For those who read this column on a regular basis, this month’s topic is not new. But it is important. In fact, so many of my patients at Innovative Health Clinic are asking questions about the effect of chemicals on their overall health, that I thought it important to cover this topic once again. Today’s article will help you to fit organic produce into your budget and explain how pesticides affect your health.

When to Choose Organic

Most of us understand that organic produce is the best choice, but some struggle with the impact of an all-organic diet on their monthly budget. That’s where the Environmental Working Group’s “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” comes in.

There are certain fruits and vegetables that carry a higher load of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides, while others have lower levels of toxic residues. The guide ranks 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of 34,000 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration. (The USDA doesn’t test every food every year, so the EWG uses the most recent sampling period for each food.)

The goal of this list is to help people eat healthier and reduce their exposure to pesticides.

Two popular subsets of the overall guide are the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen.”

2015 “Dirty Dozen”

The “Dirty Dozen” lists the fruits and vegetables that are likely to have a high pesticide load. If you want to eat the items on this list, you should choose organic.

This year’s list is actually the same as last year and includes: apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, and potatoes.

“Dirty Dozen PLUS”

The “Dirty Dozen PLUS” lists additional items that were found to have trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides. These chemicals are especially toxic to the human nervous system. These include: hot peppers, kale, and collard greens.

2015 “Clean Fifteen”

At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find the “Clean Fifteen.”  These items rank the lowest in pesticide residues. So, if you can’t afford for all of your produce to be organic, these conventional produce items were deemed the “cleanest”.

The lists includes: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes.

Will Washing Help?

Washing your fruit at home can help to remove some surface residues and bacteria. For that reason, it’s a good idea.  However, the damaging toxins in pesticides actually penetrate inside of the fruits and vegetables, so you’re not going to be able to wash or peel, them away.

Pesticides, Inflammation & Disease

Pesticides have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and abnormal brain and nervous system development, among other health problems. Also, in the past 10-15 years, we’ve learned that nearly all of them cause inflammation in the body.  That’s important, because we now know that nearly every chronic disease has its foundation in chronic inflammation.  Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, chronic bowel diseases (e.g. Crohn’s disease), and others are all linked to chronic inflammation.

Pesticides increase inflammation.

Chronic inflammation increases disease.

It is proven that pesticides increase the pro-inflammatory molecules in the body (prostaglandins).  It is also proven that chronic inflammation is linked to disease.  While studies are not yet out that directly link pesticides to all of these diseases (with the exception of some cancers), it is reasonable to deduce that the two are linked by chronic inflammation.

By becoming more educated about how exposure to pesticides can impact your health, you are able to make better decisions.  If you are able to make the switch an entirely organic diet, you can minimize your exposure to these dangerous toxins.  But if you can’t go 100 percent organic, you can use the “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen” lists to make smart choices in the produce aisle.

Functional Medicine

As an expert in clinical nutrition, specifically trained in the science of functional medicine, I understand the biology of disease and how environmental factors (such as the food that you eat) impacts disease.

The goal of functional medicine is to uncover and address the root cause of disease, not to just treat symptoms. The understanding of the role of inflammation in chronic disease is a perfect example of the value of functional medicine.

Each year, new ways are being developed to measure inflammation. These tests are not normally done in medical offices, although more medical doctors are becoming trained as functional medicine practitioners.

Functional medicine is a long-term approach to health and healthcare. It’s a different mindset. Much of today’s standard disease care is often just symptom care. I look deeper to uncover the core clinical imbalances that cause the disease. I’m not treating the symptoms themselves. I’m trying to address the root cause of those symptoms biologically, which in turn, will reduce the chance of disease over the long term.

As an example, let’s look at how functional medicine would approach a patient diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It’s estimated that up to 20 percent of Americans suffer from IBS, a disorder in which chronic inflammation and irritation in the GI tract causes pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms.

Traditional medicine might treat IBS with chemically-based medications aimed at reducing the pain, spasming, and inflammation (symptoms) after they occur. Often, these drugs come with an extensive list of serious side effects. In addition, these drugs do nothing to prevent the inflammation from happening the first place. They will never fix the actual problem; they will only help you to manage the symptoms after the fact.

It is tremendously important to understand this distinction, because it makes all of the difference in treating so many chronic conditions.

Here’s an analogy. Let’s say that during a rainstorm, you notice a puddle forming in your living room. The first thing you do is to grab a bucket to catch the water so that it doesn’t ruin your furniture. The bucket is taking care of the symptom (the puddle). You might need to empty that bucket once or twice a day, but it’s doing a good job of saving your furnishings from water damage.

Taking medicine each day to deal with the symptoms of IBS is like getting the bucket. It catches the water, but it does nothing fix the actual problem (the leak in the roof).

Here’s another way to look at it. Ask yourself, is the reason that you have IBS symptoms because your body is lacking in Bentyl (a common IBS medication)? That’s sort of like saying that the reason that you have a headache is because you don’t have enough aspirin in your system. A lack of medication is not the cause of the disorder – something else is going on. The medications are simply helping you to deal with the symptoms of the disorder.

In functional medicine we look at what is happening within your body at the biochemical level to determine the fundamental factors that are causing the disorder. In other words, we find and fix the hole in the roof (the real problem) so that you no longer have symptoms (puddles) and no longer need the bucket (medication).

For IBS we do this by identifying the triggers in the body that are causing the chronic inflammation, spasming, and pain, and treat those triggers. This might include addressing food sensitivities, GI tract dysbiosis (microbial imbalances), toxicity issues, and dietary imbalances, among other things. Treatments may include dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and supplementation.

Mark Hyman, MD, a leader in the field of functional medicine puts it this way, “We get rid of the bad stuff, put in the good stuff, and because your body is an intelligent system – it does the rest.”

The science of functional medicine and clinical nutrition offer a drug-free alternative to people suffering from chronic disease. This biological approach uncovers and corrects the core clinical imbalances underlying many chronic conditions including: GI disturbances, chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

To learn if functional medicine could help you, call 715-355-4224 to schedule a no-charge consultation at our Weston health clinic.