Pesticides are designed to kill, although the mode of action they use to put the stranglehold on pests varies. Whether it’s nerve gas–like neurological disruption, the unbalancing of key hormones, or the stunting of a plant’s ability to absorb life-sustaining trace minerals from the soil, none of the chemical interventions seems all that appetizing, especially considering that chemical residues routinely wind up on and even inside of the food we eat everyday. Pesticides are also blamed for diminishing mineral levels in foods.
Agrochemical supporters tend to fall back on a “the dose makes the poison” theory, meaning tiny exposures aren’t really that harmful. Increasingly, though, independent scientists are debunking that belief, even proving that incredibly tiny doses could set a person up for health problems that might not crop up until decades down the line. Luckily, eating organic, less processed foods can cut back on your pesticide exposure.
Here are 7 health problems associated with pesticide-based agrochemicals.
Scientists have been noticing a link between pesticides and diabetes for years. The latest evidence comes out of the Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting, where Robert Sargis, MD, PhD, released the results of a study that suggest tolyfluanid, a fungicide used on farm crops, creates insulin resistance in fat cells. A 2011 study published in Diabetes Care found that overweight people with higher levels of organochlorine pesticides in their bodies also faced a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Prevent it: To save money on organic fare raised without pesticides, cook with organic dried beans. In the home, avoid using chemical air fresheners and artificially scented products—these things are also blamed for inducing type 2 diabetes.
More than 260 studies link pesticides to various cancers, including lymphoma, leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma, and brain, breast, prostate, bone, bladder, thyroid, colon, liver, and lung cancers, among others.
Prevent it: The President’s Cancer Panel suggests eating organic and avoiding plastic to lower your risk of environmentally triggered cancers.
Autism & Other Developmental Diseases
How do you get autism? The world’s leading autism researchers believe the condition develops from a mix of genes and the pollutants encountered in the mother’s womb and early in life. Many insecticides effectively kill bugs by throwing off normal neurological functioning. That same thing appears to be happening in some children. A 2010 Harvard study found that children with organophosphate pesticide breakdown materials in their urine were far more likely to live with ADHD than kids without the trace pesticide residues.
Prevent it: Switching to an organic diet rapidly eliminates pesticide residues in the body.
Some agrochemical pesticides act as hormone disruptors, meaning they act like a fake version of a naturally occurring hormone in your body, they block important hormone communication pathways in the body, or they interfere with your body’s ability to regulate the healthy release of hormones. More than 50 pesticides are classified as hormone disruptors, and some of them promote metabolic syndrome and obesity as they accumulate in your cells, according to 2012 study appearing in Environmental Health Perspectives.
More than 60 studies show a connection between pesticides and the neurological disease Parkinson’s, a condition characterized by uncontrolled trembling. The association is strongest for weed- and bug-killing chemical exposures over a long period of time, meaning it’s important to keep these toxic compounds out of your household routine.
Prevent it: Don’t turn to chemical interventions to kill bugs in your home or garden. Instead, use natural pest control measures.
Pesticides spell trouble in the baby-making department, thanks to their bad habit of not staying put. For instance, atrazine, a common chemical weed killer used heavily in the Midwest, on Southern sugar cane farms, and on golf courses, has been detected in tap water. Doctors and scientists point to published evidence tying atrazine to increased miscarriage and infertility rates. Other pesticides cause a plunge in male testosterone levels. A 2006 study found chlorpyrifos, a chemical used in nonorganic apple and sweet pepper farming, and carbaryl, a go-to pesticide in strawberry fields and peach orchards, caused abnormally low testosterone levels.
Prevent it: Avoid the worst summer fruit, the kinds most likely to be laced with toxic pesticides. Instead, choose organic grapes, strawberries, and imported plums.
Babies conceived during the spring and summer months—a time of year when pesticide use is in full swing—face the highest risk of birth defects. During these months, higher pesticide levels turn up in surface waters, increasing a mother’s risk of exposure. Spina bifida, cleft lip, clubfoot, and Down syndrome rates are higher when moms become pregnant during high season for pesticides.
Prevent it: To protect yourself, use a water filter that is certified by NSF International to meet American National Standards Institute Standard 53 for VOC (volatile organic compound) reduction. This will significantly reduce levels of atrazine and other pesticides in your tap water.