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by Dr. Daniel J. Heller
Most women who are concerned about health have to decide for themselves, at some point, whether it is worth it to spend the extra time and money to buy organic food. As you’ll see below, this question may be particularly relevant for women suffering from PMS symptoms and PMDD symptoms.
This whole issue seemed to become more complicated in the past couple weeks after a widely publicized study out of Stanford University reported that there were no, or only very slight, benefits to organically grown food. Unfortunately—as usual—the media misinterpreted the study in a way that created attention-grabbing headlines, while the scientists involved in the study asked the wrong questions and drew the wrong conclusions.
This was a study of studies, known as a meta-analysis, in which many studies of the same subject are pooled and analyzed together. This can be an effective research method, especially when some studies report one result, and others report something different. Which, as you may have noticed, happens all the time with medical research. Of course, a study of this kind is dependent on the quality of the studies it is analyzing. It is also dependent on the consistency of the studies it analyzes. In other words, you have to be comparing apples to apples, not apples to oranges. In this study on organic food, they were comparing apples to oranges, becauase the studies they were analyzing didn’t have similar enough methods and subjects. Secondly, the studies themselves asked the wrong questions about organically grown food.
The studies should have asked two main questions: does organic food contain more healthy minerals from the organic soil they’re grown in? And, does organic food contain less of the poisons, pollutants, and pesticides that are such a big part of conventional agriculture? In fact, the meta-analysis did find that organic food contains less pesticides. However, the Stanford researchers concluded that this wasn’t important because the conventionally grown food didn’t contain what they considered toxic doses of pesticides. But the so-called safe dose of these toxins that is allowed in our food hasn’t been proven to be safe, especially over many years of exposure and accumulation in our bodies. When it comes to ingesting poisons, less is better.
Back to minerals for a second. The meta-analysis didn’t look at whether organic food contains more chromium, or manganese, or zinc, or any of a variety of other essential minerals we all need in small amounts. It only looked at calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. And since the latter two minerals are found in conventional industrial fertilizer, it is a curious thing to study. The Stanford meta-analysis did find—and the significance of this has been overlooked—that more than 75% of the studies found more magnesium in organic foods. Magnesium is probably the most important mineral for Americans’ overall health, because it protects the heart and blood vessels, prevents and treats diabetes, and, importantly, appears to help relieve PMS and PMDD symptoms.
Now, back to PMS and PMDD. Those toxic chemicals and pesticides in the conventionally grown food? One important effect they can have is on our endocrine systems, meaning our hormones. While no one knows for sure if higher pesticide and toxic chemical concentrations cause PMS and PMDD, it’s a good idea to try to avoid ingestion of, and exposure to these chemicals, no matter your current health status. We’ve never met anyone who thought ingesting more poison was a good idea. And if you have a hormone-based condition like PMS or PMDD, that’s all the more reason to avoid chemicals that interfere with your hormones.
If you can afford organic food, it’s a good choice. If you can’t afford it – and let’s face it, with the price of all food going up and up, organic is a luxury item for most of us – wash your produce, eat plenty of veggies and fruits, and look for bargains on unpackaged (loose) organic items like grains and beans. Remember, the less processed, packaged, industrial manufactured food you eat the better, so one organic apple may be better than a package of organic mac and cheese or a box of organic breakfast cereal.
Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff! Do the best you can, including trying to eat healthy, and organic if possible, and then focus on the things you can control, not the things you can’t.