Is Organic Food as Healthy as You Think? What You Need to Know About the Controversy

Research released early this month has stirred up a series of protests from organic food consumers and scientists alike.

Naturally occurring bacteria that live in the Gulf of Mexico have consumed and removed at least 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas from the deep Gulf.

The analysis, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and put forth by researchers at Stanford University, gathers and sorts data from 240 studies that span five decades of research.

Beginning in 1966 and moving through all literature published on the matter up until May 2011, scientists from Stanford have concluded that there is not any evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food. (1)

Is eating organic worth the higher price tag? While organic foods may not be more nutritious than conventional foods, they contain significantly lower levels of pesticides to protect your health.

However, the team from Stanford also reports that:

  • Children eating organic foods have been found to have lower levels of pesticides in their urine.
  • Animals raised organically, specifically hens and hogs, are less likely to contain antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

The noxious effects of pesticides in the body and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are not to be taken lightly.

Some of those who protest the study argue that it is “fatally flawed” because scientists failed to look at key issues in food production such as “the use of GMOs, high-fructose corn syrup, mercury in the food supply, and countless other factors.” (2) While this may be true, researchers at Stanford did not look at genetically modified or processed food.

Most of us who eat organic are not necessarily doing it for the added nutrients. And even if we are, there are studies to back up this claim as well. (3)

We eat organic foods because we are interested in:

  • Avoiding the deleterious effects of pesticides.
  • Avoiding GM (genetically modified) foods.
  • Supporting agriculture that does not promote antibiotic-resistance.

Why Pesticides Are a Problem

Pesticides are designed to kill. Some pesticides are derived directly from nature, while others are synthetic. Both are used in farming.

Organic farmers use natural pesticides. While “natural,” even these are dangerous, and the USDA regulates how much each farmer uses when a farm is USDA certified organic.

According to Charles Benbrook, a pesticide expert and Chief Science consultant of The Organic Center, researchers at Stanford make light of the serious effects of pesticides in our food. (4)

Organophosphorus (OP) compounds are widely used in agriculture and account for nearly 40% of total pesticide use. OP insecticides are neurotoxic in both insects and mammals. Benbrook points out that prenatal exposure to organophosphorous insecticides:

  • Increases risk of autism, ADHD, asthma
  • Reduces IQ
  • Leads to birth defects
  • Retards motor development and intelligence

Benbrook reminds us that there are certain stages in life when we are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticides: during pregnancy, during infancy, while battling a degenerative disease, and after the age of 60.

At each of these life stages, the immune system is weak or compromised.

Bacteria Clean Up Oil Spills and Feast on Pesticides

Who remembers the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill that took place in April of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico?

It was a tragedy that made headlines: At no other time in the history of the world had we witnessed such a large accidental oil spill.

According to recent updates from John Kessler at Texas A&M University and lead scientist investigating the effects of the spill in the Gulf, bacteria are eating up the oil.

In fact, naturally occurring bacteria that live in the Gulf of Mexico have consumed and removed at least 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas from the deep Gulf. (5)

Bacteria are good at cleaning up what we don’t want around.

So good that they can even do this inside the body.

It turns out that when present, beneficial gut bacteria like Lactobacillus have the ability metabolize toxic pesticides. This includes OP compounds that can increase the risk of developmental disorders.

This past February, scientists announced that common beneficial bacteria have the ability to consume some of our most popular pesticides, OP compounds, and specifically chlorpyrifos. (6)

Because clorpyrifos is the most common pesticide worldwide, this is good news.

Clorpyrifos can travel into our body through the skin, the mouth, and the lungs. The body stores this pesticide mostly in fat tissue. (7) According to scientists, beneficial gut bacteria are able to consume clorpyrifos and move it out of storage.

What to Do About Pesticides in Your Food

The take home message: Whether you choose to eat organic or conventional foods, there may not be a huge difference in the nutrient profile.

There is, however, a difference in the quantity of pesticides that are used in the cultivation and transportation of food.

When it comes to nutrition, the playing field may be level. When it comes to minimizing the toxins we are exposed to through our food, organic most certainly wins.

However, unless you know the farmer yourself, chances are that your food has been exposed to some level of pesticides. Luckily, beneficial bacteria play a pivotal role in the detoxification and removal of pesticides from the body.

Those with weaker immune function and a compromised inner ecosystem are more at risk when it comes to the damaging effects of pesticides.

In the face of so much uncertainty, there is no better time to nurture our inner ecosystem with traditionally fermented foods such as coconut water kefir and probiotic beverages such as InnergyBiotic. For centuries, these foods have contributed to a robust inner ecology and have balanced immune function.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

When it comes to the great debate between organic and non-organic foods, researchers confirm that organic foods are not more nutritious than conventional foods. But more importantly, research reveals that children who eat organic foods have lower levels of pesticides in their urine. Organic farm animals are also less likely to contain antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

What this means for you as a consumer is that eating organic can protect you from harmful pesticides that are especially dangerous to pregnant women, infants, those battling degenerative disease, and the elderly. During pregnancy, certain insecticides can increase the risk of autism, ADHD, and asthma and even lead to birth defects.

Even when eating organic, it’s difficult to avoid pesticides altogether. This is where your gut bacteria come into play. Bacteria can clean up excess toxicity in the body to metabolize pesticides before they harm healthy tissue. This is why it’s more important than ever to eat traditionally fermented foods like coconut water kefir and drink probiotic beverages like InnergyBiotic each day to support a healthy inner ecosystem and strengthen immunity.

Although eating organic may not be more nutritious, it will reduce your pesticide consumption. Supporting your gut with healthy bacteria will help to detoxify and remove pesticides from the body!

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  1. C Smith-Spangler, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Sep 4;157(5):348-66.
  2. M Adams, et al. Petitioning Stanford University Retract the Flawed ‘Organic Study’ Linked to Big Tobacco and Pro-GMO Corps. Change.Org http://www.change.org/petitions/retract-the-flawed-organic-study-linked-to-big-tobacco-and-pro-gmo-corps
  3. K Brandt, et al. Agroecosystem Management and Nutritional Quality of Plant Foods: The Case of Organic Fruits and Vegetables. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences. 2011; 30: 1 – 2.
  4. C Benbrook. Initial Reflections on the Annals of Internal Medicine Paper Are Organic Foods Safer and Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? A Systemic Review. 4 Sept 2012.
  5. JD Kessler, et al Assessment of the Spatial and Temporal Variability of Bulk Hydrocarbon Respiration Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Environmental Science & Technology Article ASAP. 2012 Aug. DOI: 10.1021/es301363k
  6. M Harishankar, et al. Efficiency of the intestinal bacteria in the degradation of the toxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos. 3 Biotech. 2012. 1 – 6. DOI: 10.1007/s13205-012-0078-0
  7. Smith GN, Watson BS, Fischer FS (1967) Investigations on dursban insecticide: metabolism of [36Cl] O,O-diethyl-O-3,5,6-trichloro- 2-pyridyl phosphorothioate in rats. J Agric Food Chem 15:132–138.
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