Last week, I posted a study extolling the many health benefits of eating organic foods, which should really come as no surprise to anyone who visits my Web site regularly. If you ever wondered why I warn you so often to stay away from processed foods and vegetables made with the help of insecticides, a new study documented the effects these unnatural chemicals have on the farmers who grow most of the foods sold in grocery stores.

As you probably suspect, the news isn’t good

A survey of some 19,000 farmers in North Carolina and Iowa who used agricultural insecticides experienced increased neurological problems, even when they were no longer using them. Although some, like DDT, are no longer on the market, some insecticides, including organophosphates and organochlorines, still are.

Scientists examined questionnaires completed by farmers on their exposure over a lifetime to herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and fumigants, and their history of 23 neurological symptoms. Those who experienced more than 10 symptoms during the year prior to completing a study questionnaire were classified as having high levels of symptoms.

Nearly 3,000 farmers were considered to have a high lifetime exposure to insecticides, meaning they used insecticides more than 500 days in their lives. Nearly 800 of these farmers reported more than 10 neurological symptoms compared to those using insecticides fewer than 50 days. However, researchers found no significant association between neurological symptoms and other chemicals, including herbicides or fungicides, and only a weak association between fumigant exposure and neurological symptoms.

One interesting factoid: Some of the pesticides examined — including carbaryl and some pyrethroids — are available to home gardeners, although in different formulations and in lower concentrations, which may make them less hazardous, according to researchers.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to improve your health by eating better foods, I strongly recommend you read Colleen Huber’s awesome article about eating organic foods and staying within your family’s budget.

Environmental Health Perspectives April 15, 2005Free Full-Text Article

Science Blog April 28, 2005