Eating fresh vegetables and fruits is all well and good, but there’s a catch. Most of us are not aware of the pesticides and chemicals that go into our food production process. Chances are that what you consider to be healthy might just be killing you. Commonly used pesticides like organophosphates are neurotoxins can be terribly harmful to your body. Other chemicals like phthalates are endocrine disruptors can also cause severe harm to your reproductive, nervous, and other body systems.
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to eat whole food that has zero exposure to these chemicals in today’s food supply, but a little is much better than a LOT. Researchers have found that eating a completely organic diet can reduce your pesticide exposure by 90%. These pesticides have ghastly effects on your body. Some of which can be hard to shake while others can be managed by an altered diet.
Here are some frequently used pesticides and what they might be doing to your body:
Organophosphates and Carbamates
Exposure to these pesticides causes increased salivation and perspiration. It can also cause narrowing of the pupils, nausea, diarrhea, decrease in blood pressure, muscle weakness and fatigue. The symptoms fade after the exposure to these chemicals decreases. Some pesticides of this variety also have a delayed neurological reaction which causes weakness in muscles and arms.
Created in the 1960s, this pesticide has been around for a while. Once used in home gardening they have now found their way into cotton, almonds, oranges, and even corn crops. This pesticide can cause a number of ill effects in the body. From a mild headache to an increased risk for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to much more serious conditions like respiratory paralysis.
Exposure to these chemicals can cause aggression, uncoordinated behavior, whole-body tremors, and seizures. Skin exposure can also cause allergic responses, cancer or even developmental defects.
The active ingredient in the popular weed killer called RoundUp, glyphosphate is designed by the seed makers for use on genetically modified soy, corn, canola, cotton and in parks. Its residue has become ubiquitous and has even been discovered in the Mississippi basin. Its ill-effects include neurological disorders, birth defects, infertility, and is a known carcinogen. There are some serious issues that one should be worried about when eating foods laden with pesticides. You should be aware of the following:
A review from the University College London concluded that low level of pesticide exposure can cause cognitive impairment. It can affect memory, the speed with which you process information, and higher brain functions like long-term planning.
Tolyfluanid, a fungicide used on crops, can increase insulin resistance in cells. This can accelerate the development of diabetes and may be contributing to the national epidemic that is happening right now. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with diabetes by 2020.
There are more than 260 studies linking pesticides with cancer like lymphoma, leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma in a wide-range of tissues including breast, brain, prostate, bone cancers among others. There are many resources explaining these risks and all of the package inserts of these pesticides have warnings about the potential of cancer from exposure to these chemicals.
Over 60 studies have identified a strong correlation between long-term exposure to herbicides and pesticides with Parkinson’s disease. The only way to avoid this is to eat food that has no traces of pesticides in them at all.
Leading autism researchers believe that there is link between pollutants and genes causing autism. Insecticides usually kill bugs by disrupting their neurological functioning. The same thing seems to be happening in children. A 2010 Harvard study found that children with organophosphate pesticide breakdown materials are more likely to have ADHD.
How is Organic Food Different?
Organically grown vegetables, fruits, and grains do not use pesticides, chemical fertilizers or any other chemicals to support their growth. This means the growing food process utilizes natural fertilizers such as manure and compost. It is important that animal products are also organic as these animals should be reared on organic feed (not treated with growth hormones) and allowed regular access to the outdoors. Organic produce is clearly labeled, and this is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture.
There is emerging research that organic food has a higher percentage of antioxidants. This is because plants produce a large percentage of their antioxidant compounds to fight against pest attacks. Supplementing their growth with chemical pesticides only inhibits their ability to grow the compounds we eat these food items for. Moreover, food grown this way is far safer for the environment while also being safer to consume. Be it plants or animals, organically reared food is undeniably better for the body and keeps you safe from ingesting harmful chemicals. Most would argue that it tastes much better as well.
Eating organic food is the best way for you to limit your exposure to pesticides and dangerous chemicals. While it may seem more costly, it is definitely a cheaper option to the health risks of ingesting chemical-laced food. There are a number of health risks that have been identified as being associated with pesticides as mentioned above. Many Americans are realizing the value of prevention being better than cure and shifting to an organic lifestyle in droves.
Spring is in the air! While it means an end to dreary, cold weather and being cooped up indoors, for a large number of us it also means a start to seasonal allergies. The number of allergens has been on the rise in the last few years, increasing by nearly 50% every decade since the 1970s according to the World Allergy Organization. Before we get into some of the possible whys for this alarming increase or some of the ways to gain relief from them, let’s take a look at how allergies actually work.
Your Immune System is Overreacting
Although a huge oversimplification of the process, the above statement is essentially why we have allergies. Your immune system reacts to different proteins or molecules on the surface of anything that it perceives as a threat (aka allergens). These molecules and proteins are known as antigens, and most of the time your immune system is justified in activating itself against them. As an example, your immune system should react to surface proteins on viruses or bacteria that are trying to invade your body in an effort to destroy them. However, for a variety of reasons we’ll explore later in this post, sometimes your immune system gets confused and reacts against a normally innocuous substance, like peanut butter, pollen, or cat hair. When your body encounters these antigen, it activates its defense system through specialized cells (called mast cells), which release histamine in an effort to neutralize the perceived threat. This release of histamine causes the inflammation that leads to the symptoms we commonly associate with allergies: runny nose, itchy watery eyes, cough, sneezing, etc. This is also the mechanism for how the common over the counter allergy medications called anti-histamines help you relieve symptoms. They are designed to block histamine receptors on your cells, preventing the inflammation from taking hold and making you sniffle and sneeze all day. But for many, they are not addressing the root cause of your allergy in the first place: the improper recognition of antigens.
So why is my immune system overreacting?
The part of your immune system that activates in response to allergens is called the humoral immune system. This part of your immune system creates specific antibodies against pathogens and is the type of response that is generated by vaccines and protects you from future infection by that pathogen. However, it also creates the response that produces allergy symptoms. Humoral immunity involves two major cell types, B-cells and T-cells. T-cells work by activating the B-cells through a complex network of signaling molecules. Then the B-cells, in turn, secrete antibodies against the pathogen. T-cells can activate two different types of responses, known as Th1 and Th2. Th1 responses are generally directed against viruses or cancerous cells, while Th2 responses work against bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens that exist outside of the cell. The interplay of these two types of responses may explain some of the aggravating or relieving effects that certain vaccines may have for seasonal allergies which will be discussed shortly.
A number of complex factors relating to your environment starting back from even the time before you’re born can be the blamed for why you have seasonal allergies. Studies have found an association between mother’s reported seasonal allergies and the frequency with which their children will suffer from them. This may be due to the mother’s body priming the fetus to produce IgE (the kind of antibody that stimulates histamine release) in utero, making the child more likely to be hyperreactive to allergens that would produce IgE later in life. Studies looking at the prevalence of allergies in children raised on farms compared to children in cities or suburbs found that the children of mothers who worked on a farm had the least number of allergies. This is thought to be due to their exposure to common allergens throughout their pregnancy. This is strong evidence that the conditions the mother’s immune system can affect the function of her child’s immune system. Similar research has been done to review the effect of being around animals, both household pets and livestock. It suggests that children who were exposed to animals from birth were half as likely to develop allergies as children who had no pets. It was also noted that close proximity to metropolitan areas were associated with higher risk of developing asthma and other allergies. This is likely due to higher pollution levels and the fact that pollution creates new allergens that our bodies have not evolved with over the years, making our allergic response to th
em much stronger. The effect of this is most evident
when comparing the prevalence of seasonal allergies and asthma in developed vs developing countries where the population tends to be more rural.
Relationship Between Vaccines, Antibiotics, and Allergies
Since vaccines work by priming your immune system, it’s not surprising that they can have an effect on the development of allergies. There’s some evidence that the BCG vaccine, which is used in many developing countries where tuberculosis is more prevalent, may produce lower rates of asthma and other allergic responses. The researchers believe this may be because tuberculosis falls under the Th1 category of immune responses and by activating that type of response lowers the body’s Th2 responses. Another study found that the vaccine against pertussis was linked with slightly higher rates of seasonal allergy development, this vaccine activates a Th2 response, which may also enhance any responses to allergies. Seasonal allergies are frustrating to deal with and can definitely decrease your quality of life when they are present, but there is much controversy of the growing number of vaccinations and their efficacy causing many countries to eliminate them from their healthcare system. These kinds of studies do definitely show the need for more research into the long-lasting impacts of vaccines.
Exposure to antibiotics early in life also increases the risk of developing allergies. Antibiotics can disrupt the gut microbiome which is just developing in young children and plays an important role in the development of allergies. The human body requires “good” bacteria to help prime a child’s immune system for what is and isn’t an appropriate reaction to antigens. Its collection of “good” and “bad” bacteria is called the human microbiome and is the target of a frenzying amount of research of late. It’s implication on health are tremendous from its effects on digestion and obesity to certain mood disorders to its known impact on allergies. Frequent courses of antibiotics clear out your “good” bacteria (along with the bad) and have been shown to deprive the immune system of this priming when given early in life, causing it to react more violently and frequently to neutral stimuli. If over 99% of the DNA in your body does not belong to you… are you really who you say you are??
Conventional vs Alternative Allergy Therapies
Unfortunately for most allergy sufferers, most of what’s been discussed so far in this post relates to factors we don’t have much control over, how stressed our mother is during pregnancy, where we grew up, whether we were exposed to household pets or livestock from birth, so for those of us who can’t pick up and move to the countryside and start raising goats, how can we get some relief from our already formed seasonal allergies? As previously mentioned, antihistamines are commonly prescribed for allergy relief. Speaking from personal experience though, these do not always alleviate allergy symptoms, especially if you only start taking them once you’re symptomatic and your immune system is already ramped up. Steroid based nasal sprays are another commonly prescribed conventional treatment which work by generally suppressing your immune system. This approach to care is like throwing the baby out with the bath water, especially for people whose immune systems are already suppressed by preexisting conditions like diabetes or cancer. Allergy shots are a different means of treatment which involves injecting a small amount of the allergen into the body over a long period of time to try to desensitize the immune system to the antigen and eventually stop the allergic response altogether. However, studies have shown these work better for year-round allergies than seasonal ones. At best, these treatments can provide symptomatic relief (at least until next year), but almost none of them address the root cause.
Probiotics have been shown to relieve allergy symptoms and even cure allergies altogether! This makes sense as probiotics can also have anti-inflammatory effects by supporting the natural flora of the gut, if you’re interested in learning more about this and haven’t already check out our “Eat Poop and Live!” post which is all about the gut microbiome and its effect on your health. The mechanisms of how gut microbes may effect the immune system are still not completely known, and more study is needed, but they have been definitively shown to provide symptomatic relief and improve quality of life for those who take them.
Bee pollen and local honey are perhaps one of the most potent natural allergy treatments. Bee pollen naturally reduces the amount of histamine in your body, and should be purchased from local vendors so that it contains the pollen from the area you live in. When taken starting in small doses and gradually increasing, it can work in a similar way to the allergy shots mentioned earlier in this post, acclimating your body to the allergen so that it breaks down its response to the pollen. A few cautions go along with the use of bee pollen though, if you have an allergy to bees, it may cause a dangerous allergic reaction, and you should discuss with your doctor before using it. Additionally, women who are pregnant or breast feeding, or anyone on blood thinners should avoid bee pollen or have a conversation with their doctor before starting it.
Acupuncture is a form of Eastern medicine, which works by balancing the flow of “qi” (pronounced “chee”) in the body. Modern hypotheses believe it may work by stimulating the release of certain neurotransmitters by activating specific nerves, or in the context of allergy relief, suppressing proinflammatory molecules, which activate the Th2 response as discussed previously. A recent study showed that when comparing groups of allergy sufferers who were treated with anti-histamines alone, antihistamines and acupuncture at non-meaningful sites, and antihistamines and acupuncture at meaningful sites, the group that was given meaningful acupuncture reported the greatest relief of their symptoms, long-term cure was not studied, but training the body to respond in this way through acupuncture has been suggested to be curative by some experts.
The development and factors that influence the severity of allergies are incredibly complex and often difficult to untangle in the modern world where we’ve deviated so far from how our ancestors lived. Maximizing our exposure to common allergens, dirt, and animals early in life can help minimize the chances of developing allergies later, and even later in life, gradual exposure to allergens such as bee pollen can provide symptomatic relief that rivals or exceeds that of over the counter drugs. While the full interplay of all the factors contributing to allergies will need more time and research to unravel, it’s clear that our modern lifestyles play a huge role in how widespread they have become, and trying as much as possible to get “back to our roots”, so to speak, may help to reduce the prevalence of allergies in future generations.
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by Sara Emslie
Rashida Ghauri, MD, ABIHM
Baber Ghauri, MD, ABIHM
The number of food allergies and sensitivities has been on the rise in recent years. Everywhere products are advertised “Soy Free”, “Nut Free”, “Dairy Free”, “Gluten Free”, and the list goes on and on. While some of these allergies are related to inappropriate immune responses or recognized conditions like Celiac or Crohn’s disease, some have a more under-recognized pathophysiology known as Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS).
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky Gut Syndrome has to do with the cells in your small intestine. The job of this tissue is to selectively absorb food particles that are of an appropriate size and nutritional value for circulation in your bloodstream. These particles are absorbed through spaces called tight junctions which are lined with immune cells designed to deal with substances that shouldn’t make it into your body. In individuals with LGS, these tight junctions are not as “tight” as they are supposed to be causing larger food particles to sneak through into the bloodstream. While these particles are innocuous enough on their own, they are seen as invaders by your immune system, which will then launch an assault on them. This causes the hallmark inflammation in your tissues causing the wide array of symptoms ranging from headaches and fatigue, to skin rashes, gas, bloating, and nutritional deficiencies.
Pathophysiology of Leaky Gut Syndrome
So now that you know the basics, you should also know that there isn’t one cut and dry explanation for why people get LGS. Research has shown that upregulation of certain genes in the gut can produce proteins that increase the permeability of these cells, causing the gaps in the tight junctions that can allow foreign particles into the bloodstream. This increase in protein production can be caused by a variety of factors, influenced by an individual’s diet, gut microbiome, lifestyle, and family history among others.
We’re taught from a fairly young age that bacteria are bad. However, bacteria are a necessary part of human (and animal) life. Every surface in our body is covered with different species of commensal bacteria and they can outnumber our cells by about 10 to 1. All the bacteria of a certain area together are called the microbiome and perhaps one of the most important microbiomes is in our gut. Not only do these microbes help us break down our food, produce necessary vitamins, and prevent other pathogenic bacteria from taking up residence, there is also evidence that they can help turn genes in our body on and off. Some of these genes activate metabolic pathways that can predispose an individual to be obese or healthy weight, diabetic or non-diabetic, and among many other factors, they can also influence whether an individual will develop leaky gut. Since diet, lifestyle, and any antibiotics or medications an individual may be on can greatly influence their gut microbiome populations, you can see how quickly changes to these factors can snowball into more helpful or harmful gut microbes.
I don’t want it- what’s up Doc?
Probably the most important way to prevent leaky gut is through a proper diet. Taking common-sense measures like avoiding processed sugars, dyes, and preservatives and trying to incorporate more fiber, fruits, and vegetables into your diet can help promote the growth of a healthy gut microbiome and keep your tight junctions closed. Avoiding meat that is processed or injected with hormones and antibiotics can also prevent irritation of the lining of the intestine that creates ideal circumstances for LGS to progress. Glutamine has also been shown to help promote good gut health, but always be careful when incorporating new supplements into your diet. Increasingly, there are options for intravenous (IV) infusion of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements that can help fortify the various microbiomes of your body.
Leaky Gut, Autoimmune Disease, and Common Pain
Leaky Gut can be a major contributing factor in many autoimmune conditions. For individuals who have these conditions and are struggling to keep their symptoms under control using pharmaceuticals, those who are just having gastrointestinal symptoms, or even just those who want to prevent future problems, careful monitoring of diet, and how different food types make your body respond can make a huge difference in managing and even eventually reversing leaky gut. Most people look to corticosteroids to treat and manage autoimmune diseases, but what if we’ve been looking in the wrong place for the perpatrators of the inappropriate immune response all this time? What if instead of coming from the air, or the joints, or the tissues, it is coming from silent invaders through a leaky gut? And what if these disorders could be not only controlled but reversed? While each individual’s case will be different, more and more evidence is beginning to point to leaky gut as a trigger for autoimmune diseases, and just being aware of this fact is key in the prevention and management of these conditions. Talk to your doctor about LGS.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is an under-recognized condition of the gastrointestinal tract that can cause a wide-range of symptoms including “stomach” pain, discomfort, skin rashes, headache, and even arthritis. The pathophysiology is very interesting and only now being studied and treated by the conventional medical community. If you believe you may be suffering from this condition, eliminate your consumption of meat, dairy, gluten, and processed foods as a trial and/or check in with your doctor to be tested. The good news is that no one has to suffer from Leaky Gut Syndrome as it can be cured with proper nutrition.
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