By Dr. Mercola
The United States uses about 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides each year.1, 2 Worldwide pesticide use amounts to approximately 5.2 billion pounds annually. There's little doubt that the current pesticide load is taking a toll, as mounting research has linked pesticides to an array of serious health problems.
Processed foods form the basis of nearly everyone's diet, as 95 percent of the food Americans buy is processed. If this is you, then you can consider yourself in the highest risk category, as such fare tends to contain the greatest amounts of hidden genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, and hence the highest pesticide load.
Avoiding pesticide exposure – around your home, in your community, and via the food you eat – is important for reducing your risk for a number of chronic and devastating diseases, including Parkinson's and DNA damage indicative of early-stage cancer.3, 4
Now, with the publication of a new meta-analysis,5 the evidence linking pesticides to cancer is stronger than ever. The analysis, which included 44 papers exploring the impacts of pesticide exposure on non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, concluded there appears to be a strong link between the two.
The study, which was done by a team at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France, covering nearly three decades' worth of epidemiologic research, will likely be taken seriously worldwide.
Phenoxy Herbicides Linked to Lymphoma
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), or sometimes simply referred to as lymphoma, is a type of blood cancer that originates in your lymphatic system. It's the sixth most common type of cancer in the US, with an estimated 69,000 Americans diagnosed each year. Worldwide, NHL accounts for an estimated 37 percent of all cancers.
According to the featured research,6 phenoxy herbicides, including 2,4-D and dicamba, are clearly associated with three distinct types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Besides cancer, other documented health hazards associated with phenoxy herbicides include developmental and reproductive problems.
This is particularly chilling considering the fact that use of these herbicides have risen several-fold since the early 2000s, and their use will increase even further if 2,4-D and dicamba-tolerant crops are approved.
Carbamate insecticides, organophosphorus insecticides, and the active ingredient lindane—an organochlorine insecticide also used to treat head lice—were also positively associated with NHL. The strongest evidence however, is reported for glyphosate and B cell lymphoma. According to the authors:
"The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines pesticides as substances intended to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate a pest. Within this broad category, pesticides are often grouped according to the type of pests that they control; for example, fungicides are used to kill fungi, insecticides to kill insects, and herbicides to kill weeds and plants...
Because pesticides are thought to have different toxicologic and immunologic effects, identifying the chemicals and chemical groups that are most dangerous to humans and non-target living organisms is important. From a research perspective, the decision about what chemicals to investigate has implications for disease prevention...
Despite compelling evidence that NHL is associated with certain chemicals, this review indicates the need for investigations of a larger variety of pesticides...."
The Toxic Legacy of Our Most Widely Used Pesticides
If you've been regularly reading this newsletter you're already aware of the evidence building against glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, and other formulations.
For example, groundbreaking research7 published just last summer revealed a previously unknown mechanism of harm from glyphosate, prompting its authors to conclude that glyphosate residues—found in most processed foods in the Western diet courtesy of GE sugar beets, corn, and soy8 -- "enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease."
Evidence also suggests glyphosate may be a key player in Argentina's growing health problems, where birth defects and cancer rates have skyrocketed among GE corn and soya farming communities.
In the province of Chaco, birth defects have quadrupled in the decade following the introduction of GE crops,9 and in the village of Malvinas Argentinas, which is surrounded by GE soy plantations, the rate of miscarriage is 100 times the national average. According to experts, rates of cancer, infertility and endocrine dysfunction could reach catastrophic levels in Argentina over the next 10-15 years.
A toxic combination of Roundup and fertilizers has also been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths among farmers in Sri Lanka, India, and Central America's Pacific coastline (El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica).
Modern Agriculture Methods Have Turned Food Into Poison
While nearly one billion pounds of glyphosate alone is doused on both conventional and GE crops worldwide each year, genetically engineered (GE) crops receive the heaviest amounts. Farmers everywhere are also progressively increasing their usage of the chemical due to the proliferation of glyphosate-resistant weeds—a logical side-effect that pesticide makers said would be highly unlikely.
Farmers are also resorting to using multiple chemicals on their fields, and harsher varieties, in an effort to stay ahead of resistant weeds and pests. The phenoxy herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) is one of them. This chemical, which Dow touts as a solution to the glyphosate-resistant weed problem, was actually one of the active ingredients in the now infamous Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam War.
Many veterans suffered permanent side effects from their exposure to this potent defoliant, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese children have been born with serious birth defects as a result of its use during the war. Despite that, 2,4-D is still one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, and 2,4-D-resistant crops are now under development, which would increase its use even further. If that's not a frightening proposition, I don't know what is.
Part of the original rationale for using GE crops was that they could be sprayed with less toxic herbicides, such as Roundup—which was falsely marketed as "harmless" and "biodegradable."
Now, mounting research reveals that Roundup may actually be one of the most toxic chemicals ever to enter our food supply! Some scientists, like Dr. Don Huber, believe it may be even more toxic than DDT. Mounting research also reveals how glyphosate and other pesticides destroy soil microbes, thereby inhibiting the fertility of the soil. This in turn means fewer nutrients in the food.
The Biological Effects of Glyphosate
Glyphosate, which systemically contaminates the plant and cannot be washed off, has been found to have a number of devastating biological effects, including the following:
Nutritional deficiencies, as glyphosate immobilizes certain nutrients and alters the nutritional composition of the treated crop Disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids (these are essential amino acids not produced in your body that must be supplied via your diet) Increased toxin exposure (this includes high levels of glyphosate and formaldehyde in the food itself) Impairment of sulfate transport and sulfur metabolism; sulfate deficiency Systemic toxicity—a side effect of extreme disruption of microbial function throughout your body; beneficial microbes in particular, allowing for overgrowth of pathogens Gut dysbiosis (imbalances in gut bacteria, inflammation, leaky gut, and food allergies, such as gluten intolerance) Enhancement of damaging effects of other foodborne chemical residues and environmental toxins as a result of glyphosate shutting down the function of detoxifying enzymes Creation of ammonia (a byproduct created when certain microbes break down glyphosate), which can lead to brain inflammation associated with autism and Alzheimer's disease
Food Isn't the Only Source of Toxic Pesticides
While pesticide residues in food are certainly a primary health concern, you may also be unnecessarily exposed to these toxins while working in your own garden. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable, and should be protected against any and all exposures. Unfortunately, according to a previous survey by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many Americans fail to take proper precautions when it comes to these toxic chemicals:10
- Almost half of all households with children under the age of five had at least one pesticide stored in an UNLOCKED cabinet less than four feet off the ground, which was within a child's reach.
- Bathrooms and kitchens were cited as areas most likely to have improperly stored pesticides -- for example, common household pesticides such as roach spray, insect repellents, pet shampoo, and flea and tick products.
I strongly recommend eliminating pesticides from your home, as there are many non-toxic ways to address pests and weeds. Furthermore, a number of pesticides have been implicated in the mass death of critical pollinating insects like bees and the Monarch butterfly. In the case of bees, the die-offs are now happening at a scale that is threatening our food supply.
When planting your garden, please bear in mind that more than half of so-called "bee friendly" garden plants sold at Lowe's and other garden centers —i.e. plants that attract bees—have been pre-treated with pesticides that could be lethal to the bees. So be sure to ask whether the plants have been pre-treated, and please do not buy pre-treated varieties. Keep in mind that you also help protect the welfare of honey bees11 every time you shop organic. This way, you can actually "vote" for less pesticides and herbicides with each and every meal you make.
Pet Cancer Is Also on the Rise—and It Too Is Linked to Pesticide Exposure
To really bring home the importance of ridding your home and garden of pesticides, I also want to bring your attention to the compelling links between pesticide exposure and cancer in pets. One six-year long study conducted at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine has linked lawn pesticides to canine malignant lymphoma (CML). The risk for CML increased by as much as 70 percent in some dogs.
Another study12 published last year found that dogs exposed to garden and lawn chemicals such as 2,4-D, dicamba, and 4-chloro-2-methylphenoxypropionic acid (MCPP), have higher incidence of bladder cancer. Breeds with a genetic predisposition for bladder cancer, including Beagles, Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, West Highland White Terriers, and Wire Hair Fox Terriers are at particularly high risk. According to lead study author Deborah Knapp of Purdue University's Department of Veterinary Clinical Services, in an interview with Discovery News:
"The routes of exposure that have been documented in experimental settings include ingestion, inhalation and transdermal exposures. In the case of dogs, they could directly ingest the chemicals from the plant, or they could lick their paws or fur and ingest chemicals that have been picked up on their feet, legs or body."
Needless to say, once your dog gets the chemicals on its coat and paws, it can spread them throughout your house, contaminating floors and furniture. You and your children can also be exposed by petting or holding your dog. Ideally, you'll want to avoid lawn chemicals if you have pets, and should your pet roam around on treated grass, make sure to bathe him as soon as possible.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Toxic Pesticides
As you can see, pesticides are all around you. They may have been developed to kill certain bothersome insects or intrusive weeds, but we're now at a point where these chemicals are used in such massive quantities that they threaten human life on multiple fronts—through ingestion, topical exposure, pollinator die-offs, and the destruction of soil fertility! While you may not be able to eliminate exposure entirely, it would be sensible to take certain common-sense precautions to avoid the most common sources of exposure:
- Stop using Roundup and other lawn and garden pesticides, as children and pets can come into contact with it simply by walking across the area.
- Avoid commercial bug killers, such as mosquito, tick, and flea sprays. To learn how to repel such pests without hazardous chemicals, please see my previous article "How to Prevent and Treat Insect Bites Without Harsh Chemicals." When it comes to head lice, avoid using the pesticide lindane. Instead, use an old-fashioned nit comb, plus the oils of anise and ylang ylang combined into a natural spray. This has been found to be highly effective in eliminating more than 90 percent of head lice. Coconut oil is another effective alternative.
- Avoid processed foods, as they're typically loaded with GE ingredients, which are most heavily contaminated with pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate. Ideally, you'd be best off opting for products bearing the USDA 100% organic label when buying processed foods in order to avoid exposure to agricultural chemicals, which certainly are not limited to Roundup. Meats need to be grass-fed or pastured to make sure the animals were not fed GE corn or soy feed.
That said, I urge you to consider boycotting every single product owned by members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), including natural and organic brands. For more information on this historic boycott, please see my recent article, "When You Learn What They're Up to Now, You Too Will Want to Boycott Monsanto and GMA."