Do we really need to eat organic?
Well here is a hot topic – I get questions all the time on whether or not paying more for organic food is worth it. So, I thought it might be helpful for me to break it down here with a bit more detail than I can give in a short conversational answer.
Let’s start with Roundup.
You may be familiar with Roundup, it’s commonly sprayed on lawns for weed control. Unfortunately for us, it’s deemed “safe” to use in our front yards as well as on most crops. Roundup, also known as glyphosate, is marketed as an herbicide (weed-killer), although it was originally patented as an antibiotic. That means in studies, glyphosate killed bacteria and weeds by binding up minerals so they can’t use them.
[Binding up minerals makes glyphosate a broad herbicide that kills most plants, meaning many crops have needed to become more resistant to continue using lots of it – enter genetic modification – a point for another time, but I wanted to draw some attention to it here.]
Now, knowing that glyphosate is a broad-spectrum antibiotic, can you think of any negative impacts this could have on us? For one, antibiotic resistance is becoming more of a problem every day, making bacterial infections more difficult to treat with antibiotics. Another huge issue here is that the diversity of our microbiome is VITAL to our health (have you seen the news about probiotics being awesome for us in the last few years??). If we’re eating produce and grains that have been grown with multiple exposures to glyphosate and we’re putting those food sources directly into our stomachs, it’s highly likely that we’re going to experience antibiotic effects from them on some level. Given what we know about our naturally beneficial bacteria’s effects on our gut function, mood, immune system, vitamin absorption, and metabolism, this is a bad thing.
I don’t want to belabor this article with the harms of glyphosate, but here is a few of the other effects it has on the body:
Mimics glycine, an important amino acid necessary for DNA replication and building collagen. Glyphosate is then used by the body to build collagen that has very low integrity and leads to easily damaged skin (think stretch marks and wrinkles).
Linked to lymphoma and increased risk of spontaneous abortion and birth defects.
Endocrine disruption – meaning it either mimics or disrupts the function of our own hormones.
Let’s move on to some other types of agricultural chemicals.
Most commonly used pesticides are neurotoxins, so they target cell processes in nerve cells. Those processes usually involve sodium, potassium, and chloride channels that work to send electrical signals along nerve cells. By interrupting the function of those channels, insects lose function of their nervous system and die, making these pesticides pretty effective. However, those sodium, potassium, and chloride channels are exactly how our nerve cells function too. Of course, the required dose to kill an insect is exponentially smaller than the required dose to kill a human, but we know that various chemicals and toxins often accumulate in the body, so causing a problem for us over time is very possible and quite likely.
With all of the other environmental burden that our bodies deal with regularly (food preservatives, food dyes, plastics, heavy metals, industrial chemicals, etc), the repeated minor damage that pesticides can cause is not worth the trouble, in my opinion. The potential for these substances to cause severe damage is high, especially with how often they are used in our food system.
This is why I tell people that yes, organic is important.
Costa LG, Giordano G, Guizzetti M, Vitalone A. Neurotoxicity of pesticides: a brief review. Front Biosci 13 (2008) 1240-9.
Mesnage R, Defarge N, Spiroux de Vendomois J, Seralini G. Potential toxic effects of glyphosate and its commercial formulations below regulatory limits. Food Chem Toxicol (2015) 84: 133-53.
Samsel, A. & Seneff, S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases IV: cancer and related pathologies. Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry 15 (2015) 121–159.