Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Organic or Not by Dr. Elaine Rosen

This is the first time on my blog that I have allowed others to write for me. Dr. Elaine Rosen is an incredible Doctor. Her passion for changing the way children eat and live their lives is infectious. We spoke a few months ago about whether or not a person should eat organic. I wanted to share her opinions.

Chef Mary

An individual making a decision about whether or not to buy and eat organic foods may make that decision based on numerous factors including but not limited to cost, environmental benefits, and health benefits. On the subject of health benefits alone, that individual may consider nutritional quality, presence of antibiotics and hormones in food/drink, as well as exposure to pesticides in conventionally grown food. Although there has been a growing movement towards organic food over the last decade, the predominant national-level organizations that would be in a position to endorse a recommendation for organic over conventional on a global scale have been slow to articulate a consensus statement that either accepts or rejects the sum total benefits.

Within the scope of national level health organizations, the lack of consensus is noteworthy. As a pediatrician, I have been asked by my parents numerous times over the years as to whether or not I would recommend organic or not. For years, my opinion mirrored that of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has benignly stated that there is insufficient evidence in terms of health benefits to justify the greater costs involved in purchasing just organic food. “There are no proven health benefits to buying organic,” says Dr. Melvin Heyman, member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition—a sentiment that is echoed by the other members on this committee. The absence of debate rooted in results from scientific studies is noteworthy, however. A search on the American Academy of Pediatrics website with the term “organic food” yields very few results. There are simply very few large-scale studies that have been conducted that have weighed in on the health effects of organic vs. conventional food within the pediatric population.

As a pediatrician now specializing in weight management, I have felt an obligation to newly examine all aspects of our relationship with food as it pertains to children and young adults. This has included an enrichment of my own understanding of what it means to choose organic food and drink products. I departed from the traditional pediatric literature and entered the broader world of educated opinions from other domains. I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan with great fascination. I spoke with farmers. I tasted organic produce with my newly educated tastebuds. I participated in a farm co-op for the first time.

I am fortunate to be a single pediatrician and not the head of a national-level decision-making body responsible for setting public health and public policy; I am very respectful of the numerous complex factors that go into setting large-scale policy. This single pediatrician is now, however, much more likely to say, “If you can afford it and it is available, there are benefits to going organic—some we already know about and some we have yet to know about.”

Now when I search for “organic food” under the American Academy of Pediatrics website, I take note of a small article that I would have ignored five years ago. It describes a small study conducted by the CDC with only 19 children that was published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2008. In this study, these 19 children went on (5 days) and then off (5 days) an organic (pesticide free) diet. Metabolites for organophosphate pesticides were assessed in their urine both on conventional and organic diets. The chief two metabolites of these pesticides were found in 91% and 66% of urine samples of children on conventional diets—compared to negligible amounts in the urine samples of the same children on organic diets. The study was small, and the population did not reflect the diversity of the general population. The authors correctly point out that we do not yet know what the effects are of chronic low level pesticide exposure on our children’s developing brains and nervous systems. However, based on a study such as this and my research on the subject, I now feel that my pediatric colleagues need to be asking these questions right alongside their nervous parents: are these pesticides affecting our children; are the hormones and antibiotics given to our farm animals affecting our children’s health; and are there nutritional benefits to organic produce over conventional produce? I really don’t know, and neither, really, do they.

Elaine L. Rosen, MD, FAAP

California Center for Healthy Living


For more information please contact Dr. Elaine Rosen http://www.californiachl.com/