Know Your Pesticide Exposure

Eating organic foods from the “Dirty Dozen” list lowers your number

pesticide exposure, dirty dozen

pesticide exposure, dirty dozen

A study in Environmental Health Perspectives is among the first to predict a person’s pesticide exposure based on information about their usual diet.

The study was led by Cynthia Curl, an assistant professor in Boise State University's School of Allied Health Sciences.

Curl and her colleagues analyzed the dietary exposure of nearly 4,500 people from six US cities to organophosphates (OPs), the most common insecticides used on conventionally grown produce in the United States. OP pesticides are linked to a number of detrimental health effects, particularly among agricultural workers who are regularly exposed to the chemicals.

Two of the most dangerous OPs found in the food supply are carbaryl and malathion. Both known cause cancer and neurotoxicity. Kids with highest levels of OPs tend to suffer behavioral problems such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.


Although organics can be costly, the study results confirmed that people who ate the most organic produce had significantly lower OP pesticide exposures than those consuming the same conventionally grown foods. In addition, consuming those conventionally grown foods typically treated with more of these pesticides during production, including apples, nectarines and peaches, was associated with significantly higher levels of exposure.

“For most Americans, diet is the primary source of OP pesticide exposure,” said Curl. “The study suggests that by eating organically grown versions of those foods highest in pesticide residues, we can make a measurable difference in the levels of pesticides in our bodies.”


“The next step is to use these exposure predictions to examine the relationship between dietary exposure to pesticides and health outcomes, including neurological and cognitive endpoints. We’ll be able to do that in this same population of nearly 4,500 people,” Curl said.

One way to reduce your pesticide exposure is to eat organic versions of those foods that are listed on the HealthyLivinG Foundation “Dirty Dozen” list that ranks foods according to pesticide and industrial chemical residue levels.

Cynthia L. Curl, Shirley A. A. Beresford, Richard A. Fenske, Annette L. Fitzpatrick, Chensheng Lu, Jennifer A. Nettleton, Joel D. Kaufman. Estimating Pesticide Exposure from Dietary Intake and Organic Food Choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environmental Health Perspectives, 2015; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1408197
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