The prominent source of pesticide exposure in individuals is fruits and vegetables negating many of the health benefits associated with a healthy lifestyle. A new study published in the Environmental Health Perspective states the obvious: eating organic produce was associated with a significant reduction in pesticide exposure. The study is one of the first to predict a person’s exposure based on information about their diet.
The researchers investigated the dietary exposure of nearly 4,500 people from six U.S. cities to organophosphates (OPs). OP pesticides are the most prevalent insecticides used on conventionally grown produce in the United States and are linked to a number of detrimental health effects, particularly among agricultural workers who are regularly exposed to the chemicals.
The research findings revealed that among participants eating similar amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who reported eating organic produce had significantly lower OP pesticide exposures than those consuming conventionally grown produce. Consuming conventionally grown foods, referred to as the dirty dozen as they are typically treated with more of these pesticides during production, including apples, nectarines and peaches, was associated with significantly higher levels of exposure.
“For most Americans, diet is the primary source of OP pesticide exposure,” said Cynthia Curl, an assistant professor in Boise State University’s School of Allied Health Sciences. She recently joined Boise State from the University of Washington. “The study suggests that by eating organically grown versions of those foods highest in pesticide residues, we can make a measurable difference in the levels of pesticides in our bodies.”
The researchers cite the enormous health relevance associated with being able to predict dietary exposure to pesticides.
“If we can predict pesticide exposure using dietary questionnaire data, then we may be able to understand the potential health effects of dietary exposure to pesticides without having to collect biological samples from people,” Curl said. “That will allow research on organic food to be both less expensive and less invasive.”
“The next step is to use these exposure predictions to examine the relationship between dietary exposure to pesticides and health outcomes, including neurological and cognitive endpoints. We’ll be able to do that in this same population of nearly 4,500 people,” she said. One way people can reduce their pesticide exposure, said Curl, is to eat organic versions of those foods that are listed on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list, which ranks fruits and vegetables according to pesticide residue level.
Cynthia L. Curl, Shirley A. A. Beresford, Richard A. Fenske, Annette L. Fitzpatrick, Chensheng Lu, Jennifer A. Nettleton, Joel D. Kaufman. Estimating Pesticide Exposure from Dietary Intake and Organic Food Choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environmental Health Perspectives, 2015; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1408197