Despite what Stanford University researchers say, going organic is healthier, and here's more evidence why: A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics has revealed evidence that organic food may protect your children from rare birth defects and help you ward off late-life chronic diseases, like obesity.
Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine compared rates of a rare birth defect called choanal atresia—which happens when the cavity between a baby's nose and mouth becomes fully or partially closed and causes breathing problems that can be fatal—to application rates of the herbicide atrazine in Texas farm fields.
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The results: Birth defect rates and atrazine application levels went hand-in-hand, says lead study author Philip Lupo, PhD, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics. Women living in counties with the lowest rates of pesticide application had relatively no risk of having babies with this specific birth defect, he says. "But as you go up to the next group—areas with medium levels of atrazine application—there was almost a 40% increase in risk. Moms in counties with the highest levels saw an 80% risk," he says.
That should raise red flags, even if you're not planning to have children any time soon. Lupo says that the only known risk factor for choanal atresia is thyroid-medication use during pregnancy. But, according to the birth records he used in his analysis, very few of the mothers had been diagnosed with thyroid problems or were taking thyroid medications, which means your body could be reacting to the herbicide the same way it would to a thyroid medication or thyroid abnormality.
If atrazine is messing with thyroid hormones, the herbicide could play a bigger role in other health problems, according to research done by the Endocrine Society. Chemicals that interfere with thyroid hormones have been linked to metabolic disorders, and thus could be playing a role in diabetes and obesity, as well as in autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular disease.
Read More: What is a Hormone Disruptor Anyway?
Atrazine is the second most widely used herbicide in the United States, yet it's been banned by the European Union and is currently under a safety review by the Environmental Protection Agency. It's not just on your food, either. The US Geological Survey has detected it in 95% of the drinking water supplies in heavily agricultural areas.
Concerned? Here's what to do about it:
• Buy organic. You'll be protecting yourself from atrazine residues on corn, sugar, and the other vegetables it's used on, and you'll be supporting a farming system that keeps it from building up in your water supply.
• Buy a filter. If you're surrounded by lots of farm fields, find a water filter that removes atrazine. Most faucet-mount or pitcher-style charcoal filters will remove it, but double-check the packaging to make the filter is "NSF Certified" to remove atrazine.