It is really important to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in our diets, and to encourage our patients to do likewise. Unfortunately, though, we need to be mindful of the toxins that contaminate even the healthiest of foods.
Pesticides & fungicides have become ubiquitous in our environment. Crops these days are heavily sprayed with these toxic chemicals to maximize yields. The sad truth is that each serving of fresh fruits and vegetables may contain up to 67 different pesticides and fungicides. Studies on cord blood show that most infants are born with around 200 toxic chemicals already in their systems!
Some crops are sprayed more than others, and produce from some countries has more pesticide residue than others. These cancer-causing agents can be sealed into fruit and vegetables by the wax that is used to make produce look shiny. Don't buy shiny produce!
Since these pesticides become airborne, even organic produce may carry toxins blown over by the wind from nearby conventional farms. It is best to wash all produce before consuming it. This is especially important when feeding children, as they are more susceptible to the long-term effects of pesticide exposure.
In addition to their direct neurotoxic effects, many pesticides also inhibit cellular glucose metabolism. Inefficient glucose metabolism demands that the pancreas produce more insulin. Increased insulin means more fat cells. Get the picture? We can’t say with certainty that pesticides play a causal role in insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity, but there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence.
Pesticides and fungicides also uncouple the metabolic process of oxidative phosphorylation, a key process by which normal cells produce energy using glucose and oxygen. In effect, cells die from suffocation. Feeding a kid pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables is, from a cellular viewpoint, like holding a pillow over the child's face.
If cells are forced to exist in an intracellular environment where they can't make energy using oxygen they will morph into forms that don't need oxygen to survive. These are, essentially, cancer cells. Pesticide exposure—and fungicides are the worst--increases the number of cells that try to survive by turning into neoplastic forms.
Recently I saw a man who smoked and also had a bug spray service. He had 5 different types of primary cancer. It is common for a primary cancer to originate in one organ and then seed other organs, as the primary tumor sheds malignant cells into the blood or the lymphatic system. It is very uncommon to have more than one type of primary cancer.
Call that anecdotal if you will, but I think the precautionary principle makes a lot of sense. Here are my bottom lines on this issue:
- Wash all your fruits and vegetables. Wash ‘em until they squeak! I use Dr. Bronner's soaps (www.drbronner.com) for cleaning just about everything including dishes, clothes, gums and teeth. Washing produce will only remove surface pesticide residue. Pesticides can also be absorbed from the ground water where plants are grown. This will saturate the produce with pesticides internally, so washing has its limits. But it makes sense to remove as much of the pesticide burden as you can, and there’s really no reason not to wash off what you can.
- Know the Pesticide Loads. Pesticide load varies among different types of fruits and vegetables, so be aware which types have the heaviest loads. There are a number of good lists and guides, which can be very helpful at the grocery store or farmer’s market (see below for a handy "Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen" chart). In general, it’s a good idea to go organic for the ones with the heaviest toxic burdens
- Don't Buy Shiny Produce. Apples, cucumbers, bell peppers and others are often treated with a glossy wax that seals in pesticides/fungicides making it much more difficult to remove toxic residues. Produce should not have a smooth glassy texture.
- Avoid Produce from Abroad. South America and Mexico have fewer restrictions on pesticide use. Produce from other countries can be much more contaminated than that grown in the US, not that our standards are really adequate.
- Be Careful with Peanuts. Peanuts grow fungus very easily, and most commercial distributors spray huge amounts of fungicide to control the problem. Avoid peanuts and peanut products not organically grown and stored without spraying, as it is impossible to totally remove fungicides once applied. Buy organic peanut butter or switch to almond or cashew butter. If you have a Vita-Mixer, buy organic peanuts and make your own peanut butter. Some health food stores have the grinders for making your own nut butters. Freshly ground tastes better and is free from the big sugar loads in most commercial peanut butters.
- Eat Cilantro, Pumpkin Seeds & Sunflower Seeds. These all contain compounds help remove and detoxify pesticides from your system. Include them in your diet as often as possible.
- Add Plant-Derived Detoxifiers. Chlorella, blue green algae, cilantro or barley grass are all powerful detoxifiers. Add them to your diet and your childrens’ diets.
- Supplement with Iodine. Iodine plays a role in detoxification, and it also enhances estrogen breakdown and excretion. This is especially important in ethnic minorities with a higher predisposition for hypothyroidism. When thyroid levels are low, more estrogen accumulates and it can promote fat accumulation and development of cancer. Bear in mind that many environmental toxins have estrogenic effects, and that high cumulative lifetime exposure to estrogenic compounds is associated with increased cancer risk.
Studies are equivocal on whether organic produce has a higher nutrient content. I suspect that it does just because I can taste the difference. However, when it comes to reducing morbidity and mortality, the pesticide/fungicide issue is a much bigger concern, and I’m certain that organically grown fuits and vegetables will have lower levels of chemical toxins. If they also have a higher nutrient content, all the better. Reducing our toxin loads needs to become a serious medical priority, and increasing our intake of organic produce is one important way to do that.
Down here in Amarillo, we're gearing up for our 4th Annual Amarillo Health Initiative. The event takes place on Sept. 18 at the Amarillo Civic Center. The line up is terrific. This year we've got Dr. Frank Shallenberger speaking on optimizing cellular energy metabolism; Dr. Garry Gordon, who will explore the common factors underlying many chronic diseases; Dr. Eldred Taylor's on women's hormonal health; and Dr. Julia Hunter speaking on natural approaches to healthy skin. I'll be talking about hypothyroidism and how to optimize thyroid function at any age. For more information visit: www.robbiebradleyfoundation.org.