What Are Pesticides?
Pesticides are any toxic substances that are used to purposely kill or shorten the life cycle of certain living things that we deem nuisances or pests. The most popular pesticides target weeds, insects, fungus and rodents.
Pesticides can come from natural sources, but the most widely used pesticides are synthetically produced. Most large, high-yielding farms use pesticides regularly, and many of these pesticides are chemical compounds that are toxic to both humans and animals. Pesticides are not only toxic to the targeted pest but to other life forms as well, including humans.
A History of Pesticides
For at least ten thousand years, farming and agriculture have been integral parts of human life. Insects, plant viruses, bacteria, and other matter have destroyed crops and caused bouts of terrible famine in various parts of the world, but many early farmers innovated and found ways to protect their plants with a variety of natural pesticides.
It wasn’t until the the early 1800s that chemistry began to make its way into the work of farming. Chemist Justus von Liebig began examining the chemical properties of soil to determine nutrient value. Although he neglected to take into account other major contributors to crop health and soil health such as pH level, microorganisms, and crop rotation, Liebig became known as the first person to promote chemistry’s practicality in agriculture.
Although most farmers who spent day in and day out tilling the soil and taking care of their crops rejected Liebig’s advocacy for chemistry in agriculture, the more academically bound crowd followed Liebig’s research and delved further into the idea of using chemistry to improve crop yield.
What Is an Agricultural Pesticide?
Liebig’s findings were not popular amongst day-to-day farmers. But in 1939, Swiss entomologist (someone who studies of insects) Paul Muller discovered DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a chemical compound which contains about fourteen chemical substances in it, that was a more potent insecticide than its predecessor, arsenic! With its remarkable ability to kill insects, its environmental persistence and low price, soon even the farmers were on board, and DDT soon became the pesticide of choice.
This marked the beginning of chemical pesticides widespread use in agriculture. DDT was first synthesized in 1873, but it wasn’t until 1939 when Muller discovered that it worked great to kill insects and pests in agriculture. During World War II, the US Military used DDT to inhibit the spread of louse-borne typhus; it worked wonders. After the war, DDT became the standard insecticide used in both households and large production farms. DDT was used to kill organisms responsible for causing malaria, filariasis and dengue fever and it is estimated that the use of this pesticide has probably saved the lives of about 50 million people from these diseases alone. However, there’s also a downside to using pesticides too as we shall discover…
The Discovery of Pesticide Dangers
The discovery and implementation of chemical pesticides in agriculture changed the world of farming forever. At the time, these new agents were known to be highly toxic, but the severity and extent of their toxicity to humans would not be discovered for years to come. Society followed science willingly, while certain individuals began to question the safety of such widespread use of toxic compounds.
Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” came out in 1962. The book questioned the support for DDT spraying, and discussed the negative impact the chemical had on both the environment and human health. The book linked DDT and other chemical pesticides to cancer, and claimed that DDT was a threat to wildlife. The publication of Silent Spring was a crucial first step in the environmental movement. The public took notice, and the widespread outcry led to the 1972 ban of the agricultural use of DDT in the United States. Many scientists have attributed the ban of DDT as a major factor in the reappearance of the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon, both bird species being on the verge of extinction.
Though DDT is no longer in use, there are still dozens of chemical pesticides that are currently being sprayed over large crops. These chemical pesticides are still toxic, and the continual use of these pesticides over the years has allowed them to permeate the soil and water. Even today, DDT is still present in our food-chain due to its widespread use.
Long-term pesticide exposure has been shown to cause serious issues in otherwise healthy adults. In addition, chemical pesticides have been linked to birth defects. But the real reason humans have experienced issues directly linked to pesticide exposure is because of pesticides impact and permanence in the environment.
Effects of Pesticides on the Environment
Chemical pesticides are toxic to all living organisms. For insects, they are immediately life-threatening. For humans, the negative effects of pesticides accumulate over time and worsen with increased exposure. Because pesticides are sprayed over a general area of land, They tend to kill not only the target pest but also many beneficial insect species, microorganisms, and worms that are natural pest controllers in and around farmland. In addition, pesticides weaken plant root system over time, and ultimately suppress the plant’s natural defense systems. Pesticides also rid plant species of essential nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, leading to lower soil quality and water retention.
Pesticides are destructive chemicals that kill living organisms. When a large amount of these chemicals are introduced to a balanced ecosystem, the effects on the food chain can be devastating. Honeybee populations have seen dramatic decline over the last few years and many scientists believe this is a direct result of widespread pesticide use. Pesticides affect the water supply, vegetation and soil surrounding crops and eventually make their way into the bodies of beneficial insects, animals, and eventually, humans.
Seven in ten biologists claim that mass extinction is an even greater threat than the global warming that is contributing to it. Beginning with amphibians in the late 90s, large numbers of populations have been dying off. There is a strong correlation between population decline in several species and pesticide exposure. Similarly, bats have mysteriously died in large numbers in recent years due to White Nose Syndrome, a fungus that appears on the muzzles of hibernating bats. It is believed that the widespread use of pesticides has directly affected the bats food supply. The pesticides are also thought to weaken the bats immune systems, making them more susceptible to this mysterious disease.
As research on pesticides continues, more evidence of the dangers of chemical pesticides is coming to light. WIth the sudden decrease in populations of vital insects like the honeybee, the environmental impact of pesticides cannot be ignored. The pesticides permeate nearly all elements of nature: water, earth, and air. The toxins that coat the produce, pollute the water, and taint the soil can lead to a multitude of health issues in the human body.
Are Pesticides Harmful to Human Health?
Unfortunately, many have been led to believe that the ban of DDT means that safe chemical pesticides are being used on our crops and land instead. The truth is that all chemical pesticides are toxic, and many are just as toxic as DDT. These alternative chemical compounds are untested, and most have a similar backstory as the banned pesticide DDT. Most pesticide compounds were used as warfare chemicals. Now, they are sprayed on our crops, our food, and into our soil. One extremely toxic alternative pesticide that has, in many ways, replaced DDT is glyphosate.
With the evolution of genetic engineering, the presence of genetically modified crops has greatly increased. 80% of these crops are designed to withstand herbicides like Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. Dr. Joseph E. Pizzorno of Bastyr University has claimed that toxins in the modern-day food supply are either major contributors to or the direct cause of all chronic diseases.
Proponents of pesticides claim that the level of pesticides ingested by humans is negligible. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Pesticides can make a human being very ill, even at very low levels. This is because these chemicals were designed to kill. Pesticides are extremely prevalent in the food chain, and the continual build-up of these toxins take a detrimental toll on our bodies. Here are just some of the health
problems that have been linked to pesticide exposure:
- Food allergies
- Memory loss
- ADHD & ADD
- Parkinson’s disease
- Birth defects
- Alzheimer’s disease
The list may seem to all-encompassing to believe. However, research and a multitude of tests have proven that there is a correlation between pesticide exposure and the increased prevalence of all the diseases and health problems mentioned above.
For example, people with food allergies were found to have high levels of dichlorophenol, a byproduct of herbicide 2,4-D in their urine. Pesticides alter normal neurological functions. All neurological conditions listed above, i.e., Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Autism, ADHD, etc., have been linked to high levels of pesticides in the urine.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Though it is true that cancer occurs at a higher rate in populations over the age of 60, and though it is also true that humans are living longer lives with the advancement of technology and medicine, it is just as true that the widespread use of chemical pesticides is fairly recent, yet cancer is more prevalent now than before the introduction of DDT.
More than 260 studies have linked pesticides to various types of cancer including
- brain cancer
- breast cancer
- prostate cancer
- thyroid cancer
- colon cancer
- liver cancer
- lung cancer
Pesticides kills insects through a combination of endocrine disruption, neurological function impairment, and immune suppression. Who is to say that these same chemicals are not having similar effects to the human body, yet another living organism?
Though advocates of agriculture chemistry may claim that pesticides are safe to use, tests have not been conducted to prove this point. Rather, dozens of studies have shown the negative impact pesticide exposure has on the human body. There is no safe chemical pesticide. The only pesticides that are safe to use are ones that are naturally derived and safe to ingest. Likewise, there are plenty of beneficial insects that can be added to crops to reduce pest infestation without presenting great risk to the health of the environment and the people in it.
How Do I Know If I’ve Been Exposed to Pesticides?
Because most people are exposed to pesticides over a long period of time, symptoms may not be present upon immediate exposure. In most cases, the trace amounts of pesticides build in the system and cause accumulated damage over extended periods of time. If you live or work near a farm or facility that regularly uses large amounts of pesticide, your risk for pesticide poisoning may be higher. Also, household pesticides can cause both short-term and long-term health problems. Severity of symptoms varies depending on the type of pesticide you are exposed to, the amount you are exposed to, and how long or often you are exposed to the chemical. Short-term symptoms are more common in people who have been subjected to large amounts of pesticides in a short period of time and can indicate pesticide poisoning. Symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Irritation of the sinuses
- Irritation of the skin
- Mood swings
For moderate poisoning, symptoms can include:
- Throat or chest constriction
- Vision blurriness
- Rapid pulse
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle incoordination
And in the case of severe pesticide poisoning, symptoms include:
- Small “pinpoint” pupils
- Trouble breathing
- Chemical burns on skin
- Loss of reflex control
- Muscle twitching
Long-term effects of pesticide toxicity range in severity. Most doctors are not aware enough of the scope and extent of the problem and wouldn’t be able to correlate pesticides to their patients’ poor health. With the widespread and continual consumption of pesticides, many chronic diseases might Inbe attributed (at least on some level) to pesticide exposure.
Reducing Your Exposure to Pesticides
There is no doubt that most non-organic foods have been treated with high levels of pesticides, particularly glyphosate. Glyphosate-sprayed crops in Argentina are the likely and possible cause of the high rates of miscarriages in pregnant women. The dose that was deemed safe to consume on a daily basis was also determined to be the dose needed to disrupt uterine development. Though the government may claim pesticide levels are safe, the best way to protect yourself is to be aware, do your own research, avoid GMO crops and try to purchase organic produce to ensure you are consuming as little pesticide residue as possible.
Even daily consumption of very, very low levels of the pesticide Roundup have led to tumor development and liver and kidney damage in lab rats. In the case of pesticide exposure, it is better to be safe than to be sorry.
To limit pesticide exposure, stick to purchasing organic or farmers market food (where the farmer can confirm no pesticides were used) when possible.
If you have recently discovered the level at which the American population is being exposed to pesticides, you may want to attempt a variety of natural detox methods to begin the healing process. Saunas are a great way to detox your body. Sweating eliminates toxins through the pores, and will help you get on the right track toward a pesticide-free lifestyle. Taking supplements such as vitamin B3 or niacin will help your body eliminate those toxins at an increased rate. Niacin flushes the skin and if taken over several days and in increasing dosages, it can break up fat cells, which contain the toxins and these can be released and eliminated from the body.
Fermented foods will replenish the good bacteria in your gut so your immune system has a fighting chance against toxic pesticides. Exercise is another natural way to detox your body. It increases blood flow, perspiration, and also breaks up fat cells.
Health Risks of Pesticides in Food
Though all non-organic crops are likely coated in toxic pesticides, there are a certain “Dirty Dozen” that are more harmful than others. If you are unable to consume an all-organic diet, these top 12 produce are the most likely to have higher levels of pesticides:
- Bell Peppers
The safest, non-organic produce to consume is known as “The Clean 15” list. These fruits and vegetables have little to no traces of pesticides, and are safer to consume. These include:
- Sweet corn (but go organic because this is a huge GMO crop)
- Sweet peas
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet onions
Usually, these fruits and vegetables are safer because they are naturally built with a protective layer that limits the amount of pesticide exposure. Strawberries and cherries, on the other hand, readily absorb the high levels of pesticides.
Treating Patients with Pesticide Exposure
After it has been determined that a patient is indeed dealing with symptoms or health conditions related to pesticide exposure, an individually tailored treatment plan will set the patient on the right track toward better health.
Typical treatments for pesticide exposure include
Depending on the level of exposure and the symptoms present, treatments will vary case by case. LifeWorks Wellness Center understands the dangers and prevalence of pesticides in society today and will work with you to develop a treatment plan that works. Staying aware of the dangers of pesticides and understanding what they do to the body both long-term and short-term already puts you one step ahead on the road to recovery.
Florida’s Best Pesticide Toxicity Clinic
Most patients are surprised to discover that the environmental burden presented by Pesticides, Molds and Environmental Toxins is often the proverbial straw that ends up “breaking the camel’s back” with regard to your health & wellness. These burdens suppress the immune system and place the body in a compromised state where it cannot properly defend and detoxify itself and this sets the stage for other aggressive invaders like virus, bacteria, infections, etc to take hold and wreak havoc. Therefore, cleaning up the body is one of the first steps to regaining full health and vitality.
LifeWorks Wellness Center is committed to helping you regain your health by checking and testing your pesticide levels and then if needed, helping you with a program to clean house.