to be harmful to us?
Pesticides and Your Health
In an article published by the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives about organochlorine, a large group of pesticides, the author concluded that, “compounds could pollute the tissues of virtually every life form on the earth, the air, the lakes and the oceans, the fishes that live in them and the birds that feed on the fishes.” Since we breathe the air, drink the water, and consume the food and animals, pesticides might have a massive effect on our health and function. Studies found that high exposure to pesticides is associated with the development of various health problems, including neurological problems and cancer. (Cohen, 2017) It has been estimated that as many as 25 million agricultural workers worldwide experience unintentional pesticide poisonings each year. (Jeyaratnam, 1990) You do not have to be working on a farm to get exposed to pesticides. A report on the effect of pesticides on drinking water found that about 50 million people in the United States are consuming groundwater that is potentially contaminated with agricultural chemicals, such as pesticides. (Nielsen & Lee, 1987)
Pesticides and your health
Many pesticides have been identified as causing neurological and endocrine problems. Many studies show that pesticides can disturb your endocrine system, which leads to hormonal dysfunction. These chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are also called Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC). They can bind to and activate various hormone receptors and then mimic the natural hormone’s action or bind to these receptors without activating them. (Lemairea , 2014) This effect activates a hormonal receptor or blocks it. Over-activation of estrogen receptors, for example, might cause a variety of hormonal problems and the development of cancer.
Pesticides were also found to disturb metabolism of sugar in the cells and chronic exposures to pesticides has been linked with diabetes and other metabolic disorders. (Somayyeh & Mohammad, 2010)
Organophosphates are a form of pesticides. They were found to have a strong effect of brain function. It is estimated that organophosphates lead to inhibition of brain acetylcholinesterase, downregulation of muscarinic receptors, decreased brain DNA synthesis, and reduced brain weight in offspring. (Eskenazi, Bradman, & Castorina, 1999) In children, high concentrations of organophosphates were found to be associated with a significantly increased risk of being diagnosed with ADHD. (Yu et al., 2016) According to Bouchard et al. (2010) current research supports the hypothesis that even in common levels, organophosphate exposure may contribute to ADHD prevalence among children in the U.S. Pesticides, as many studies indicate, are very harmful to our health. What can you do to reduce your and your family’s consumption of these harmful chemicals?
Reducing exposure to pesticides
There are several ways and we will mostly focus on one way that will make a significant change, the food you eat. Years ago, food used to be simple and cleaner. Today, as consumers we have several options of food categories to choose from. This includes conventional and organic food. What exactly does ‘organic food’ mean and is it the solution to the pesticides problem?
Organic products are highly promoted and marketed to the public as a solution for cleaner food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, (2012) organic foods refer to those foods which are produced without using pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics or hormones. Organic products are considerably more expensive than conventional products. (Zakowska- Biemans, 2011) According to Völckner and Hofmann, (2007) higher price might lead the consumer to believe that a product is of better quality than lower price. The large difference in prices brings up the question: Are organic products healthier and contain less or no pesticides? Lu et al. found that children that had been consuming organic food for 5 days had reduced their urinary concentrations of the specific metabolites (for malathion and chlorpyrifos) to the non-detected levels immediately after the introduction of organic diets. The authors concluded that, “we were able to demonstrate that an organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to organophosphorus pesticides that are commonly used in agricultural production.” (Lu, 2006)
Other tips to maintain a clean and healthy body:
Make sure to also wash the fruits and vegetables before you eat them.
Buy organic animal products since animals are fed conventional food with pesticides.
If you cannot afford all your food to be organic, try to buy just the most contaminated vegetables and fruits organic, from the list of called ‘the dirty dozen.’
The most contaminated fruits and vegetables
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration analyzed test results of more than 35,200 samples of fruits and vegetables and found that 98 percent of conventional (non-organic) strawberry samples had detectable pesticide residues. The report showed that 47 percent of strawberries had residues of 10 or more pesticides and some samples showed residue from 17 different pesticides. In an effort to keep the public healthy and safety, the Environmental Working Group established a list of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ vegetables and fruits that you should buy organic. Here is the list (EWG, 2016):
Sweet bell peppers
In conclusion, buying organic might be more expensive, however, consuming organic will reduce your exposure to harmful pesticides that can cause a variety of health problems. It will also support the farmers that choose to grow and sell cleaner and healthier food for our health. It will also reduce the toxic burden on the environment. I believe that in this simple way we can impact our health and the health of our family.
Aktar, M. W., Sengupta, D., & Chowdhury, A. (2009). Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: their benefits and hazards. Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 2(1), 1–12. http://doi.org/10.2478/v10102-009-0001-7
Atwood, D., & Paisley-Jones, C. (2017). Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage (Rep.). Retrieved January 13, 2018, from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-01/documents/pesticides-industry-sales-usage-2016_0.pdf
Bouchard, M. F., Bellinger, D. C., Wright, R. O., & Weisskopf, M. G. (2010). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and urinary metabolites of organophosphate pesticides. Pediatrics, 125(6), e1270-e1277. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-3058
Cohen M. Environmental toxins and health--the health impact of pesticides. Australian Family Physician [serial online]. December 2007;36(12):1002-1004. Available from: MEDLINE Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 30, 2017.
Eskenazi, B., Bradman, A., & Castorina, R. (1999). Exposures of children to organophosphate pesticides and their potential adverse health effects. Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(Suppl 3), 409–419.
Environmental Working Group. ALL 48 FRUITS AND VEGETABLES WITH PESTICIDE RESIDUE DATA. Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php#.Wm-Eh6inGM8
Hurley PM. (1998) Mode of carcinogenic action of pesticides inducing thyroid follicular cell tumors in rodents. Environ Health Perspectives. 106(8):437-45.
Jeyaratnam, J. (1990). Acute pesticide poisoning: a major global health problem. World Health Statistics Quarterly. Rapport Trimestriel De Statistiques Sanitaires Mondiales, 43(3), 139-144.
Karami-Mohajeri S., Abdollahi M. Toxic influence of organophosphate, carbamate, and organochlorine pesticides on cellular metabolism of lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates: A systematic review. Human & Experimental Toxicology. Vol 30, Issue 9, pp. 1119 – 1140. First Published November 11, 2010. https://doi.org/10.1177/0960327110388959
Lemairea G., Terouanneb B., Mauvaisc P., Michelc S., Rahmani R. Effect of organochlorine pesticides on human androgen receptor activation in vitro. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. Volume 196, Issue 2, 15 April 2004, Pages 235-246.
Lu C, Toepel K, Irish R, Fenske RA, Barr DB, Bravo R. Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2006;114(2):260-263. doi:10.1289/ehp.8418.
Mnif W, Hassine AI, Bouaziz A, Bartegi A, Thomas O, Roig B, Effect of Endocrine Disruptor Pesticides: A Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Jun;8(6):2265-303. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8062265. Epub 2011 Jun 17.
Nielsen, E. G., & Lee, L. K. (1987). The magnitude and costs of groundwater contamination from agricultural chemicals : a national perspective / Elizabeth G. Nielsen, Linda K. Lee. In , ERS staff report ; AGES870318Washington, D.C. : U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Natural Resources Economics Division, 1987.
Parrón, T., Requena, M., Hernández, A. F., & Alarcón, R. (2014). Environmental exposure to pesticides and cancer risk in multiple human organ systems. Toxicology Letters, 230(2), 157-165. doi:10.1016/j.toxlet.2013.11.009
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Toxicology Program. About NTP. Retrieved from https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/about/