We all want to have a healthy life. Consuming good, healthy and organic food is one of its important ingredients. Several generations before us have been using insecticides and fertilizers without really being aware of the impact of wide scale and liberal use of such chemicals other than just helping the growth get bigger and nicer looking. Today we know much more about the effects, including the negative ones, but, still, not enough. In the meantime, more thorough research has been carried out to try to clarify all the effects of organic food on human health.
In December 2016 European Parliament Research Service published the Study on Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture. The subject of this recent report was whether an organic diet is healthier than a non-organic diet and involved reviewing epidemiological, in-vitro, and animal studies concerning this issue.
Organic food is embraced by many as part of a healthy lifestyle. Currently, the European Union accounts for 24% of the world’s organic land, with the global organic market expected to increase by 2·5 times to €190 billion by 2020.
The report confirms earlier reviews that described a scarcity of studies investigating the potential beneficial health effects of an organic diet. The largest of the epidemiology studies looking at allergies and atopic disease, the PARSIFAL study, studied 14,000 children aged 5–13 years in five European countries. In 2011, the Karolinska Institute published its study “Few allergies in unstressed babies” which showed that infants with low concentrations of the stress-related hormone cortisol in their saliva develop fewer allergies than other infants. How did they define the infants that were less stressed? The babies were part of a study into the link between an anthroposophical lifestyle and the incidence of allergies. In an anthroposophical lifestyle a family members are appreciative of each other’s individuality and uniqueness, are careful about what they eat (for instance avoiding fast, or junk foods), tend to use alternative medicines such as homoeopathy, herbs and flower remedies as a first line of treatment and may also make different choices about birth, for instance preferring home birth over hospital birth, and encourage breastfeeding. Children living in such an environment had a lower risk of developing allergies in first two years of life – the study showed.
However, in all age groups, it was not possible to identify whether other healthy lifestyle factors, related to the preference for organic food, accounted for these associations.
One advantage of an organic plant diet is the restricted exposure to synthetic pesticides with potential neurotoxic, endocrine-disrupting, or carcinogenic properties. Exposure to pesticides during pregnancy in three long-term birth cohort studies was associated with negative effects on neuro-behavioural development. The report recommends that organic food is beneficial for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Organic food production also restricts the use of antibiotics in farmed animals and results in lower concentrations of cadmium, for example, in crops. The report includes policy recommendations addressing both of these issues.
One of the conclusions may be that large, prospective, long-term studies are needed as well as a deeper examination of the correlation between agricultural policy and health. Our role should be to invite and encourage those responsible institutes within our countries to keep on looking into this crucial subject that very much influences the quality of human life, especially for our following generations.