Posted on Fri, 4 Jul 14
Organophosphate pesticides are ever-present in our environment, especially in our food, and linked to behavioural problems in children and several important chronic diseases in adults. New research has shown that dietary avoidance can rapidly reduced exposure and allow your body to detoxify itself, and fast.
All of us are constantly exposed to a low level of organophosphate pesticides (OP) in our food because these chemicals are used in the production and storage of non-organic crops, plus occasionally we are exposed to much higher levels due to pesticide use in the home and garden, on our pets, and even on ourselves (1).
Although pesticides have been historically thought to be relatively safe at common levels of exposure, it is now known that they can have important adverse health effects even at very low levels, which, coupled with awareness that the contamination of our environment and our bodies is universal, has raised serious concerns about the potential for everyday pesticide exposure to contribute a wide-range of serious illnesses (2).
Pesticides are fundamentally toxic to living organisms, including humans. At the molecular level research has shown that pesticides can adversely affect cellular function, which could in turn cause dysfunction in various organs of the body and explain why pesticides have been linked to such a wide variety of chronic diseases, including certain types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, birth defects, and reproductive disorders (3).
A key are of investigation and concern is the association between OPs and poorer intellectual development and mental health, especially in children and adolescents. Developing brains are more susceptible to the effects of OPs, they have reduced expression of detoxifying enzymes, and children aged 6-11 years have the highest OP exposure compared to other age groups (4-6).
Exposure to OPs during pregnancy has been linked to smaller head size and changes in brain structure in children (7-8). Children whose mothers were agricultural workers exposed to OPs have been found to have poorer intellectual development at 7-years of age, suggesting important effects of exposure during pregnancy on child development (9). In children living in the urban environment of New York City prenatal OP exposure was associated with cognitive development (10). And in a general population study, OP exposure at levels common in children was associated with increased attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) prevalence (11). A finding supported by other studies suggesting exposure to OPs may adversely affect attention (12-13).
Chemicals vs. calories
A potentially important role of OP exposure in the development of diabetes and obesity is also emerging. Geographical maps of agricultural OP use, and therefore exposure, correlate with maps of obesity prevalence, and low-level OP exposure has been shown to reduce basal metabolic rate, increase insulin resistance and result in features of obesity and weight gain irrespective of calorie intake or energy expenditure (14). While more studies are needed to confirm these observations, it is plausible that OPs could indeed contribute to the development of diabetes and obesity by disrupting metabolism (15-16).
Few studies have explored practical methods of reducing OP exposure or interventions that reduce body burden with detoxification, however some interesting clinical evidence suggests that organic diets are simple but powerful way to reduce your exposure and could be used to reduce adverse health effects.
Organic farming does not utilise synthetic, man-made chemicals to control pests or treat crops, and has consistently been shown to product foods that have lower pesticide levels when compared to conventionally farmed foods (17). Children aged 3-11 years who followed and organic diet for 5-days reduced their OP levels to non-detectable or close to non-detectable levels, which suggests that diet is a major source of exposure to OPs and that they are rapidly cleared from the body once exposure is reduced (18).
More recently the effects of a 7-day organic diet on OP exposure was studied in adults (19). A group of 23 adults were asked to source organic foods and consume as close to 100% organic foods as possible, then the urinary markers of OP exposure were compared their levels while eating their normal conventional diet. Changing to a predominately organic diet resulted in a dramatic reduction in urinary markers of OP exposure of about 90% compared to the conventional diet. This discovery adds further weight to the idea that an organic diet can rapidly reduce OP exposure and allow for elimination of these toxins.
Missing the point
One of the greatest wins for the organic movement may be a reduction in environmental pollution and better human health because of lower exposure to synthetic chemicals, both directly through lower contamination of our food supply and also indirectly though lower environmental levels. Previous studies on the health benefits of organic food have dismissed potential benefit because of comparisons based on nutritional values to conventional crops, but this thinking may be missing the point (20). Increasing evidence suggests that the widespread pesticide exposure affecting every single one of us, and children for many generation to come, can have very serious consequences. Fortunately we can intervene and change the situation by protesting with our kitchen forks.
Learn more about detoxification at The Detox Summit
- Bouvier G, Seta N, Vigouroux-Villard A, Blanchard O, Momas I. Insecticide urinary metabolites in nonoccupationally exposed populations. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2005 Nov-Dec;8(6):485-512.
- Androutsopoulos VP, Hernandez AF, Liesivuori J, Tsatsakis AM. A mechanistic overview of health associated effects of low levels of organochlorine and organophosphorous pesticides. Toxicology. 2013 May 10;307:89-94.
- Mostafalou S, Abdollahi M. Pesticides and human chronic diseases: evidences, mechanisms, and perspectives. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2013 Apr 15;268(2):157-77.
- Weiss B. Vulnerability of children and the developing brain to neurotoxic hazards. Environ Health Perspect. 2000;108 (Suppl 3):375–81.
- Furlong CE, Holland N, Richter RJ, et al. PON1 status of farmworker mothers and children as a predictor of organophosphate sensitivity. Pharmacogenet Genomics. 2006;16:183–90
- Barr DB, Bravo R, Weerasekera G, et al. Concentrations of dialkyl phosphate metabolites of organophosphorus pesticides in the U.S. population. Environ Health Perspect. 2004;112:186–200.
- Berkowitz GS, Wetmur JG, Birman-Deych E, Obel J, Lapinski RH, Godbold JH, Holzman IR, Wolff MS. In utero pesticide exposure, maternal paraoxonase activity, and head circumference. Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Mar;112(3):388-91.
- Rauh VA, Perera FP, Horton MK, Whyatt RM, Bansal R, Hao X, Liu J, Barr DB, Slotkin TA, Peterson BS. Brain anomalies in children exposed prenatally to a common organophosphate pesticide. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 May 15;109(20):7871-6.
- Bouchard MF, Chevrier J, Harley KG, Kogut K, Vedar M, Calderon N, Trujillo C, Johnson C, Bradman A, Barr DB, Eskenazi B. Prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and IQ in 7-year-old children. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Aug;119(8):1189-95.
- Engel SM, Wetmur J, Chen J, Zhu C, Barr DB, Canfield RL, Wolff MS. Prenatal exposure to organophosphates, paraoxonase 1, and cognitive development in childhood. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Aug;119(8):1182-8.
- Bouchard MF, Bellinger DC, Wright RO, Weisskopf MG. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and urinary metabolites of organophosphate pesticides. Pediatrics. 2010 Jun;125(6):e1270-7.
- Marks AR, et al. Organophosphate pesticide exposure and attention in young Mexican-American children: The CHAMACOS study. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118:1768–1774.
Rauh VA, et al. Impact of prenatal chlorpyrifos exposure on neurodevelopment in the first 3 years of life among inner-city children. Pediatrics. 2006;118(6):e1845–e1859.
Lim S, Ahn SY, Song IC, Chung MH, Jang HC, Park KS, Lee KU, Pak YK, Lee HK. Chronic exposure to the herbicide, atrazine, causes mitochondrial dysfunction and insulin resistance. PLoS One. 2009;4(4):e5186.
Slotkin TA. Does early-life exposure to organophosphate insecticides lead to prediabetes and obesity? Reprod Toxicol. 2011 Apr;31(3):297-301
Karami-Mohajeri S, Abdollahi M. Toxic influence of organophosphate, carbamate, and organochlorine pesticides on cellular metabolism of lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates: a systematic review. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2011 Sep;30(9):1119-40.
Oates L, Cohen M. Assessing diet as a modifiable risk factor for pesticide exposure. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Jun;8(6):1792-804.
Lu C, Barr DB, Pearson MA, Waller LA. Dietary intake and its contribution to longitudinal organophosphorus pesticide exposure in urban/suburban children. Environ. Health Perspect. 2008;116:537–542.
Oates L, Cohen M, Braun L, Schembri A, Taskova R. Reduction in urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites in adults after a week-long organic diet. Environ Res. 2014 Jul;132C:105-111.
Holzman DC. Organic food conclusions don't tell the whole story. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Dec;120(12):A458.