If you are looking to banish pesticides from your child’s diet, new research suggests that organic food will do the trick, at least when it comes to two common pesticides.
Researchers found that pesticide levels in children’s bodies dropped to zero after just a few days of eating organic produce and grains. “After they switch back to a conventional diet, the levels go up,” said study co-author Chensheng Lu, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Emory University.
But Lu acknowledged that organic food is often more expensive than conventional food, and he added that the health risks of the pesticides in question aren’t entirely clear.
According to the study, it has been difficult to figure out exactly how much pesticide residue children are exposed to when they eat food that was treated as it grew in the field.
Lu said the impetus for the new study was a previous research project that examined pesticide levels in 110 children and only found one child whose body was pesticide-free — a child who regularly ate organic food.
His team looked at two common pesticides known as organophosphorus. According to Lu, their use in residential areas is banned, but they’re still used by growers.
In 2003, researchers recruited 23 children from Seattle-area schools, all aged 3-11. Researchers monitored levels of two organophosphorus pesticides — malathion and chlorpyrifos — in their urine during a 15-day period in which they alternated between their regular diets and diets featuring organic fruits, vegetables and grain products.
The findings were to be discussed Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis. The study, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, appeared online last September in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The researchers found that the pesticide levels dropped immediately when the children started eating the organic foods. The staying power of the pesticides was “relatively short,” Lu said.
“Whether that is important in terms of health effects remains to be seen,” Lu added, noting that scientists don’t know exactly how the pesticides affect the body over time.
There is evidence that they’re dangerous, said Dr. Nathan M. Graber, a fellow in pediatric environmental health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “We know that at high doses, these pesticides can cause serious symptoms because they are toxic to the nervous system,” he said, adding that there’s “sound scientific reasoning” suggesting that low doses can hurt the developing brain.
What should parents do? Kids should be eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, regardless of whether they are organically grown, because the benefits greatly outweigh the risk, Graber said. “Parents should not feed their children less nutritious foods out of fear of pesticides.”
Foods that are especially vulnerable to pesticide residue include strawberries, nectarines, peaches, apples, pears and cherries, Lu said. Some other foods, such as bananas and oranges, aren’t as vulnerable, he added.