The Weekly Check-Up Atlanta

The Safety and Healthiness of Organic Food

Last post I discussed the massive review recently published examining the available evidence for a health benefit from organic food. While the authors concluded that there was no evidence to support eating organic for health reasons, the actual results deserve a bit more analysis.
The review found the only nutrient that was more abundant in organic food compared to it’s conventional counterpart was Phosphorus, a widely available nutrient that is only deficient during starvation. There was also a significant but only slightly higher amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in organic foods. While this seems a definite positive health benefit, the results of the studies reviewed were contradictory and the differences were not very large.
There was also a 30% higher chance of there being pesticides detected in non-organic food and the levels of pesticide residue in children’s urine did decrease slightly after switching to an organic diet. These results seem like a slam dunk benefit but studies in adults failed to find similar results. There did not seem to be much of a difference in how often pesticide levels were above the maximum legal limit between organic and conventional food. The low levels of pesticides do not appear to have any health impact, but long term studies are difficult and expensive so there could be subtle effects that have not been discovered. There was no difference in the amount of bacterial contamination in meat. In some seasons, for some bacteria, organic meat actually has more contamination, but there was less antibiotic resistant germs in organic meats.
Few studies have tried to answer the direct question: are people who eat organic food healthier? In the handful of small and poorly designed studies that did ask the question, none found any difference between folks that ate organic and those who didn’t. Because food and metabolism are so complicated, varied, and not entirely understood, the effects of what we do know about organic food on human health remains unclear. Check back soon where I will divulge what I make of the study.
Be well,
Dr. Bruce Feinberg