Walter J. Crinnion N.D.
Published in Organic Gardening Almanac, 1995; Llewelyn Pub.
The more I work with chronically ill people, the bigger my organic garden gets. As a
naturopathic physician I deal with a lot of chronically ill people. Many of them have been
through the conventional medical system with no success, so they show up at my doorstep.
One day Steve showed up. Over six feet tall and 200 pounds, he dwarfed me, and was quick
to mention that my hair was thinning. He was always trying to be helpful. He came to me
after numerous doctors were unable to help. By the time he arrived he was sure that he was
dying. His long list of symptoms, coupled with his natural tendency to do his best to get
your goat had no doubt caused any practitioners to give up on him.
Routine blood tests failed to show the cause of his problems, although they did show some
irregularities. The really interesting finding came when we checked his blood for
We tested for eighteen of the more common pesticides and found that he had nine of them
running around in his blood. Knowing that there are many more than eighteen chemicals in
our environment did not make me feel any better. If he had 50% of the chemicals that we
tested for, how many did he have that we did not test for? Unfortunately, out of the 70,000
chemicals in daily use in this country, only about 250 can be tested for in humans. This
obviously makes it very difficult to find out what is causing a health problem if the
culprit is one of the remaining 69,750.
After finding what I thought to be the source of Steve's problems I had to ask: Where did
he get such a high level of toxins? One of the toxins he had in his serum was DDT. This
chemical pesticide was banned in 1972 as a direct result of Rachel Carson's book Silent
Spring. After being in the body for 6 months, DDT breaks down to DDE. Since we
found both DDE and DDT in him, this meant that Steve had gotten DDT with the past year.
While DDT is banned for use in this country it is still manufactured here, and then it is
shipped to other countries for use in agriculture and mosquito control. DDT makes its way
back into this country on the food raised in those countries, or in the livestock that was
raised on contaminated feed.
Steve was a traveling salesman in the Pacific Northwest. His territory included
Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. He ate out at restaurants a lot while he
was traveling. Presumably, that is where he was slowly poisoned. After seeing Steve, my
backyard organic garden got a little bit bigger.
There are numerous benefits to both eating organic foods, and to organic gardening. I
personally believe that a huge benefit comes from a renewed relationship with nature. It
starts with an "I won't poison you, you won't poison me" attitude, and ends with
"I'll nurture and respect you, you nurture and respect me." Doing your own
organic gardening makes this a personal commitment. Gardening is just plain good for the
soul. One of my patients told me that they refer to their time spent in the garden a
"going to see my therapist." There is nothing quite like getting your hands in
the soil for really good "grounding".
In addition to the mental and emotional benefits of growing and eating organic food, there
are also the physical benefits. These physical benefits can be boiled down to nutrients
present in organic foods that are not in commercial foods and toxins not in organic foods
that are present in commercial foods. A recent article in the Journal of Applied Nutrition
gave credence to the notion that organic foods have higher nutrient levels that
non-organic food. In this study the mineral content of organic apples, pear, potatoes,
wheat, and sweet corn were compared to commercial varieties. Overall the organic foods
showed much higher levels of nutrient minerals and much lower levels of heavy metals.
Here are a few of the nutrients that were found in higher levels in the organic foods:
* Chromium is a micronutrient that is low in Western diets. Its deficiency is associated
with the onset of adult diabetes and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Chromium
was found to be higher in organic foods by an average of 78%.
* Selenium is one of the antioxidant nutrients that protects us from damage by
environmental chemicals. It is protective against cancers and heart disease. It was found
to be an average of 390% higher in organic foods.
* Calcium, needed for strong bones, averaged 63% higher in organics.
* Boron, which has been shown to help prevent osteoporosis (along with calcium), averaged
* Lithium, which is used to treat certain types of depression, was 188% higher.
* Magnesium, which reduces mortality from heart attacks, keeps muscles from spasming, and
eases the symptoms of PMS, averaged 138% more.
In short, many of the minerals that I most often prescribe to my patients are found in
much higher levels in organic foods.
Other studies have looked at vitamin levels of food plants treated with certain
pesticides. They showed that application of some pesticides would significantly lower the
vitamin levels in the plants they were applied to. This is different than the notion that
plants raised with chemicals are low in nutrients because the soil is depleted. This shows
that chemicals actually reduce the amount of nutrients in plants after application. The
nutrients most often affected are vitamin C, beta carotene, and the B vitamins. These
nutrients are vitally necessary for the body to withstand the onslaught of chemical
toxins. Vitamin C has been well documented by two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling to
prevent and treat cancers. Beta carotene has been shown to be a stimulant of the immune
system, and is sometimes able to prevent lung cancer.
When they studied organic food for mineral levels, the researchers also looked for the
amount of the heavy metals aluminum, cadmium, lead and mercury. Aluminum has been
implicated for years in the development of Alzheimer's disease. It's content in organic
food averaged 40% less that in commercial foods. Lead toxicity, which has been in the new
a lot lately, can adversely affect our children's' IQ. It averaged 29% lower in organic
foods. Mercury, which can cause neurologic damage, averaged 25% lower in organic foods.
Besides the lower levels of heavy metals, there are the chemical residues themselves. The
big question is whether or not the accumulation of pesticide residues in non-organic foods
is a real health concern or not. Studies have never been able to conclusively show a
direct correlation between residues in food and a decline of human health, but there are
numerous problems in doing any such study. The first is that you would need a population
of people who are free of chemical residues to compare to, and no one has been able to
find such a group. According to an ongoing EPA study of fat samples taken from surgeries
and autopsies across the country, we are all loaded with chemical residues. Similar
studies done on other countries all show the same results.
The clearest studies that we have about pesticide residues and disease are those looking
at breast cancer. In the last few years there have been a series of studies, each building
upon the other, looking at the level of DDT, DDE, and PCB in women, They have very clearly
shown that chemical residues in the serum and fat cells of women greatly increase the risk
of breast cancer. Since breast cancer is a major killer of women in this country it is
reasonable to say that avoidance of pesticide residues in food (the only known route of
exposure to DDT in this country, since we no longer use it to spray for mosquitoes) could
save numerous lives and reduce our health care cost dramatically.
After 50 years of "Better Living Through Chemistry" scientists have finally
shown that breast cancer is associated with pesticide residue, They have yet to prove that
it causes numerous other maladies. I am not waiting for them to prove it before I change
my eating habits. As a clinician who sees numerous environmentally poisoned people with
health problems, I am convinced of an association between chemicals and disease. The
biggest source of exposure for many people is their workplace, then their homes, followed
by air, food and water. Of these the easiest to control are our home environment and our
Eating organic food, drinking pure water, and watching our airborne chemical exposure can
have profound effects on our health. My friend Steve, who has now gone through an
extensive protocol to remove the pesticide residue from his body and had regained his
health, will back me up on that. When he added up the costs of his illness in time off
work and medical expenses, he found that eating organic food was much less expensive than
eating non-organic foods. He is eating better foods now, and my organic garden continues
to grow, along with my children.
Walter J. Crinnion N.D., is a Naturopathic Physician in Bellevue, Washington. He is a
faculty member at Bastyr University in Seattle, where he teaches Environmental Toxicity,
and Clinical Ecology. He is also adjunct faculty at Southwest College of Naturopathic
Medicine, where he teaches an intensive class on Environmental Medicine. Since 1987, Dr.
Crinnion has operated the most comprehensive cleansing protocol in the nation.