Could Strawberries be Disrupting Your Endocrine System and Causing Hypothyroidism?

Growing up in New Jersey, I remember strawberry season fondly. My sister and I would pick our own at a farm in Hightstown. The season was only for the month of June so we would eat homemade strawberry shortcakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner for days straight. The berries were sweet, small, soft and dark red- little glorious gems of flavor. Now strawberries are available all year. Some are sweet, most are large, firm and very few are dark red- even fewer burst with any sort of flavor. Most importantly, today’s strawberries may be making us sick. The USDA Pesticide Data Program reported that 91% of conventionally grown strawberries contain 54 detectable pesticide residues with the following human health effects (1):

6 are known or probable carcinogens

11 are neurotoxins

24 are suspected hormone (endocrine) disruptors

12 are developmental or reproductive toxicants

In fact, 47% of the samples contained pesticide levels of Pyrimethanil, a suspected endocrine disruptor, above EPA tolerance levels (2). Endocrine disruptors are pesticides and industrial chemicals capable of interfering with the proper functioning of estrogen, androgen and thyroid hormones in humans and animals. Exposures can cause sterility or decreased fertility, impaired development, birth defects of the reproductive tract, and metabolic disorders (3). Endocrine disorders include diabetes, thyroiditis, osteoporosis, delayed or early puberty, and tumors; disorders currently on the rise.

And these facts are just for strawberries. Imagine the cumulative toxicity effect from all the foods you eat daily. Pesticides are a real health concern, especially for children, because their bodies are still developing. What should you do? According to the Environmental Working Group, consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure by 80% by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, some of the most contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables are often found on many top healthy food lists: including strawberries, blueberries, spinach, kale, and tomatoes. Therefore, it is important to understand which foods contain the highest levels of toxic pesticides. Then, choose organic for the worst offenders you eat often. What’s on My Food website at http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/index.jsp is a quick and easy reference point.

My rule of thumb is that if it is delicate and leafy (celery, greens like spinach), thin skinned (apples, tomatoes) or has no protective skin (berries, stone fruits like peaches) go organic. So next time you reach for those 2 for $4 strawberry deals- stop and think poison. One more dollar for organic is not such a bad deal when compared to copay for doctor visits and prescription medicines- that is if you have health insurance.

Here’s a delicious gluten-free breakfast to start your day:

Healing Berry Yogurt Parfait Breakfast for 265 calories

1 cup sliced organic strawberries                                                        1 serving

1 cup organic plain low fat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon organic flax seed meal

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon organic locally grown honey

Layer the strawberries, yogurt, flax seed meal, and cinnamon in a soup bowl. Drizzle with honey. Stir to combine and enjoy.

References:

1. Punzi, J., Lamont, M., Haynes, L., Espstein, R. (June 2005). USDA Pesticide Data Program. Outlooks on Pest Management, 10.1564. Retrieved August 24, 2010 from http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv /getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3003674.

2. USDA Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary 2008 (2009). Agricultural Marketing Service. Retrieved August 24, 2010 from http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1./getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5081750

3. Pesticide Action Network Pesticide Database (2009). Endocrine Disruptors. Retrieved August 24, 2010 from http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Docs/ref_toxicity5.html#EDSummary

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