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health and organic food: is organic really better?


Organic Food

I’ve heard many people say that their doctor told them that organic food isn’t worth it.  My question would be, ‘isn’t worth it in what way?’  How do we measure whether organic food is “worth it” or not?  A six week old study from the journal Environmental Health (Human Health Implications of Organic Food and Organic Agriculture: A Comprehensive Review) by a collaborative team of researchers from universities in the US (Harvard), Poland, Denmark, and Sweden attempted to answer this question.

The first thing I want to mention about this study is that it’s well-bibbed — over 270 sources.  Secondly, the credentials of the researchers are impeccable, with no listed FINANCIAL COI.  And thirdly….  Well, just let me show you.  Today we are going to take just a few minutes to review this study and see whether organic foods really do make a difference, or whether they are a waste of time, energy, and money.

The first thing that these authors did was use current statistics to show that there is a market for organic food.  They did this by revealing just how much more land is being farmed organically than even five years ago.  The total amount of land being farmed organically around the world is almost 200,000 square miles. 

While this certainly seems like a lot, according to Wikipedia, the number of square miles of land used to raise food on worldwide is about 18,963,881 square miles.  This means that even though there are many nations (mostly in Europe) where organic farming accounts for 10% or more of the total, organic farming makes up about 1% of all farm land worldwide, whether said land is being used to raise crops or animals.

For the record, there is a significant amount of land and likewise a huge number of animals (as well as animal products — EGGS, MILK, MEAT) that are for all intents and purposes “organic,” but because of the difficulty and cost of having their land “certified” by governmental regulatory agencies, are not ‘officially’ labeled as such.

The authors also reported that it was difficult to always tell whether or not those that ate organic were healthy because they ate organic, or ate organic because they were health-conscious.  In other words, those who ate organic tended to also eat more fruits and vegetables and consume less JUNK FOOD.  These individuals are also more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke. 

So, in the same way we have confounders in many medical studies (diseases, obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, etc) we similarly have confounders in organic farming and health studies as well — it’s just that they are on the other end of the health spectrum.

The authors did say, however, that as far as CHRONIC INFLAMMATORY DEGENERATIVE DISEASES are concerned, studies have shown that consumers who eat more organic food tend to have less HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, TYPE II DIABETES, HIGH CHOLESTEROL, and CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE.  But as weird as it may seem they also had a higher incidence of CANCER

The authors speculated that this is likely due to many individuals shifting over to organic food after receiving a cancer diagnosis.  Also, a couple of studies were done where extracts from organically-raised and conventionally-raised foods were tested on cancer cells, with the organic extracts “showing promise” as far as inhibiting or slowing down proliferation.

As far as pesticides / herbicides are concerned, the organically-raised produce provided far less exposure. Furthermore, there were a wide range of natural pest protection mentioned.  One thing I should mention here is that in many studies, organic foods were actually associated with higher excretion rates of toxicity (higher urine levels), probably because the healthier produce was helping the body shed some of its chemical burden (BIOTRANSFORMATION).

The study went on to talk about many of the diseases that were associated with the chemicals used in conventional farming (I’ve talked about GLYPHOSATE in the past).  However, there was not enough research for the authors to conclusively say that conventional farming was the cause of numerous illnesses and diseases (mostly neurological and metabolic). The authors did say, however, that “Epidemiological studies have reported adverse effects of certain pesticides on children’s cognitive development at current levels of exposure.

One of the areas that these authors spent significant time on was the effects of animal ANTIBIOTIC EXPOSURE on humans — an area where there is a lot of research.  And although there was plenty of talk about antibiotic resistance (“It appears essential that use of antibiotics in animal production decreases strongly or completely ceases in order to decrease the risk of entering a post-antibiotic era.“), there was no discussion of antibiotic affects on GUT HEALTH or MICROBIOME.

The authors concluded by saying, “Organic food production has several documented and potential benefits for human health, and wider application of these production methods also in conventional agriculture, e.g., in integrated pest management, would therefore most likely benefit human health.” While I would certainly agree, I can also assure you that things will change slowly. 

Firstly, this is because change is hard for all of us.  Most farmers who have always done things “conventionally” are understandably nervous about the potential of losing a lot of money, or even their farms.  Secondly, in most cases organic farming is more labor intensive.  For example, spreading manure on fields can take significantly more time and man hours than spreading synthetics.  Speaking of synthetics…..

If you are interested in seeing why I believe that whole, organically-raised foods are both different and better, make sure to take a look at THIS and THIS.  And for those of you struggling with chronic illness, including AUTOIMMUNITY or CHRONIC PAIN, it might behoove you to take a quick peek at this short post as well (HERE).  And while today’s study was not a 475 foot walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, it was definitely an extra-base hit, extending the inning so that more research will be done in the future. 

But lest you forget, EVIDENCE-BASED RESEARCH has shown us that BIG PHARMA and BIG AGRICULTURE will fight studies like this every step of the way — especially as more and more producers go organic.  Oh; and for you who say that you cannot afford to eat healthy, THIS POST is for you. And be sure to like, share or follow on FACEBOOK while you are at it!


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