What do you do to avoid harmful chemicals?
Organic Week has a special sneak peek of the recently published: Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World. Written by environmentalists Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith, Toxin Toxout is about providing you with simple ways of reducing your toxic burden. See the excerpt below to find out how the authors, through some interesting testing techniques, proved that eating an all organic diet actually reduces your exposure to pesticides!
In addition to Alex Lu’s studies on pesticides and food, few other efforts have been made to evaluate whether organic food results in lower levels of toxins in your body.35 So Bruce and I set out to see whether we could duplicate Lu’s decade-old work. Because the task at hand for our big experiment was a pretty strange one—we needed a bunch of kids to agree to eat lots of vegetables over the course of 12 days during their summer break and they had to collect their pee each day. To find these kids, we did what any good 21st-century researcher does: We took to Facebook.
Within hours of posting a call for volunteers to all of my Facebook friends (I’ve got over 3,500 . . . ahem), we’d received interest from across the country to participate in our study. Our call outlined the following: The word on the street is that an organic diet might be better for the environment and our bodies, and eating organic could mean reduced exposure to the harmful chemicals that are in conventional food—something we wanted to show with their help.
We stuck to working with families who lived in the Greater Toronto Area. After a few days of interviews, we found nine really great kids from five families who were excited to participate in our experiment. Our final participants were made up of five girls and four boys, their ages ranging from 3 to 12 years old. These families were all different in a lot of wonderful ways, but they had two important things in common: They didn’t at present eat any organic food, and they were willing to spend 12 days of their summer holidays helping out with our experiment.
Here’s what the 12 days looked like for these nine kids:
Phase 1: Days 1–3:
8 a.m. collection of urine sample each day, conventional diet
Phase 2: Days 4–8:
8 a.m. collection of urine sample each day, organic diet only
Phase 3: Days 9–12:
8 a.m. collection of urine sample each day, conventional diet
We were very lucky to have that wonderful grocery store, The Big Carrot, offer to donate all the organic food for the organic portion of the experiment. And I’m not just talking apples and oranges— I’m talking organic apple sauce, organic zucchini bread and all that falls in between: olive oil, flour, canned tomatoes and, unanimously appreciated by our participant’s mums and dads, organic ice cream for those hot summer days. So the night before the organic phase of their experiment, whether by car, streetcar or bike, each of these five families made the trek to The Carrot on Danforth Avenue to pick up their supplies for the next five days.
By now I’ll bet a lot of you are wondering what happened with all that pee. The families kept each day’s samples in their freezers until the end of the experiment, at which point our intrepid research assistant, Rachel, went around and collected the samples from each kid—all 108 jars of them. The urine samples were then shipped off to a lab in California for testing. And then we waited for the results. And waited. And waited.
A lot of anxiety built up over those months as we anticipated the correspondence from the lab. In this anxious state, receiving the results table with over 1,800 pieces of data on urinary pesticide levels was daunting, to say the least. It was quite a dramatic hour as we oh-so-carefully entered the lab results into a spreadsheet for our analysis, eager to see what they would demonstrate.
Our objective was to compare the organophosphate (OP) pesticides metabolite levels in the urine of the children. OP pesticides were chosen because of their widespread use, their reported presence as residues on foods frequently consumed by children and their acute toxicity.36 Check out Figure 5 for a graph of the results (and the endnotes for an explanation of our calculations).37
Figure 5. Average of dimethyl dialkylphosphate (DAP) levels for nine children over the three phases of the experiment (units are ng/L)
The graph, you’ll see, shows average concentrations, for all the children together, of dimethyl dialkylphosphate (DAP) metabolites (which are common to OP pesticides) over each of the three phases of the experiment (conventional, organic, conventional). Notice the significant drop in dimethyl DAP levels during Phase 2 (the organic phase) and the increase again once the kids started eating conventional food in Phase 3. In scientific parlance, the organic and conventional results were “significantly” different. What does this mean to everyone in general? Eating organic really can lower your pesticide levels!
When we touched base with The Big Carrot to thank them and let them know about the exciting results, they were thrilled. Maureen Kirkpatrick, The Big Carrot’s Standards Coordinator, told me she was delighted but not surprised. She noted that “these findings support what we at The Big Carrot know intuitively: healthy soil = healthy food = healthy bodies.”
Another comment stuck with me when we did our follow-up interviews. One mother told me that she was initially interested in the study because her father, following some health issues, had become an “organic/vegan freak” but that she didn’t really believe all the hype about organics and being chemical free. As a single parent, she was also wary of organics’ cost. “Now,” she said, half-laughing, half-sighing, “I’ve got some real numbers proving my dad is right.” She said she didn’t know what’s more annoying: admitting that her father is right or that these chemicals are in her daughter at all.
I think we can all guess what she really believes.
Excerpted from Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World. Copyright © 2013 Bruce Lourie Advice Incorporated and Rick Smith. Published by Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.