Pesticides and Your Hormones: What You Need to Know
Hey sis! I hope you're feeling lovely and fresh today. A few weeks ago I received a request on Instagram to speak about the effects of pesticides on hormone health. This is our focus for today's post.
We'll begin by looking at what pesticides are, and then take a look at why you might find it beneficial to shop for organic produce. As I try to keep my information as inclusive and accessible as possible, I will also let you know what you can do if organic is just not an option for you at the moment.
With lots of love and excitement, let's get into today's post!
In this post you will discover...
. how organic food differs from conventionally farmed produce
. why organic food may be better for your hormones
. what to do if you can't shop organic
What are pesticides?
Pesticides are chemical substances that are used in agriculture to kill insects and other pests that damage crops. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that they are 'toxic to other organisms, including humans, and need to be used safely and disposed of properly'.
Organic vs non-organic: what's the difference?
There are some technical requirements that need to be met in order for a food to be labelled as organic. These include:
free of genetically modified organisms (GMO)
A common misconception is that organic food is grown without the use of pesticides. This actually isn't the case: organic farming may use pesticides; it's just that the pesticides must be derived from natural sources rather than being made synthetically.
This is a bit of a grey area for me, since I've also discovered that there's a whole lot of different agricultural practices even within organic farming. At this point, the only conclusion I can safely come to is that not all organic food is necessarily safer (pesticide-wise) than non-organic food. This places the responsibility on you, as the consumer, to do a background check on your food manufacturers. In practical terms, it means looking up the farms that supply the organic food to see whether or not they use organic pesticides. If they do use pesticides, then this requires even more research as you would need to know which pesticides they use and look up the toxicity/safety of the specific organic pesticides. I think it's safe to assume that this is way more work than most people are willing to put in to ensure the safety of their food.
With that said, I have done my own research into organic farmers in South Africa who swear by values of clean (non-toxic) food, and sustainable farming practices. My current stance is 'better safe than sorry'; which leads me to prefer taking a bet on organic as pesticide-free and better for hormones.
The purpose of this article today is not to make you pick any particular stance, but just to help raise your awareness of the potential hormone disrupting effects that have been listed in research. Following which, you are free to use this information to make a decision that sits well with your values, health and life circumstances.
Potential hormone-disrupting effects of pesticides
Pesticides are included in a group of chemicals called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These are a group of chemicals which bind to/ block hormone receptor cells in our bodies, mimicking the hormones our bodies produce naturally.
A sub-group of EDCs are xenoestrogens. Pesticides are a form of xenoestrogens that mimic estrogen when they enter into the body. Estrogen is one of our primary sex hormones, as females, and is responsible for a healthy menstrual cycle, healthy cholesterol levels, bone health, brain health and skin health.
When xenoestrogens build up in the body, they cause a hormone imbalance called estrogen dominance, which is responsible for many symptoms. These include PMS symptoms, heavy periods, irregular periods, endometriosis, PCOS, heavy periods, lack of ovulation and early onset puberty (before age 12).
Many articles I have read on this topic state that pesticide exposure in fresh produce is not harmful to human health because pesticide levels in food are well below regulated safety limits. Some articles argue that pesticide exposure isn't harmful because any studies that cite a link between pesticide exposure and harmful health effects do so on the basis of correlation and not causation. But what I found interesting in one particular article is that xenoestrogens are not biodegradable; they get stored in our fat cells. This means that although in the short term there may be no harmful effects to pesticide exposure, the opposite may be true in the long term. Depending on how protective you are of your hormones, this may be cause for concern.
Let's face reality: organic food is expensive
I've recently started buying organic food. With everything that I read about our elevated exposure to toxins in the modern environment, I've decided that I want to what's in my power to ease the toxic-load on my body. I can't control what's lurking in the air and water, but I can control what I put into and onto my body.
I took this decision knowing that it would cost me a little more than if I was buying fruits and veggies from the Food Lovers Market (which I loved because of its affordability). How I've planned to make this a financially sustainable choice is by skipping out on eating out unnecessarily and on wasting as little food as possible. Since the covid outbreak, I eat out way less and have literally fallen in love with the food I make for myself at home, so it was quite an easy trade-off for me to make.
In general, I think that a healthy lifestyle should be as easy and accessible for each person, given their unique circumstances. If buying organic food is too expensive for you, or if it just feels like another thing to stress about, then focus on what feels doable for you now. For the purpose of giving you full information, it's worth sharing the that it's more important to source some foods organic than others. For example, the EWG produces a Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 list each year. These lists tell you which are the top 12 foods that you should buy organic (on top of this year's list is strawberries) and which are the 15 foods you don't have to stress about. This can be a good starting point if you are interested in lowering your exposure to pesticides but are not keen to spend a whole lot more on your groceries.
I also think it helps to apply an 80/20 mindset. If you're doing the best that you can 80% of the time, you're giving your detoxification system a helping hand to clear your body of toxins when you do eat non-organic food, for example. For more on how to detox for hormone balance, check out this free 4 day reset cleanse guide.
Additional tips to limit pesticide exposure
Here's what you can do if you can't access organic produce: wash your food thoroughly under running water before cooking or eating. One of the stats I came across when preparing for this post is that just the simple act of washing fruits and veggies can lower pesticide exposure between 60 - 70%. There were several other articles I read that also pointed to the effectiveness of washing vegetable and fruit under cold running water to limit exposure.
I have also seen some other techniques like peeling your fruits and veggies (as the pesticides accumulate on the skins) and soaking them in water with baking soda, vinegar or with a bit of salt. Peeling your fruit is not advantageous as it will lower the nutrient density of the food - and we want to be getting all the nutrients we can get. There are also spray solutions you can get online and in health stores that claim to reduce pesticides on the food.
Inasmuch as I think that we should be as conscious as possible of what we consume, also I think we should be wary of becoming too obsessed with any one thing. For me it's just a matter of personal values to protect my body as much as I can, as well as to become more conscious of how my consumption impact the environment. Often what's better for our bodies is also more eco-friendly. But if some of these extra methods to ensure the 'clean-ness' of your food are pushing it for you a bit, stay within the bounds of what will help you have a healthy relationship with food whilst also ensuring good nutrition.
One more thing: it's way better to eat fruits and veggies than not to eat them because you're wary of pesticides. Fruits and vegetables offer us so many nutrients that we need to feel our best! If you'd like me to go a bit more in-depth about the salt/baking soda/vinegar methods to wash off pesticides, please let me know in the comments below!
That's it from me today sis! If you found this post useful, how about you share it with a sister in your circle? I love having the Hey sis community grow! Leave comment below or tag @heysis.sa on IG to let me know you were here!
All my love
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