Patients often ask me if choosing organic foods is really worth the extra expense. I often use the Environmental Workers Group’s (EWG) comprehensive analysis on the top foods to buy organic when providing recommendations to my patients. The foods highlighted and recommended to avoid contain the highest level of calculated pesticides, when not bought organic. I also like to share the research that supports the need to choosing organic. Research often helps my patients better understand the reasons for my recommendations.
Like many of us, Cynthia Curl, Ph.D., a young researcher at the University of Washington, also wondered if organic really made a difference, especially when her friends demanded only organic options for their children. Dr. Curl decided to lead a scientific study to investigate this further. She organized her study by using forty- two children ranging from 2 to 5 years old. She choose these children by simply standing in front of both a traditional grocery store as well as an organic co-op. For three days, the parents wrote down everything that the child ate and drank. Their diet was considered “organic” if more than 75% of their food was labeled organic. If less than 75% of their food was labeled “organic”, they were considered to be in the “conventional” group. Dr. Curl measured the traces of organochlorine pesticides in each of the children’s urine. What she found was rather impressive. She found the levels of pesticides in the “organic” children’s urine to be well below the maximum safety limit of pesticides. This limit is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The “conventional” children’s urine, however, contained four times higher levels than the official maximum safety limit set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. This study allowed Dr. Curl to conclude that organic does really make a difference.
Like many nutritional and natural medicine studies, even when the data is clear, many will fight against it. For Dr. Curl, her colleagues did not agree with her results. They responded by saying that there was no clear view of the impact of these amounts of pesticides on health. One of her colleagues who reported this was the well known David Klurfeld, PhD, a nutritionist at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Despite the criticism, Dr. Curl continued her research. A second study was later performed, which like expected, backed the results of Dr. Curl’s original findings. In this study twenty three children were first tested after following a conventional (non- organic) diet for several days. The children’s urine was again tested for pesticides. The tested urine showed the presence of pesticides. The same children who had measurable pesticides in their urine were then placed on an “organic” diet consisting of exclusively organic foods for several days. In just a few days, all traces of pesticides were no longer detectable from the children’s urine. The researchers were amazed by these results and to make sure these results were accurate, they placed the children back on the “conventional” diet and retested their urine. And yep you guessed it, the levels of pesticides found in the children’s urine started to rise once again.
It’s amazing people like Dr. Curl, who despite criticism, continued to push for answers about the foods we consume everyday.