An Organic Diet Rapidly Reduces Pesticide Exposure

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When four American families switched to all-organic diets for a week, the results were dramatic.

A new study has found that switching to an organic diet drastically reduces pesticides in the human body within six days. The peer-reviewed study, published in Environmental Research, looked at a broader range of pesticides, not just organophosphates, which are the most commonly studied. It attempts to fill the knowledge gap regarding the effects of pyrethroids and neonicotinoids, the use of which is increasing worldwide.

Four mixed-race families participated in the study, located in different parts of the U.S. – Baltimore, Atlanta, Oakland, and Minneapolis. Family members provided urine samples prior to the trial, then switched to an all-organic diet. Within six days, new urine samples revealed a significant drop in the amount of residual pesticides in their bodies.

The biggest decrease was in organophosphates, a class of nerve agent pesticides. From the executive summary: "The metabolites for malathion (MDA) and chlorpyrifos (TCPy) decreased 95 and 61 percent respectively." These pesticides are known neurotoxins and have been linked to autism, attention disorders, learning disabilities, and reduced IQ. They are so harmful that scientists have called for a full ban.

The next most significant drop (83 percent) was in neonicotinoids. These are commonly found in baby foods, associated with endocrine disruption, and linked to widespread pollinator and insect losses.

Pyrethroid pesticides decreased by half. These pesticides are associated with endocrine disruption, adverse neurodevelopment, immunological and reproductive effects, increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, and damage to sperm DNA.

Lastly, levels of 2,4-D dropped by 37 percent. 2,4-D is one of two ingredients in the notorious defoliant Agent Orange, and is a commonly used pesticide in the U.S.

pesticide levels

© Friends of the Earth (used with permission)

It was an exciting discovery to make. We know that eating organic food improves health, but to see it have such a dramatic and rapid effect on health is encouraging. Study co-author Kendra Klein said in a press release that organic clearly works and everyone should have access to it:

"Farmers and farmworkers growing our nation’s food and the rural communities they live in have a right not to be exposed to chemicals linked to cancer, autism and infertility. And the way we grow food should protect, not harm, our environment. We urgently need our elected leaders to support our farmers in making healthy organic food available for all."

As the video below states, "Pesticides are poisons. And they're designed to be poisons." This is not what we want coating the fruits and vegetables we feed our families, nor is it safe for the farm workers who grow those crops and neighboring communities.

In light of the findings, Friends of the Earth (which was involved in the study) is calling on people to take action and ask Congress to support sustainable organic agriculture. We know it's possible; organic farmers prove daily that abundant food can be grown and harvested without the help of dangerous chemicals, but the influence of the pesticide companies must be broken first. Sign the petition here.

Don't underestimate the power of your consumer choices, either. Buy organic food for your family whenever possible. Sign up for a CSA share to make it more affordable, or ask for seconds at the farmer's market. Buy frozen organic produce if it's cheaper, and consult the EWG's Dirty Dozen list that ranks popular produce from most contaminated to cleanest.