(Beyond Pesticides, December 6, 2012) A study published in the December issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology finds that exposure to dichlorophenols may be associated food allergies. Dichlorophenols are used as an intermediary in the manufacturing of some of the most commonly used pesticides, such as 2,4-D, and are also used to chlorinate drinking water. This study may help explain in part why food allergies are on the rise in the U.S. and already affect 15 million Americans.
Lead researcher Dr. Elina Jerschow and her associates analyzed the urine of 10,348 Americans who were participants in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of 2005-2006. Of the over 10,000 surveyed, 2,548 had detectable amounts of dichlorophenols in their urine, and 2,211 of those participants were included in the study. Out of these 2,211 people, 1,427 were found to have some form of either food or environmental allergy. Participants with higher levels of dichlorophenols are more likely to have allergies then those with low levels present in their urine.
Researchers in this study argue that by consuming high levels of dichlorophenols individuals are altering the composition of bacteria in their stomachs. By over consuming dichlorophenols individuals are exposed to too few healthy bacteria, which makes them more sensitive to food allergies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 4-6 percent of children have a food allergy. The agency also notes that food allergies in children rose 18 percent between 1997 and 2007. “Previous studies have shown that both food allergies and environmental pollution are increasing in the United States,” said Dr. Jerschow. “The results of our study suggest these two trends might be linked, and that increased use of pesticides and other chemicals is associated with a higher prevalence of food allergies.”
Dichlorophenol chemicals are used to manufacture pesticides and may appear in the environment as these pesticides break down. 2,4-Dichlorophenol is a breakdown product of 2,4-D, which has been found to be a cancer promoter and an endocrine disruptor. 2,4-Dichlorophenol is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) priority pollutant pursuant to Section 304(a) of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The controversial antibacterial triclosan also breaks down into 2,4-Dichlorophenol when it interacts with sunlight when in water. The chemical 2,5-Dichlorophenol has also been linked to childhood obesity.
Even though dichloprophenols have been discovered in drinking water, opting for bottled water may not reduce the risk for developing allergies. According to Dr. Jerschow, “Other dichlorophenol sources, such as pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables, may play a greater role in causing food allergy.” The only way to avoid pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables is to purchase all USDA certified organic produce.
According to a recent American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) report, “In terms of health advantages, organic diets have been convincingly demonstrated to expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease. Organic farming has been demonstrated to have less environmental impact than conventional approaches.” This report was followed by a landmark policy statement and an accompanying technical report on the effects of pesticide exposure in children, which notes that, “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.” Organic foods have been shown to reduce dietary pesticide exposure. Children who eat a conventional diet of food produced with chemical-intensive practices carry residues of organophosphate pesticides that are reduced or eliminated when they switch to an organic diet.
Beyond Pesticides advocates through our Eating with a Conscience program choosing organic fruits and vegetables because of the environmental and health benefits to consumers, workers, and rural families. The Eating with a Conscience database, based on legal tolerances (or allowable residues on food commodities), provides a look at the toxic chemicals allowed in the production of the food we eat and the environmental and public health effects resulting from their use.
For more information on the benefits of organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides Organic Food program page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.