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Last updated March 30, 2017 (originally published May 9, 2015)

By Joseph Strongoli, Contributing Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Doctors and
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness professionals and other members
of our Editorial Board]

We've been preached at for years to eat our fruits and
vegetables by just about every health authority in the
world. Now comes the troubling news that eating those
vegetables and fruits may just be poisoning us.

The culprit here are pesticides. As conservationist Rachel
Carson wrote in her seminal 1962 book, Silent Spring,
pesticides are poorly named. Why? Their destructive power
is effective against many forms of life, and their usage
wreaks that lethal power on many more life-forms than just
the pests at which they’re aimed. Carson’s suggestion for
an apter nomenclature?

Which other forms of life are affected by pesticides, you
ask? Let’s start with --- you.   We humans are affected
more by pesticides than most of us realize. The WHO and
the UN Environment Program estimate 3 million agriculture
workers in the developing world experience severe
pesticide poisoning annually. 18,000 of them will die.
According to a 1990 study at the National University of
Singapore, as many as 25 million workers worldwide suffer
at least mild pesticide poisoning yearly.

However, this problem is not limited to the agriculture
workers who work directly with these toxic chemicals. The
general population at large is at risk as well.

A 2010 study by Dr. Barbara Sattler at the University of
Maryland found that detectable amounts of 50 separate
pesticides were found in the blood work of a representative
sample of the U.S. population.

Without exaggeration, we can say that, when you prick
your finger, you bleed out pesticides.

Somebody Poisoned the Waterhole

There are many routes of exposure to pesticides. They are
in the foods we eat, the lawns and gardens we maintain,
and the groundwater we drink.

Many food crops, including fruits and vegetables, contain
pesticide residue long after being washed, peeled and
prepared for consumption.

Many pesticides are resistant to breakdown and collect in
the soil and water supply. These chemicals can infiltrate
and linger in all levels of the ecosystem for ominously
protracted periods of time.

Here's a shocking fact. Dr. Sattler found that most people in
the United States still harbor detectable trace amounts of
DDT in their bodies, even though the substance was
banned in 1972!

According to the Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data
Program report in 2008, a type of organophosphate called
"malathion" was present in 28% of frozen blueberries,
25% of fresh strawberries, and 19% of celery.

Strawberries and tomatoes are the two crops with the most
extensive use of soil fumigants. In 2003 in California alone,
3.7 million lbs., or 1,700 metric tons of metham sodium
were used on tomatoes. Perhaps the most prevalent route
of exposure to dangerous chemicals is in the food we

But wait, doesn’t an apple a day keep the doctor away?
Have we lost two of the sturdy cornerstones of the once
wholesome food pyramid? Is fast food now actually safer
to eat than fruits and veggies?!?

The Clean 15 vs. The Dirty Dozen

Richard Wiles at the Environmental Working Group, a
Washington-based environmental advocacy group,
recommends eating more of the ‘Clean 15’, and less of the
‘Dirty Dozen’.

The Clean 15 produce are the fruits and vegetables that
typically carry the lowest levels of pesticides. More robust,
easier to grow, and thick-skinned or equipped with
outright shells/peels/rinds that you don’t consume, the

The Clean 15 include corn, mangoes, onions, avocados, and

Here is the complete list:

1. sweet corn

2. avocados

3. pineapples

4. cabbage

5. onions

6. frozen sweet peas

7. papayas

8. asparagus

9. mangoes

10. eggplant

11. honeydew melon

12. kiwi

13. canteloupe

14. cauliflower

15. grapefruit

The Dirty Dozen are the produce with the highest levels of
contamination. They are typically highly perishable fruits
and vegetables with fragile skin. These include blueberries,
apples, strawberries, peaches, bell peppers, celery, and

Eat Local

OK, but does this mean we have to ditch half of the fruits
and veggies that were supposed to be nutritious and
delicious? How can we have our fruits and veggies and eat
them too?

To get the best of both worlds, eat local. While it is
undoubtedly harsher on the wallet, eating from the
neighborhood farmer’s market has been shown to
significantly reduce exposure levels.

According to Dr. Maryse Bouchard at Harvard University,
national surveys indicate that local farmers generally have
less pesticide residue on their products. There’s also the
added benefit that when buying directly from the farmers
themselves at the farmer’s market, you can always ask
them which chemicals they use.

But going organic is expensive. If you can’t stomach the
bill, it does help to scrupulously wash all your fruits and
vegetables, - frozen or fresh, commercial or organic -  even
if it won’t get rid of all the chemicals. Wash your produce in
mild soap using a brush or washcloth, then rinse
thoroughly in cold water. It’s all about reducing your

Here are the top 7 health hazards of pesticides:

Pesticides Linked to ADHD in Children

A 2010 study by Dr. Maryse Bouchard et al., at Harvard
University tested the urine of 1,139 children from age 8 to
15, looking for traces of pesticide metabolites. They found
that nearly 95% of those tested had at least one pesticide
byproduct in their system. Those with the highest levels of
contamination were 93% more likely to have been
diagnosed with
ADHD than those children with no
byproducts found in their bodies.

A third of the group tested were found to have above-
average levels of the most common pesticide metabolite,
and were subsequently twice as likely as the others to have
Pesticides Harm Semen Quality and Quantity

A February, 2015 study by Dr. J.E. Chavarro et al., at the
Harvard  School of Public Health tested 338 semen samples
across 155 men over a five-year period from 2007-2012.

The results showed that men who ate more than 1.5
servings a day of fruits and veggies high in pesticide
content had 49% lower sperm count, 32% lower
percentage of normal sperm, and lower ejaculate volume
overall than men who ate less than 0.5 servings per day.

However, don’t give up on your greens: “These findings
should not discourage the consumption of fruit and
vegetables in general,” Dr. Chavarro said. “We found that
consuming more fruits and vegetables with low pesticide
residues was beneficial. Strategies targeted at avoiding
pesticide residues, such as consuming organically grown
produce or avoiding produce known to have large amounts
of residues, may be the way to go.”

Pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease

A 2006 study by Dr. Alberto Ascherio et al., at Harvard
University examined 7,864 participants who had exposure
to pesticides in one way or another.

Only 1,956 of those studied were farmers, ranchers, or
fishermen, so not all were exposed through working
directly with the chemicals.

The results were that those exposed to pesticides had a
70% higher incidence of
Parkinson’s disease than those
individuals not exposed.

And here's the scary part. The study also noted that the
relative risk for exposure was actually similar for farmers
and nonfarmers, indicating that the pesticides do indeed
infiltrate the environment and our foods.

Additionally, no relation was found between risk for PD and
exposure to asbestos, chemicals/acids/solvents, coal or
stone dust, or eight other occupational exposures. The
pesticides alone were behind the smoking gun.

Diabetes from Pesticides?

A 20 year study culminated in a 2011 report by Dr. David
Jacobs et al., at the University of Minnesota, which
examined the effects of low-level chronic background
exposure of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as 8
organochlorine (OC) pesticides, 22 polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), and 1 polybrominated biphenyl (PBB).  
The study examined changes in body mass index (BMI),
triglycerides,  HDL and LDL cholesterol, and insulin
resistance in an attempt to determine the link between
these chemicals and diabetes.

The result? Exposure to POPs in the general population
contributes to the development of obesity, dyslipidemia,
insulin resistance, adiposity, and dysmetabolism, all
common precursors to
Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular

Depression from Pesticide Exposure

A 2008 study by Dr. C. Beseler at Colorado State University
established a link between depression and pesticide

After adjusting for state, age, education, marital status,
alcohol use, and other confounding factors, the authors
found that both acute-high intensity and cumulative long-
term pesticide exposure were strongly associated with
higher rates of  clinically diagnosed depression.

The authors reproduced this link in two separate studies of
agriculture workers in Iowa and North Carolina.

Reproductive Effects of Pesticide Exposure

A 2007 systematic review by Dr. M. Sanborn et al., at
McMaster University detailed the devastating effects that
pesticide exposure has on human reproduction.

Spontaneous abortions, stillbirth, fetal death, and neonatal
death were common outcomes in exposure cases.

And those who did survive were highly affected. The
authors cite 15 studies from 9 countries that demonstrated
the influence of pesticide exposure on birth defects, which
ranged from  urogenital anomalies, central nervous system
defects, orofacial clefts, heart defects, to eye anomalies.

The review also noted altered growth in newborns such as
low birth weight, prematurity, and intrauterine growth
restriction. Infertility was common in women who worked
with herbicides up to 2 years before attempted conception.


The most heavily researched, hotly debated, and publicly
scrutinized deleterious effect of widespread pesticide use is
its role in causing cancer.

There are whole journals dedicated to the link between
cancer and pesticide; the two words are hardly separable
now in the academic literature and in the public imagination.

And it’s not for nothing. Dr. Sattler’s 2010 study from
above tidily sums up years of research spanning
universities and medical journals worldwide, documenting
the multiform and inextricable connection between the
chemicals we use in our environment and the cancerous
epidemic that follows.

According to Dr. Sattler’s count, pesticides have been
shown to cause brain, lung, breast, skin, kidney, prostate,
pancreas, and liver cancer. Also, leukemia, lymphoma, and
Wilms’ tumor. Biocide indeed.


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