DESIGN FOR LIVING: You are what you eat, Part I
"You are what you eat." It's a phrase that is overly-simplistic, but fundamentally true. Perhaps we have heard it so many times that we forget or downplay its meaning.
The food we eat today is different from the food that was available 50 or 100 years ago. First, pesticides have been added to the food supply, some of which work by causing insects to become infertile. Secondly, new preservatives have been added to lengthen shelf life. Thirdly, the volume of antioxidants and minerals found in the conventional produce we eat has been reduced. And finally, some meat and dairy products have a different composition due to a modern animal diet that is different from what it historically was (this fourth point will be covered in "Part 2" of this article, in our next issue of PCOSA Today).
Do pesticides that cause infertility in insects also interfere with human reproductive function? Short answer: we don't know. We can only hypothesize at this point. The commercial pesticides in use today have not been proven to cause harm, however earlier pesticides (DDT, for example) that were once used broadly are now out of use after proven to be bad for us genetically. The only point to be made here is that pesticides in the United States have been used until they have been found to be harmful. Could the pesticides being used now be later found to be as harmful as DDT? Could they be causing infertility in humans? We just don't know.
What about preservatives? Again, very little is known. The FDA has required evidence of immediate safety for preservatives they have approved, however the effects of these preservatives over time have not been studied. Could they be affecting the root of PCOS? Again, we don't know. All we know is that 100 years ago, these compounds were not eaten by people.
There is more compelling evidence to support the third point. Organically-grown produce often contains significantly more nutrient content (minerals, antioxidants such as Vitamin C) than produce grown with pesticides. Some scientists hypothesize that stress on the plant causes the plant to produce more vitamins to fight off its own enemies (insects, fungi, etc). Others point to the fact that much of the available organic produce is seasonal and locally grown, which means that vitamins and minerals are not lost over a long shipping journey as happens with conventional produce picked early and shipped from far away.
Would eating more organic produce help to treat PCOS? Maybe. We couldn't locate any clinical studies that prove this. But it stands to reason that eating more nutritionally dense fruits and vegetables would improve overall function of your body, and would create a healthier cellular environment for your metabolic processes to work as they should. Eliminating pesticides and preservatives may or may not be a huge benefit, but it certainly can't hurt.
How should we balance the high cost of organic foods with the benefit? One method may be to consider buying from local farmers, even if "organic" is not always available. Eating foods that are in season from farms only a few miles away, gets produce from the farm to your table in just a few days (sometimes hours). This maximizes the vitamin, mineral, and phenol (antioxidant) content of the food. Think about signing up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where you receive a weekly box of seasonal vegetables from a local farmer throughout the growing season. And...buy a good cookbook! For more information, and to find a CSA in your area, see http://www.localharvest.org/csa/.
Worthington, V. Effect of Agricultural Methods on Nutritional Quality: a Comparison of Organic with Conventional Crops. Altern Ther Health Med. 1998 Jan;4(1):58-69 pubmed 9439021.
Reganold, J et al. Fruit and soil quality of Organic and Conventional Strawberry Agroecosystems. PLoS ONE 5(9): e12346. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012346 2010 Sep 1
Benbrook, C. Organic Food has a Higher Nutrient Content. Interview, Bioneers.