In previous posts I have gone through the importance of opting for Organic and Biodynamic Foods, and explained that these food options have lower quantities of chemicals and pesticides. A lot of the food that is available in the market is laden with chemicals and pesticides, and I have gone through studies that indicate the negative impact these can have on our health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that around 13 million deaths every year are caused by something in the environment (Vaiserman, 2014). Tracie McMillan (2012) stated that farm workers who are exposed to chemicals could end up with serious health consequences in the long run. I researched this topic further and found 4 studies that either supported this statement or indicated there are links between the use of chemicals and pesticides in our foods and environment, and health conditions in the general population, particularly in children.
Before going any further I want to clarify that a link is not a cause. Meaning there is no proof that chemicals and pesticides are the cause of the various diseases, but that there is a relationship between them. In other words, as the rise in use of chemicals increases, so does the incidence of diseases.
The first study I found is a clinical study of a poultry worker in Korea who developed multiple myeloma (Jung et al., 2014). Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects plasma cells or B-lymphocytes. It is considered a relatively rare form of cancer in Korea, accounting for 0.5% of cancers. The poultry worker, a 61-year-old man, had operated a poultry farm since 1996. The man was in charge of supplies and hygiene, and handled chemicals and pesticides on a daily basis. Researchers believed that this exposure to chemicals, particularly formaldehyde, was related to him developing multiple myeloma (Jung et al., 2014).
The researchers noted that in recent years there were more cases of multiple myeloma among people who had occupations that involved pesticide use than among those who had other occupations. This trend was evident in Korea, Canada, and France (Jung et al., 2014).
The second study reviewed several studies that demonstrated that exposure to environmental contaminants, particularly endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), at an early age was linked with diseases in adulthood, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and neurological diseases (Vaiserman, 2014). The article included studies conducted on both animals and humans.
It highlighted that the bisphenol A or BPA, which is found in food and drink packages including plastic bottles, food cans, bottle tops, and even dental material, accumulated in amniotic fluid and fetuses (Vaiserman, 2014). Several studies had found that exposure to BPA in-utero resulted in modified gene expression in the brain, spleen, and other tissues, which could manifest later in life.
In addition, diethylstilbestrol (DES) was linked to vaginal adenocarcinoma in females who were exposed to the chemical in-utero. Methoxychlor, found in insecticides, reduced pregnancy, ovarian function, ovulatory rates, sexual maturation, and sexual arousal in adult rats that were exposed to the chemical during perinatal and neonatal periods. Other chemicals that caused adverse effects in adulthood among those who were exposed in early life included vinclozolin, permethrin, dioxin, and heavy metals (Vaiserman, 2014).
The third study tracked the incidence or prevalence of diseases in children in the United States (US) that were environmentally mediated (Woodruff et al., 2004). It tracked asthma, cancer, and neuro-developmental disorders. The results showed that the incidence of cancer in children increased between 1975 and 1990. The incidences of certain types of childhood cancer rose from 1974 until 2000, and these included acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), central nervous system (CNS) tumors, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Even though mortality from cancer has decreased in children, cancer is one of the most common causes of death in children. The study stated that environmental pollutants and contaminants such as lead and mercury were linked to the increase in these diseases (Woodruff et al., 2004).
The fourth study stated that the most common pediatric cancers were leukemias (30.2%), brain and CNS cancers (21.7%), and lymphomas (10.9%) (Linet, Wacholder, & Zahm, 2003). It indicated that there was a link between pollutants that children were directly exposed to, and pollutants that the parents could have been exposed to.
For instance, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) was linked to parents being exposed to benzene and pesticides in their work or residence, and marijuana use during pregnancy. ALL was linked to parents’ exposure to smoke, hydrocarbons, paints, and motor vehicle exhaust. Brain tumors and CNS cancers were linked to parental exposure to aircrafts, agricultural pesticides, electronics manufacturing, petroleum, paint, paper mills, printing, metal-related occupations, ionizing radiation, solvents, and electromagnetic fields (Linet et al., 2003).
Although these studies are a few years old, they indicate that exposure to toxins and pollutants are not beneficial. It is not hard to assume that these elements play a role in chronic conditions and diseases. While it is difficult to avoid chemicals and pesticides in our environment, we can limit the exposure to foods and chemicals in our food. For this reason, starting with next week’s post and over the next 3 posts, I will provide recommendations on how to change the way we shop in order to reduce exposure to chemicals and pesticides in food.
Jung, P. K., Kim, I., Park, I., Kim, C., Kim, E. A., & Roh, J. (2014). A case of multiple myeloma in a poultry worker. Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 26(35), 1-6. Retrieved from http://www.aoemj.com/content/26/1/35
Linet, M. S., Wacholder, S., & Zahm, S. H. (2003). Interpreting epidemiologic research: lessons from studies of childhood cancer. Pediatrics, 112(1), 218-232. Retrieved from http://lirnproxy.museglobal.com/MuseSessionID=18df853061875ec455d71a21bbabc5e/MuseProtocol=http/MuseHost=go.galegroup.com/MusePath/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=DA-SORT&inPS=true&prodId=PPCJ&userGroupName=lirn12711&tabID=T002&searchId=R2&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm¤tPosition=2&contentSet=GALE%7CA105515973&docId=GALE%7CA105515973&docType=GALE&role=
McMillan, T. (2012). The American Way of Eating- Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table. New York, NY: Scribner.
Vaiserman, A. (2014). Early-life exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and later-life health outcomes: an epigenetic bridge? Aging and Disease, 5(6), 419-429. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.14336/AD.2014.0500419
Woodruff, T. J., Axelrad, D. A., Kyle, A. D., Nweke, O., Miller, G. G., & Hurley, B. J. (2004). Trends in environmentally related childhood illnesses. Pediatrics, 113(4), 1133-1140. Retrieved from http://lirnproxy.museglobal.com/MuseSessionID=daf61715111baa39ea61a391c7b26d/MuseProtocol=http/MuseHost=go.galegroup.com/MusePath/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=DA-SORT&inPS=true&prodId=PPCJ&userGroupName=lirn12711&tabID=T002&searchId=R2&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm¤tPosition=1&contentSet=GALE%7CA115634134&docId=GALE%7CA115634134&docType=GALE&role=