Pesticides And Hormones
Pesticides And Hormones
Gary Ginsberg (Toxicologist) gives expert video advice on: What is meant by 'eating lower on the food chain'?; Do pesticides get into our food sources and cause widespread illness?; Are certain pesticides safe to eat? and more...
What is meant by 'eating lower on the food chain'?
Eating lower on the food chain refers to the concept that we are really in a food web. I know nutritionists like to talk about the food pyramid, about things you want to eat more of at the bottom of the food pyramid and things you want to eat only one or two meals a week of at the bottom of it. It's similar in terms of the toxic food pyramid in that there are certain chemicals, certain foods that you can eat plenty of because they are low on contaminants. But then there are what we call "browser species," or species that browse on all those kinds of food sources. They accumulate chemicals into their bodies, and we are at the top of the food web so we are eating all these other species that have accumulated levels of toxins. So being the top predator on the food web we are getting accumulations of hundreds to thousands to maybe even millions of organisms that are accumulating chemicals in their bodies. And that's all being funneled up into us. So lower on the food web means eating more grains, more fruits, things that a nutritionist will tell you are healthy for other reasons. But eating less red meat and eating less high predator fish, things like swordfish and shark. All these kinds of fish are big and predacious and feed on lots of smaller fish.
Do pesticides get into our food sources and cause widespread illness?
Pesticides that are used today, the modern pesticides, have been designed to be much less persistent and bio-accumulative. So they are not going to go up the food chain the way the old nastier pesticides did. However, they still have some health risks and it is important to make sure that our exposures are less than more. Fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration and the US EPA look fairly closely at these kinds of pesticides, and they have holding periods, or waiting times, after which a farmer... once a farmer sprays he has to wait a certain number of days before he can pick that crop and send it to market. During that time, the pesticide gets washed off, or if the pesticide is in the food it breaks down to the point where the levels are really pretty low by the time that food gets to the supermarket. So there is pesticides from today's agriculture in our diet. In general, the levels are very low, they are monitored. There could always be more monitoring by FDA, but there is some monitoring and market basket surveys which suggests that the risks are pretty low from your average pesticides dose in the diet.
Are certain pesticides safe to eat?
Less pesticide is better than more. There are always uncertainties about how they all interact in our body together. For example, on your average peach, you could have six to ten different fungicides because it's very hard to grow certain crops without them falling off the tree and rotting prematurely, so they put a lot of pesticides on things like peaches. How they all interact in our body is still something we don't know exactly how to determine. So eating organic whenever possible is a good thing to support. It's a better way to manage our land and our resources. It's less exposure to pesticides. We certainly endorse that, however, eating pesticides in the diet is not the major source of pesticides that most people get. The major source for pesticides in the average American is from lawn chemicals, from chemicals you will use personally yourself in the garden or around the house to kill ants, to kill termites, to kill weeds in the yard. That's the major source of pesticides.
What are 'dietary hormones'?
We're talking about things that are added, steroids that are added to cows to help fatten them up faster and grow them larger so that they will be easier for the farmer to harvest and get to market at greatest profit. They actually put a patch on the cow's ear with something like six different –what we would ban in locker rooms for athletes—but we're putting these into the animals that we'll end up eating, and these are things that are like estrogens and like antrogens, like testosterone, that are going into the animal, that are increasing it's size and fat content so that, again, this whole kind of production is more profitable.
How are dietary hormones dangerous to humans?
The concern with extra hormones in the meat is things like breast cancer, things like male infertility because these hormones tend to be feminizing and increase the dose of estrogen, or estrogen-like compounds, which we're getting from other things in our environment as well. Things that are in bath and body lotions can also have estrogen-like materials. And so we're trying to decrease a woman's total inappropriate dose of estrogen because we know that there are certain types of breast cancer that are very estrogen sensitive. And so that's probably why the European Union and people that promote organic meat and dairy are saying, and I fully endorse, that the less hormone the better, because it is an inappropriate stimulation of things like breast cancer tissue. A recent study from the University of Rochester just published in 2007 showing that the more red meat mothers ate during pregnancy, twenty years later ends up with their male offspring having lower sperm counts, which is probably because of the hormones in the meat affecting the way the children were developing from in-utero onward in terms of male fertility.