Parents are often torn between the perceived health benefits of eating an “organic” diet and the increased cost of organically grown or raised foods. It is important to discuss the potential health effects of pesticides and herbicides, also fungicides, on our children. This may make it seem more worthwhile to avoid these chemicals. I will also discuss sources of exposure and options for avoidance.
Basically, pesticides are chemicals designed to kill insects; herbicides are chemicals designed to kill parasitic plants the impair crop yields; and fungicides are chemicals designed to kill parasitic fungi. Does anyone think that chemicals designed to kill living things could be harmful to humans in some way?
Chlorinated pesticides and organophosphate pesticides are two very common varieties of these chemicals. They are sprayed on food crops to keep insects from eating the plants and decreasing yield. Pesticide content of fruits and vegetables varies greatly by variety, and lists can be found online mentioning which types of produce have the highest levels, and which have the lowest.
Early-life exposure to pesticides has been linked to ADHD, pervasive developmental disorder (i.e. mild autism) and poorer mental development in general. Parental exposures have been linked to problems in the child including neurodevelopmental effects, cancer, physical birth defects, and even fetal death. This means it is extremely important to avoid these toxins. A recent published review article on this topic is “Pesticide exposure in children” by Roberts, et al. in Pediatrics; Dec. 2012; vol 130, issue 6.
A very common herbicide in foods, one used on numerous major crops in large amounts, is atrazine; another common herbicide is metolachlor. A recent study of childhood cancers in association with herbicides found that atrazine itself increased the risk by 10%, metolachlor increased risk by 54%; and a combination of three common herbicides together was found to increase cancer risk in children by more than 750% (Thorpe, 2005). This demonstrates a tremendous synergistic effect.
Fungicides like vinclozolin and others block testosterone receptors and cause hormone deficiency symptoms in males. Exposure during fetal development and infancy could conceivably alter male sexual development. Many pesticides and herbicides have hormonal effects as well. These chemicals can therefore have diverse and potentially devastating physiological effects on children and into adulthood.
So, the obvious means of avoiding these chemicals is to eat only organic or wild foods. Hopefully that sounds like a good idea and worthwhile expense at this point. Organic food may be more expensive, but the health of our children is a top priority; and, if everyone bought only organic food they would stop producing nonorganic food.
What most don’t realize is that animal foods are the most important foods to buy organic. Meat, eggs, butter, milk, ice cream, cheese have much higher pesticide content than fruits and vegetables. This is because animals eating nonorganic feed for their entire lives will bio-accumulate these toxins to much higher levels. It is extremely important to eat only wild fish and seafood as well, because the farmed varieties have extremely toxic levels of PCB’s in addition to other chemicals.