The Unexpected Side Effect Of Eating Produce With Pesticides

With organic and non-GMO products becoming increasingly popular, the awareness of what pesticides can do to our health is growing. Interestingly, the "-cide" in pesticide means "to kill" in Latin, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. That alone could set off some alarm bells for you, but knowing exactly what pesticides are may make you pay more attention to your produce in the future. 

A pesticide's purpose is to eliminate unwanted visitors in our environment like insects, bacteria, weeds, and rodents, as described by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. In addition to ruining food and other crops, these organisms transmit diseases like the West Nile virus, making them both inconvenient and hazardous. Pesticides are used on farms, in hospitals, at home, and in other environments where these organisms are present. 

Pesticides aren't just harmful to unwanted pests. In some cases, they're toxic to humans. They can be present in the air at low levels in everyday settings like schools and workplaces, as explained by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. They enter the body by breathing them in or consuming them in food and drinks.

Prolonged exposure to lower levels of pesticides has been associated with a number of health issues like depression, birth defects, miscarriage, cancer, and neurological disorders like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health. As pointed out by AAPRI Asthma & Allergy, they can also contribute to immune system disorders by killing essential bacteria in the gut.

Pesticides may harm our gut health

The gut microbiota encompasses the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that reside inside our gut, as explained in a 2019 article published in Chemosphere. When we consume produce that have been sprayed with pesticides, our gut microbiota becomes exposed to these toxic chemicals, which could have adverse effects.

A 2020 study published in Environmental Research discovered a link between exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and an increased risk of celiac disease. Celiac disease was twice as likely to be diagnosed in children and adults with high pesticide levels in their blood. A 2013 study published in Interdisciplinary Toxicology also found evidence that glyphosate, an herbicide, may play a role in the development of celiac disease. Individuals who develop celiac disease may experience nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive issues, as reported by Healthline.

Another pesticide, chlorpyrifos, has been associated with weight gain because of its impact on the gut microbiota, according to Ombre. To make things more difficult, some of our favorite nutritious foods are contaminated with these toxic chemicals. In 2023, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that strawberries, spinach, kale, peaches, and pears contained the highest amount of pesticides. As pointed out by the World Health Organization (WHO), pesticides tend to have adverse side effects when the body is exposed to them in excess.

You may not be able to control your exposure to pesticides in your environment completely, but certain practices can minimize your risk of consuming them.

What you can do to avoid the harmful effects of pesticides

It might intimidate you to learn that pesticides can be present on your fruit and vegetables, potentially increasing the risk of celiac disease and other adverse effects. The good news is that with some precautions, you can enjoy them without worry. 

Pesticides can be removed by soaking your produce in a 10% salt water solution for 20 minutes, as pointed out by the College of Naturopathic Medicine. Himalayan salt and sea salt water are both suitable options to soak your produce in. Alternatively, you could soak them in 2 cups of water with 1 teaspoon of baking soda for 15 minutes. After soaking your produce in either of these solutions, you should rinse them off with water.

You can remove some pesticides by simply rinsing your produce with tap water for 20 seconds, although soaking them is more effective. Not only does rinsing your produce protect you from pesticides, but it also provides protection from E. coli and other potentially harmful bacteria. 

Purchasing the right fruit and vegetables can help you avoid excessive pesticide exposure. Pesticides are less likely to be present in organic and locally grown produce, according to EarthEasy. Produce obtained from farmers' markets also tend to have fewer pesticides. Additionally, you can be mindful of which produce contain the most and least amount of pesticides. As listed by Down to Earth, onions, avocados, frozen sweet corn, pineapples, and mangos generally contain the least amount of pesticides.