Is there any benefit to the use of organic products?


Studies show that during the average pregnancy in the US, women will consume between 12 and 14 lbs of food additives. This will include more than 4,500 different flavorings, additives, preservatives, pesticides and herbicides that are deliberately added to what they’re consuming. Although we have regulatory agencies that are supposed to insure the safety of what we are exposed to in our diet, most of these have been placed in a category of “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS. As this blog and my books reveal, there is growing data demonstrating how unsafe many of these hormone-disrupting chemicals can be. More surprising to me is that while it is assumed that these chemicals are safe until studies show otherwise; many people demand proof that organic products offer an advantage. On this too, the data is becoming increasingly clear.

In March of 2008, a comprehensive review of the published research comparing the nutritional content of organic foods to those produced through conventional farming techniques. This paper included 97 research studies that compared the nutrient content of 236 paired items. The organic foods were superior in 145 (61%) of the comparisons; while the conventionally farmed foods were superior in 87 (37%). In 2% there was no difference. Specifically, the organically grown foods tend to be higher in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidant content whereas the conventionally grown foods tended to be higher in protein, nitrogen and sugar content. This means that the organic foods are healthier while the others are more calorie-dense. By switching to organic products you can reduce your exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals by about 90% while supporting beneficial practices for the environment.

Over the past several years, the purchase of organic products has gone up by over 30%. As a result, their cost has come down and their availability has increased. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cost a bit more. Here are some steps that you can take if you’re on a more limited budget:

  • Consider re-directing some of the money that you spend on vitamins/supplements toward organic food purchases. There is less of a need to “supplement” a healthy diet.
  • Be selectively organic. Some foods are more prone to contamination from conventional farming than others. Here are the foods that you simply can’t clean away the toxins from: apples, cherries, peaches, raspberries, bell peppers, grapes, pears, spinach, celery, nectarines, potatoes and strawberries.
  • Pay attention to your method of cooking. If you’re grilling at high temperatures, deep-frying in oils or micro-waving your food in plastics then you’re introducing all sorts of toxins that aren’t necessary.
  • Reduce your consumption of animal products. Many of the toxins that animals are exposed to are stored in their fats. By consuming meat, fish or poultry you’re getting a concentrated dose of what that animal was exposed to during its life. By lowering your portion size and choosing leaner options you’re be reducing your chemical burden.

Dietary Supplements; are yours making you sick?

A recent survey estimated that nearly half of the US adult population (~114 million people) regularly takes dietary supplements. In fact, last year Consumer Reports estimated that our passion for these products costs us over $15 billion; more than $150 per person and that didn’t even include the amount that we spend on vitamins. Unfortunately, emerging information shows that we’re often not getting what we’ve paid for, or worse, we can be taking in products that can actually impair our health.

In this consumer driven market, products tend to target the most popular problems or conditions including infertility and pregnancy. Unfortunately the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have identified a growing trend of tainted products. Many have been found to be contaminated with toxic plant material, poisonous heavy metals and bacteria that can create various illnesses. Worse still, the supplements that have been confirmed to be problematic are believed to be a small fraction of the growing problem. How did we get to this point? It dates back to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) under which vitamins, minerals, botanical products, amino acids and tissue extracts were all classified as “dietary supplements.” According to this regulation these products are presumed to be safe and can be marketed to consumers with no pre-release testing and very little oversight. The end result has been a growing list of consumer complaints, possible health complications, and uninvestigated claims of efficacy.

In reality, anything that promotes health can also have adverse effects. This is as true for supplements as it is for medications. That’s why as more of these products target men/women wanting to conceive or women that are already pregnant it is important to be your own advocate; both as a consumer and as a patient. Especially since a growing number of supplements are tainted with impurities and unlisted ingredients.

In 2007 the US FDA published a report titled “Survey Data on Lead in Women’s and Children’s Vitamins.” I find it disturbing that the investigators concluded that of the 324 products tested they contained levels of impurities that were considered “safe/tolerable exposures.” Yet, they all tested positive for lead! As a healthcare provider and patient advocate I’m outraged People shouldn’t unknowingly purchase and consume products that introduce toxins into their body. Fortunately there are steps that you can take to protect yourself and your family:

• Go organic—A growing number of studies show that organically produced products are higher in health promoting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. By choosing organic products when you can, you’ll decrease your need to supplement your healthy diet.

• Be an informed consumer—Since most supplement manufacturers don’t voluntarily hire agencies to monitor the quality of their product, investigate the quality of the ones you are using. Independent agencies like Consumer Lab test and report on the quality of many supplements.

• Notify your healthcare provider of everything that you’re taking—A growing number of products have been found to be deliberately tainted with active ingredients including prescription medications not approved for use in the United States. Therefore it is important that your doctor know about everything that you’re taking in case you develop a reaction to your supplement or experience an adverse response due to how it interacts with your other medications.

• Periodically re-evaluate your needs—Most dietary supplements have not been well tested despite the claims to the contrary. I recommend that my patients reconsider each product that they’re using at least once a year by asking themselves two questions. First, why did I start this? Second, is it meeting or exceeding my expectations? If you’re not satisfied with these answers discontinue anything that isn’t specifically recommended by your healthcare provider.