Science in Society Archive

Important Books & Reports

Banishing Glyphosate

Banishing Glyphosate - Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and others

Glyphosate/Roundup, falsely claimed by Monsanto to be safe and harmless, has become the world’s most widely and pervasively used herbicide; it has brought rising tides of birth defects, cancers, fatal kidney disease, sterility, and dozens of other illnesses - more

Ban GMOs Now

Ban GMOs Now - Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji

Health & environmental hazards especially in the light of the new genetics - more

Living Rainbow H2O

Living Rainbow H2O - Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

A unique synthesis of the latest findings in the quantum physics and chemistry of water that tells you why water is the “means, medium, and message of life” - more

The Rainbow and the Worm - the Physics of Organisms

The Rainbow and the Worm - the Physics of Organisms - Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

“Probably the Most Important Book for the Coming Scientific Revolution” - more

Organic Strawberries Stop Cancer Cells

Latest evidence on why organic foods are good for health. Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Organic foods a cornucopia of health-promoting compounds

Scientific evidence has been accumulating on the health benefits of organic foods (Are Organic Foods More Healthy?  Organics for Health; Organic Agriculture Helps Fight Cancer; Food Quality? What's That? / Do Animals Like Good Food?) (see Box). 

Box 1 Why organic foods are healthy

Richer in essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium and ion, and trace minerals such as copper [1-3]

Contain more vitamins and micronutrients [3]

Rich in antioxidants and other compounds that fight cancer and heart disease (see main text)

Low in nitrates [4, 5]

Contain little or no harmful pesticide residues (see main text)

Grown without polluting pesticides and fertilizers and hence provide a cleaner environment for health

Contain little or no antibiotics that harm beneficial natural gut bacteria [6]

Contain no harmful artificial food additives such as hydrogenated fats, phosphoric acid aspartame and monosodium glutamate [7]

One important thing about organically grown foods is that they are a cornucopia of health-promoting chemical compounds. A new landmark study shows that organic strawberry extracts inhibited the proliferation of cancer cells more effectively than conventional strawberry extracts.

What is it about organically grown plants that make them rich in secondary metabolites off the main track, which are great for fighting diseases like cancer? Many of these compounds are actually part and parcel of the plant’s own defence against pests and disease.

Bengt Lundegardh and Anna Martensson [8] at the University of Agricultural Sciences Uppsala Sweden believe that the benefits of organically grown foods have a lot to with activating the plant’s defence mechanisms to synthesize its own protective agents because synthetic pesticides are excluded.  An active soil where plants and microbes interact also facilitates the exchange of metabolic compounds such as vitamins and cofactors. In addition, organically grown foods have a richer mineral content, on account of a more balanced nutrient uptake in the absence of artificial fertilizers, which would have provided excesses of easily available nutrients such as nitrates.

Bioactive compounds in foods, especially the plant phenolic antioxidants, are well known to prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease [9]. Phenolics are present in many crops, particularly fruits, and it has become clear that organic foods are richer in cancer fighting antioxidants [10, 11].

Organic strawberry extracts stop cancer cells

Strawberries have been studied extensively for their cancer fighting ability and that is where the benefits of organic fruit cultivation shine through. Swedish researchers at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp,  and Lund University compared   extracts of five organic and conventional cultivars for their ability to inhibit the proliferation of human colon and breast cancer cells. They found that extracts from organically grown strawberries inhibited cell proliferation more effectively than extracts from the conventionally grown ones, and in both types of cancer cells [12].

The strawberry extracts decreased cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner between 0.025 to 0.5 percent dry weight of extract to volume of cell culture. At the highest concentration, the organic extracts inhibited proliferation of colon cancer (HT29) cells by 60 percent and breast cancer (MCF-7) cells by 53.1 percent; the corresponding values for conventional strawberry extracts were 49.7 percent and 37.9 percent respectively. The differences between conventional and organic were statistically highly significant.

The most effective extracts at inhibiting cell proliferation contained 48 percent more ascorbate and 5 times more dehydroascorbate. (Vitamin C is ascorbate plus dehydroascorbate.) The organic strawberries also had more antioxidants and a higher ratio of ascorbate to dehydroascorbate.

Compost as a soil supplement increased the level of antioxidant compounds in strawberries [13].   The strawberry extracts, rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, were found to interfere with the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling cascade that leads to cell division, and to suppress cancer cell proliferation and transformation  [14].

These latest findings on organic strawberries are in line with those on other organic fruits.  Organic yellow plums were found to be richer in phenolic acids when grown in natural meadow or with a ground cover of clover than conventionally grown plums [15]. Plum and clover extracts induced apoptosis (cell death) and reduced the viability of human liver cancer cells [16].

Absence of pesticides another tangible health benefit

Apart from providing secondary metabolites that fight diseases, the absence of pesticide residues in food and feed is another tangible health benefit of organic food. The “green revolution” has boosted food production in developing countries through high inputs of pesticide and fertilizers. Investigators at the Centre for Rural Development and Technology Dehli India studied residues of organochlorine, organophosphorous, carbamate and pyrethroid pesticides in conventionally grown wheat and rice and found that organic wheat and rice had little or no detectable pesticide. Production of wheat and rice under conventional system was higher than organic but this higher production is at the cost of health risk and also poses other hazards to flora and fauna [17].

The National Research Council in the United States concluded in their 1993 report [18] that dietary intake is the major source of pesticide exposure for infants and children in the United States, and this exposure may account for increased pesticide related health risks in children compared to adults (see Box 2).

Box 2

What the US EPA says about pesticides in infants

The US Environmental Protection Agency states [19]: “Laboratory studies show that pesticides can cause health problems, such as birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other effects that might occur over a long period of time. However these effects depend on how toxic the pesticide is and how much of it is consumed. Some pesticides also pose unique health risks to children.” 

That is because [20], “their internal organs are still developing and maturing”, and “in relation to their body weight, infants and children eat and drink more than adults, possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides in food and water.” Furthermore, “certain behaviors – such as playing on floors or lawns or putting objects in their mouths – increase a child’s exposure to pesticides used in homes and yards.”

Pesticides may harm the developing child by blocking the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for healthy growth. Furthermore, if the child’s excretory system is not fully developed, the body may not fully remove pesticides. There may also be crucial periods in human development when exposure to toxin can permanently change th way an individual’s system works.

Researchers at the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, and Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington in the United States measured dietary exposure in the urine of infants and children before and after they switched from consuming conventional to organic produce and then again back to conventional. They showed that the metabolites of the organophosphates malathion and chlorpyrifos declined to undetectable levels immediately after switching to organic diets, and remained undetectable until they switched back to conventional diets [19]. This supported the earlier conclusion that the children were mostly likely exposed to organophosphate pesticides exclusively through their diets.

Children are not the only ones affected by pesticides. In Denmark, a 1999 study on human sperm and semen quality in relation to organic or conventional diet found that the group consuming mainly organic food had a reduced pesticide intake based on the pesticide levels measured in their food. The researchers concluded that pesticide exposure in the diet did not entail a risk of impaired semen quality [20] even though the group of men not consuming organic food had a significantly lower proportion of morphologically normal sperm, which is generally considered predictive of pregnancy outcome, as abnormal sperms are indicative of DNA damage [21, 22]. It is not clear why the investigators thought that increase in abnormal sperms did not impair semen quality.

Article first published 07/09/06



References

  1. “New studies back benefits of organic diet” Stephen Leahy, Final Call.com News, 20 March 2006, http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_2497.shtml
  2. The Food Commission meat and dairy: where have the minerals gone? Food Magazine 2006, 72, 10.
  3. Worthington V. Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2001, 7, 161-73.
  4. Brandt K and Molgaard J. Organic agriculture: does it enhance or reduce the nutritional value of plant foods J.Sci.FoodAgric. 2001, 81, 924-31.
  5. Magkos F,Arvaniti F and Zampelas A Organic food: nutritious food or food for thought? A review of the evidence.  International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 2003, 54, 357-71.
  6. Gala R. Health promoting germs. Science in Society 2005, 26, 29, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews.php
  7. Heaton S. Organic farming, food quality and human health: A review of the evidence. Soil Association, Bristol, 2001.
  8. Lundegardh B and Mortensson A. Organically produced plant foods-evidence of health benefits  ActaAgric.Scand.SectB , Soil and Plant Sci. 2003,53,3-15
  9. Kris-Etherton PM, Hecker KD, Bonanome A, Coval SM, Binkoski AE, Hilpert KF, Griel AE and Etherton TD. Bioactive compounds in foods: their role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer  Am J Med. 2002 Dec 30;113 Suppl 9B:71S-88S
  10. Cummins J. Organic agriculture helps fight cancer Science in Society 2003,18,18
  11. Grinder-Pedersen L, Rasmussen SE, Bugel S, Jorgensen LV, Dragsted LO, Gundersen V and Sandstrom B. Effect of diets based on foods from conventional versus organic production on intake and excretion of flavonoids and markers of antioxidative defense in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 ;51,5671-6
  12. Olsson ME, Andersson CS, Oredsson S, Berglund RH and  Gustavsson KE. Antioxidant levels and inhibition of cancer cell proliferation in vitro by extracts from organically and conventionally cultivated strawberries.  J Agric Food Chem. 2006, 54, 1248-55.
  13. Wang S and Lin H. Compost as a soil supplement increases the level of antioxidant compounds and oxygen radical absorbance capacity in strawberries. J Agric Food Chem. 2003, 51, 6844-50.
  14. Wang SY, Feng R, Lu Y, Bowman L and Ding M.  Inhibitory effect on activator protein-1, nuclear factor-kappaB, and cell transformation by extracts of strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa Duch.). J Agric Food Chem. 2005, 53, 4187-93.
  15. Lombardi-Boccia G, Lucarini M, Lanzi S, Aguzzi A and  Cappelloni M. Nutrients and antioxidant molecules in yellow plums (Prunus domestica L.) from conventional and organic productions: a comparative study. J Agric Food Chem. 2004, 52, 90-4.
  16. Ramos S, Alia M, Bravo L and Goya L. Comparative effects of food-derived polyphenols on the viability and apoptosis of a human hepatoma cell line (HepG2). J Agric Food Chem. 2005, 53(4), 1271-80
  17. Rekha B, Naik S and Prasad R. Pesticide residues in organic and conventional food-Risk analysis Chemical Health and  Safety, doi:10.1016/j.chs.2005.01.012.
  18. Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1993.
  19. Pesticides and food: Health problems pesticides may pose, US Environmental Protection Agency, 2 May 2006, http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/food/risks.htm
  20. Pesticides and food: Why children may be especially sensitive to pesticides, 2 May 2006, http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/food/pest.htm
  21. Lu C, Toepel K, Irish R, Fenske RA, Barr DB and Bravo R. Organic diets significantly lower children's dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. Environ Health Perspect. 2006,114(2):260-3.
  22. Juhler RK, Larsen SB, Meyer O, Jensen ND, Spano M, Giwercman A and Bonde JP. Human semen quality in relation to dietary pesticide exposure and organic diet. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 1999, 37(3), 415-23.
  23. Lindheim SR, Barad DH, Zinger M, Witt B, Amin H, Cohen B, Fisch H and  Barg P. Abnormal sperm morphology is highly predictive of pregnancy outcome during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation and intrauterine insemination.  J Assist Reprod Genet. 1996, 13(7), 569-72.
  24. Sakkas D, Seli E, Manicardi GC, Nijs M, Ombelet W and  Bizzaro,D. The presence of abnormal spermatozoa in the ejaculate: did apoptosis fail? Hum Fertil (Camb). 2004, 7(2), 99-103.

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