Walter J. Crinnion N.D.
Published in Organic Gardening Almanac, 1995; Llewelyn Pub.
The more I work with chronically ill people, the bigger my organic garden gets. As a
naturopathic physician I deal with a lot of chronically ill people. Many of them have been
through the conventional medical system with no success, so they show up at my doorstep.
One day Steve showed up. Over six feet tall and 200 pounds, he dwarfed me, and was quick
to mention that my hair was thinning. He was always trying to be helpful. He came to me
after numerous doctors were unable to help. By the time he arrived he was sure that he was
dying. His long list of symptoms, coupled with his natural tendency to do his best to get
your goat had no doubt caused any practitioners to give up on him.
Routine blood tests failed to show the cause of his problems, although they did show some irregularities. The really interesting finding came when we checked his blood for pesticides.
We tested for eighteen of the more common pesticides and found that he had nine of them running around in his blood. Knowing that there are many more than eighteen chemicals in our environment did not make me feel any better. If he had 50% of the chemicals that we tested for, how many did he have that we didn't test for? Unfortunately, out of the 70,000 chemicals in daily use in this country, only about 250 can be tested for in humans. This obviously makes it very difficult to find out what is causing a health problem if the culprit is one of the remaining 69,750.
After finding what I thought to be the source of Steve's problems I had to ask: Where did he get such a high level of toxins? One of the toxins he had in his serum was DDT. This chemical pesticide was banned in 1972 as a direct result of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. After being in the body for 6 months, DDT breaks down to DDE. Since we found both DDE and DDT in him, this meant that Steve had gotten DDT with the past year. But how?
While DDT is banned for use in this country it is still manufactured here, and then it is shipped to other countries for use in agriculture and mosquito control. DDT makes its way back into this country on the food raised in those countries, or in the livestock that was raised on contaminated feed.
Steve was a traveling salesman in the Pacific Northwest. His territory included Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. He ate out at restaurants a lot while he was traveling. Presumably, that is where he was slowly poisoned. After seeing Steve, my backyard organic garden got a little bit bigger.
There are numerous benefits to both eating organic foods, and to organic gardening. I personally believe that a huge benefit comes from a renewed relationship with nature. It starts with an "I won't poison you, you won't poison me" attitude, and ends with "I'll nurture and respect you, you nurture and respect me." Doing your own organic gardening makes this a personal commitment. Gardening is just plain good for the soul. One of my patients told me that they refer to their time spent in the garden a "going to see my therapist." There is nothing quite like getting your hands in the soil for really good "grounding".
In addition to the mental and emotional benefits of growing and eating organic food, there are also the physical benefits. These physical benefits can be boiled down to nutrients present in organic foods that are not in commercial foods and toxins not in organic foods that are present in commercial foods. A recent article in the Journal of Applied Nutrition gave credence to the notion that organic foods have higher nutrient levels that non-organic food. In this study the mineral content of organic apples, pear, potatoes, wheat, and sweet corn were compared to commercial varieties. Overall the organic foods showed much higher levels of nutrient minerals and much lower levels of heavy metals.
Here are a few of the nutrients that were found in higher levels in the organic foods:
* Chromium is a micronutrient that is low in Western diets. Its deficiency is associated with the onset of adult diabetes and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Chromium was found to be higher in organic foods by an average of 78%.
* Selenium is one of the antioxidant nutrients that protects us from damage by environmental chemicals. It is protective against cancers and heart disease. It was found to be an average of 390% higher in organic foods.
* Calcium, needed for strong bones, averaged 63% higher in organics.
* Boron, which has been shown to help prevent osteoporosis (along with calcium), averaged 70% more.
* Lithium, which is used to treat certain types of depression, was 188% higher.
* Magnesium, which reduces mortality from heart attacks, keeps muscles from spasming, and eases the symptoms of PMS, averaged 138% more.
In short, many of the minerals that I most often prescribe to my patients are found in much higher levels in organic foods.
Other studies have looked at vitamin levels of food plants treated with certain pesticides. They showed that application of some pesticides would significantly lower the vitamin levels in the plants they were applied to. This is different than the notion that plants raised with chemicals are low in nutrients because the soil is depleted. This shows that chemicals actually reduce the amount of nutrients in plants after application. The nutrients most often affected are vitamin C, beta carotene, and the B vitamins. These nutrients are vitally necessary for the body to withstand the onslaught of chemical toxins. Vitamin C has been well documented by two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling to prevent and treat cancers. Beta carotene has been shown to be a stimulant of the immune system, and is sometimes able to prevent lung cancer.
When they studied organic food for mineral levels, the researchers also looked for the amount of the heavy metals aluminum, cadmium, lead and mercury. Aluminum has been implicated for years in the development of Alzheimer's disease. It's content in organic food averaged 40% less that in commercial foods. Lead toxicity, which has been in the new a lot lately, can adversely affect our children's' IQ. It averaged 29% lower in organic foods. Mercury, which can cause neurologic damage, averaged 25% lower in organic foods.
Besides the lower levels of heavy metals, there are the chemical residues themselves. The big question is whether or not the accumulation of pesticide residues in non-organic foods is a real health concern or not. Studies have never been able to conclusively show a direct correlation between residues in food and a decline of human health, but there are numerous problems in doing any such study. The first is that you would need a population of people who are free of chemical residues to compare to, and no one has been able to find such a group. According to an ongoing EPA study of fat samples taken from surgeries and autopsies across the country, we are all loaded with chemical residues. Similar studies done on other countries all show the same results.
The clearest studies that we have about pesticide residues and disease are those looking at breast cancer. In the last few years there have been a series of studies, each building upon the other, looking at the level of DDT, DDE, and PCB in women, They have very clearly shown that chemical residues in the serum and fat cells of women greatly increase the risk of breast cancer. Since breast cancer is a major killer of women in this country it is reasonable to say that avoidance of pesticide residues in food (the only known route of exposure to DDT in this country, since we no longer use it to spray for mosquitoes) could save numerous lives and reduce our health care cost dramatically.
After 50 years of "Better Living Through Chemistry" scientists have finally shown that breast cancer is associated with pesticide residue, They have yet to prove that it causes numerous other maladies. I am not waiting for them to prove it before I change my eating habits. As a clinician who sees numerous environmentally poisoned people with health problems, I am convinced of an association between chemicals and disease. The biggest source of exposure for many people is their workplace, then their homes, followed by air, food and water. Of these the easiest to control are our home environment and our diet.
Eating organic food, drinking pure water, and watching our airborne chemical exposure can have profound effects on our health. My friend Steve, who has now gone through an extensive protocol to remove the pesticide residue from his body and had regained his health, will back me up on that. When he added up the costs of his illness in time off work and medical expenses, he found that eating organic food was much less expensive than eating non-organic foods. He is eating better foods now, and my organic garden continues to grow, along with my children.
Walter J. Crinnion N.D., is a Naturopathic Physician in Bellevue, Washington. He is a faculty member at Bastyr University in Seattle, where he teaches Environmental Toxicity, and Clinical Ecology. He is also adjunct faculty at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, where he teaches an intensive class on Environmental Medicine. Since 1987, Dr. Crinnion has operated the most comprehensive cleansing protocol in the nation.
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