I’m at the grocery store, staring at two boxes of strawberries. One is organic; the other, half the price, is not. I stand there, debating: is it really worth eating organic? Does it really make a difference to my or my children’s health?
According to a little experiment carried out by Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith for their book Toxin Toxout, the answer is a resounding yes: eating organic foods is worth it.
They recruited nine kids from families that don’t usually eat organic foods, and had them eat all-organic foods for four days. In the days before, during, and after, they measured and compared the levels of pesticides in their bodies.
“During the organic part of the experiment, levels of cancer-causing pesticides were reduced in their bodies by two-thirds,” said Smith. “As soon as the kids went off the organic foods, those levels almost immediately doubled.”
Smith and Lourie, both with impressive backgrounds in environmental research and activism, talked about their new book at a lunch-hour event organized last week by Equiterre. In their first book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the two authors had explained how there are 80,000 synthetic chemicals in everything from our shampoos to our carpets, and how these chemicals end up in our bodies and cause harm. In Toxin Toxout, they tackle the question “How do I get this stuff out of me?”
First, they show how if you avoid certain products, you will have lower levels of these harmful chemicals in your body. In addition to the organic foods experiment, they used themselves and volunteers as human guinea pigs for experiments on indoor air quality (measuring benzene, toluene and other VOCs in their bodies) and on cosmetics and personal care products. The results were convincing. For example, on the days volunteers used “greener” perfumes, shampoos and deodorants, the levels of parabens and phthalates in their bodies were 80 times lower than on the days they used conventional products.
Next, they looked at various detox strategies. “Our bodies actually have very effective detox systems,” said Lourie. “But they’re built to deal with natural foreign elements, such as bacteria — not synthetic and hormone-disrupting chemicals.” Despite this, they did find that the body eliminates certain chemicals not only through urine, but also through sweating — another reason why exercise is good for you. Chelation therapy, which involves removing heavy metals using an intravenous solution, is also effective, but should only be done under medical supervision (and is only recommended for people who are highly sensitive to certain heavy metals). Ionic footbaths, they said, are a complete scam.
Canada: poor regulatory controls
The last section of the book looks at how to “detox” the economy.
“If you look at protections that Canadians have against the kinds of toxins we talk about in the book, at a provincial or federal level, they’re terrible compared to other countries,” said Lourie. “Europe has completely reoriented its chemical and pollution regulatory systems, putting the onus on companies to demonstrate that these chemicals are safe prior to putting them into products.” He noted that certain U.S. states, such as California, have also recently enacted legislation to protect their citizens against various cancer-causing chemicals.
While the Canadian picture may seem bleak, Lourie and Smith are optimistic. They point out how a number of big companies, such as Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and Target, have started announcing changes in their product formulations to get these chemicals out of their products.
“As a community, we need to acknowledge the problem, and push our governments to do better.”
Because right now, said Lourie and Smith, we are all part of a “vast, uncontrolled scientific experiment on humanity through all these synthetic chemicals that we’re releasing into the environment and absorbing into our bodies.”
The talk was the first of a new English-language series being organized by Equiterre.
Disclosure: I haven’t actually read the book yet. Let me know what you think.
Where to get organic produce and products: A few options in Montreal are Equiterre’s community-supported agriculture program, Lufa farms, Jardin des anges, and Coop la maison verte.