Take great care of your health and enjoy time outdoors with tips in this guest post courtesy of Whole Health Insider – Health Research You Can Use
Summer is turning up the heat. And for the majority of the country, people are spending most of their free time outdoors—exercising, gardening or simply soaking in the warmth and sunshine.
Seems innocent enough, right?
Unfortunately, the local park or ball field, even your own back yard, may be harboring hidden health hazards that could lead to a variety of serious medical concerns. Even worse, these health hazards are difficult to escape because they’re practically everywhere—yards, playgrounds and even the local soccer field. Yes, we’re talking about pesticides.
Pesticides of Yesterday and Today
The “first-generation” pesticides used many decades ago, such as arsenic and hydrogen cyanide, were abandoned because of their highly toxic nature. The “second generation” pesticides included synthetic organic compounds (in this case, organic means that they contained the element carbon). The most common and highly controversial synthetic organic pesticide was dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT.
At first, DDT seemed like a farmer’s dream come true. It killed a wide range of pests, but appeared to be harmless to larger animals and mammals. It didn’t have to be reapplied often, it was insoluble (it didn’t get washed off by rain) and it was inexpensive.
It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the enthusiasm for DDT began to wear off. Scientist Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, famously connected DDT to indirect toxicity, which harmed or killed non-targeted creatures like fish, crabs and birds.
In addition, this indirect toxicity led to the tendency for the compound to accumulate in the fatty tissues of various animals, and increase in concentration as you went up the food chain—which affected mammals and even humans. (In fact, DDT showed up in high concentrations in human breast milk.)
Not surprisingly, chemical manufacturers quickly responded to the growing heat surrounding DDT by creating even newer classes of pesticides. Today’s pesticides tend to be less persistent than DDT (meaning they have to be reapplied more often) and are water-soluble, which means they wash away with rain, therefore polluting water supplies.
Despite all this, modern pesticides are considered “safer” options compared to the pesticides of yesteryear. And our country uses them with great frequency. In fact, the United States sprays or applies approximately 5.1 billion pounds of pesticides each and every year.1 Most of this use is in agriculture, but a fair share is used in homes and personal gardens.
Neurotoxic, Carcinogenic and More
Plenty of research links pesticides with acute and chronic diseases and health problems, most notably neurological disorders (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease), but also cancer, diabetes, birth defects and reproductive problems.2
Pesticides work by affecting the insect’s nervous system. Once the chemicals get into the body, they interrupt the chemical pathways that send messages to muscles. This results in paralysis and death.
Considering this mode of action, it’s not too far-reaching to see how pesticides can disrupt the neurological systems of humans as well.
One current study linked the pesticides rotenone and paraquat with disruption of mitochondrial function and oxygen metabolism, among other things, and found that if you are genetically susceptible to Parkinson’s disease, pesticide exposure could make it that much easier for you to develop the condition.3
Another recent meta-analysis of 14 studies aimed to determine the neurotoxic effects of long-term, low-level exposure to organophosphates. Combined, there were 1,600 participants. Researchers found a significant association between low-level exposure to these pesticides and impaired neurobehavioral function. The primary areas of concern included cognitive functions such as psychomotor speed, executive function, visuospatial ability and working and visual memory.4
A cancer link has also become apparent, thanks to a myriad of well-designed research. In a recently published analysis, researchers noted that the increased risk of cancer (including prostate, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma and breast) is not just in those who apply pesticides, but also in those who are simple bystanders to the application. In their words, “The literature does strongly suggest that the public health problem is real.”5
Another study that examined lifetime use of multiple pesticides and multiple myeloma concluded, “Significant associations observed for certain chemical classes and individual pesticides suggest that these may be [multiple myeloma] risk factors.” The researchers examined data from 342 men with multiple myeloma and 1,357 controls. They discovered that excess risk of multiple myeloma was found in men exposed to carabmate pesticides—one type of phenoxy herbicide and organochlorines. Even higher odds were observed in men exposed to the pesticides carbaryl and captan.6
Minimize Your Pesticide Exposure
Since pesticides are so prevalent, it’s difficult to avoid them completely. For instance, you may not use them around your house, but your neighbor might—or your homeowner’s association may spray your entire neighborhood or local parks for mosquitoes and other pests.
While these things are unavoidable, there are some simple things you can do to minimize your exposure at home. Growing your own organic produce, or buying locally and organically grown produce, is one of the best ways to avoid pesticide exposure.
If you can’t afford to buy all of your produce organic, you don’t have to. Onions, pineapples, avocados, sweet peas, asparagus, eggplant, mango, mushrooms, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapefruit and sweet potatoes all tend to have low pesticide residue, so it’s usually okay to buy conventionally grown options. The produce that does have high pesticide residue—and should be bought organic whenever possible—includes apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, green beans, kale and potatoes.7
In addition, wash all your produce thoroughly prior to eating it. You can buy produce washes at most grocery stores, or make your own by diluting a tablespoon or less of dish detergent in a gallon of filtered, lukewarm water.
To maintain your garden and lawn, and to keep insects from entering your house, use natural pest control methods. Many effective, natural options can be found online.
Finally, remove your shoes before entering your house to avoid tracking pesticides from the outdoors into your home.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. www.epa.gov/opp00001/factsheets/securty.htm.
Mostafalou S and Abdollahi M. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2013 Apr 15;268(2):157-77.
Thany SH, et al. Med Sci (Paris). 2013 Mar;29(3):273-8.
Ross SM, et al. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2013 Jan;43(1):21-44.
Alavanja MC, et al. CA Cancer J Clin. 2013 Mar-Apr;63(2):120-42.
Kachuri L, et al. Int J Cancer. 2013 Apr 6. [Epub ahead of print.] Environmental Working Group. www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/.