A study published February 10th, 2011 shows that many chemicals and fungicides used on fruits and vegetables are acting as male hormone disruptors. The study was funded by the European Commission and was completed by the University of London. The scientists studied 37 pesticides that are in heavy use in Europe. Many of these are also widely used in the US. 30 of these 37 pesticides were found to alter male hormones.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a program known as the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which requires some chemicals found in food and water to be tested to understand if they interfere with estrogen, androgens, and thyroid hormones. However, this program has been slow to produce results due to pressure from the chemical industry and controversy over the testing methods. Additionally, a number of the pesticides that the University of London researchers found to be hormone disruptors are not currently in the EPA program. The researchers state that much of the current research on pesticide use is focused on chemicals that are no longer in use, and more research is needed to understand important links between reduced male fertility and testicular cancer.
What does this really mean?
Even though it has been shown that these chemicals are indeed male hormone disruptors, it is unclear how the pesticides will behave in the human body at the quantities ingested on fruits and vegetables. It is likely, however, that fetuses and infants are more at risk due to exposure in utero and through breast milk because their reproductive systems are rapidly developing. For more information on the endocrine system and endocrine disruptors, you can visit the Natural Resources Defense Council website.
So what can you do?
Obviously we want to purchase organic produce whenever it is available, but not only is not always available, it is usually more expensive than conventional produce. We have all become accustomed to being able to purchase whatever produce we want, no matter the season. I can be terrible about this! I love berries and oranges, and during the winter it can be nearly impossible to find organic strawberries or oranges. My solution during the winter when farmers markets are closed is to buy frozen organic produce. It obviously doesn’t taste the same, but it is a close second.
Also, if you, like me, and most others are on a limited budget for food, refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list that outlines the 12 items of produce you should try to consistently buy organic. Think apples, peaches, pears, berries, bell peppers to start with. They have a handy shopping guide found here that you can keep with you until you know them by heart. >For more information, please see here.
PS – per my best friend’s request, I am supposed to be working on a similar pocket guide to help you avoid the worst chemical offenders in cosmetic products – more on this soon!