Pesticides, Organic vs. Conventional Produce, and More – Toxins and Your Health with Lara Adler

Content By: Ari Whitten & Lara Adler

In this episode, I am speaking with Lara Adler—an environmental toxins expert and educator, a certified Holistic Health Coach, and someone who is deeply passionate about changing the landscape of disease through addressing toxic exposures. We will talk about how environmental toxins affect our health, and whether or not pesticides are really safe for our health.

In this podcast, Lara will cover:

  • Why you should NOT listen to other experts. Their info on toxins is incorrect!
  • How federal policies around toxin approval are failing us
  • Why the standard for measuring toxin exposure is just plain wrong
  • Understanding the difference between drugs vs. poisons in your body. Why pharmacology and toxicology aren’t always aligned
  • Safety studies on different compounds: Should you trust them?
  • Is there such a thing as safe levels of BPA in your body? What happens when any BPA is in your blood
  • Can conventional foods actually be safer than organic? Learn what the better choice is
  • Why your personal care products matter. How to choose the best ones for your health
  • The shocking effects pesticides have on people who live close to farms

Listen in iTunes

Listen outside iTunes


Studies on organic vs. conventional produce and pesticides (referred to in the podcast)

Chiu YH et al (2019) Association between intake of fruits and vegetables by pesticide residue status and coronary heart disease risk.

Harvard School Of Public Health Panel on Pesticides and Health.

Duk-Hee L, et al (2011) Low Dose Organochlorine Pesticides and Polychlorinated Biphenyls Predict Obesity, Dyslipidemia, and Insulin Resistance among People Free of Diabetes

Chiu YH, et al (2015) Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic.

Chiu YH et al (2018) Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake From Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Infertility Treatment With Assisted Reproductive Technology.

Crinnon WJ, (2010) Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer

Gomiero T (2018) Food quality assessment in organic vs. conventional agricultural produce: Findings and issues

Mie A, et al (2017) Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review

Baranski M, et al (2014) Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses

Klakbrenner A, et al (2014) Environmental Chemical Exposures and Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Review of the Epidemiological Evidence

American Psychiatric Association (2018) Study Links Mothers’ Pesticide Levels with Autism in Children

Newman T, (2016) Pesticide may increase autism risk

Bakian AV, et al (2019) Pesticides and autism

Gomiero T, (2017) Food quality assessment in organic vs. conventional agricultural produce: Findings and issues

Hyland C, et al (2019) Organic diet intervention significantly reduces urinary pesticide levels in U.S. children and adults

Blair A, et al (2014) Pesticides and human health

Oates L, et al (2011) Assessing Diet as a Modifiable Risk Factor for Pesticide Exposure


How Safe Are Pesticides, Really? Toxins and Health with Lara Adler - Transcript

Ari Whitten: Hey there, welcome to The Energy Blueprint podcast. I’m your host, Ari Whitten, and today I have with me Lara Adler, who is an environmental toxins expert and educator and a certified holistic health coach who teaches other health coaches, nutritionists, and other holistic health practitioners how to eliminate the number one thing holding their clients back from the results they’re seeking, which is the unaddressed link between chemicals and chronic health problems. She trains practitioners to become experts in everyday toxic exposures, so they can improve client outcomes without spending hundreds of hours researching on their own.

Combining environmental health, education and business consulting, she’s helped thousands of health professionals in over 25 countries around the world, elevate their skill set get better results for their clients and become sought out leaders in the growing environmental health and detoxification field. She’s also a member of the Naturopathic Association of Environmental Medicine and the American Holistic Health Association. Welcome, Lara. Such a pleasure to have you.

Lara Adler: Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to our conversation.

The truth about toxins

Ari Whitten: Yes, now with that in mind, this is a nice segue into this concept of non-monotonic dose responses. One of the common arguments from people who are saying these toxins are not of a concern, they’re in such small amounts that they’re just, not relevant doses they’re not near the threshold of what’s going to cause some observable sort of acute poisoning effect, therefore, they must be insignificant. What are the limitations of that reasoning?

Lara Adler: I like to say that that concept of the dose makes the poison, which is really depicted in a monotonic linear dose-response curve in a–

Ari Whitten: Just explain monotonic. [crosstalk]

Lara Adler: Monotonic it’s a straight line, if we’re looking at like a graph when we got, I’m like, how do I do this? A straight line that goes either like this or like this so it’s either a positive or a negative association and the key here is that the response is predictable. It goes in one direction and that direction doesn’t change and this monotonic or linear dose-response curve is basically a visual depiction of the dose makes the poison, which was coined by Paracelsus in like the 1500s so, hey, I don’t know, maybe let’s evolve our science, just throwing that out there. It is a true but partial statement.

It is true, it is just not absolutely true. I think it was the journal Nature that published a whole article about this dialogue between toxicology and endocrinology and monotonic and non-monotonic dose-response curves and they talked about, they use the word foundational dogma. That that is the approach that toxicology has around this. Everything is the dose makes the poison. Everything follows that and it’s predominantly true. Like radiation, the small amount of radiation we get from eating a banana, it’s not harmful, but the amount of radiation that we might get from say, Chernobyl will kill us like that is a substance or an exposure that has a very linear dose-response curve.

In traditional toxicology, they’re looking at exposures that are thousands of times above and beyond what the average individual is going to get. Then they’re extrapolating downwards and they’re looking for what’s called the LOAEL, the lowest observed adverse effect level. The lowest point when they see something harmful and then they go a little bit lower and they go, “Okay, here’s the point where we don’t see anything,” that’s the NOAEL and then they build in a couple of factors of state says little buffer safety factors and then they actually stopped doing the research and they just assume. Assume, which I find fascinating.

There was actually a toxicology textbook by Hayes actually put forth that that theory has literally never been tested, it is an assumption in science that has not been tested. Though for the entire field of toxicology to rest on that without it having being tested kind of blew my mind when I read that. So, what’s happening is that when we get to these really low levels of exposures, levels that are below, and this is partly how the NIH defines low dose, because that’s a term that’s, it’s not a real number, it’s just a range. They define low dose as something that does not fall within the realm of traditional toxicology.

Like if they’re not looking at it, maybe that’s low dose. Low dose is also the range in which humans are being exposed. That’s considered low dose. The parts per million and billion and trillion that we’re being exposed to these chemicals, that is considered low dose and when we’re looking at a specific subset of environmental chemicals, specifically endocrine-disrupting chemicals, they blow this whole concept of the dose makes the poison out of the water and so what happens, and it’s fascinating because traditional toxicology still refutes this concept.

They’re like, “It’s not real, it’s just make-believe. There’s no data to support it.” Yet the entire field of pharmacology and endocrinology operate on this as being fact because every pharmaceutical drug we’ve ever developed is delivered in the body in parts per billion and parts per trillion doses because that is the low dose level that our body responds to.

As we know, there’s tremendous negative side effects with a lot of the pharmaceuticals that we’re getting.

Ari Whitten: Just clarify that for a second, let’s say you take a hundred-milligram dose of a particular pharmaceutical drug, you’re saying that amount of milligrams is going to be parts per million?

Lara Alders: Yes, it depends on, because it’s milligram per kilogram of body weight, so it’s not an apples to apples. You have to actually do a conversion to get it to a parts per million.

Ari Whitten: Like when it’s in the human body?

Lara Adler: Yes, it’s done a little bit differently, but we look at the doses of, for example, like birth control, the amount of estradiol or synthetic estradiols that are in there are so tiny because, duh, that’s the levels that our body is designed to respond to. That’s why they work. They have a giant range of side effects. You had Dr. Jolene Brighten on your podcast recently. I’m sure she talked about some of those side effects and so that’s a biologically active compound that’s being delivered into the body in these minute levels that toxicology wouldn’t consider an issue because it runs into the realm of pharmacology. Toxicology and pharmacology are sister disciplines, they’re just on different ends of the spectrum. Pharmacology is the useful and beneficial. Toxicology is when the substances are no longer useful and beneficial and they’re toxic.

The reality is that endocrine-disrupting chemicals often display these what are called non-monotonic dose-response curves, which can look like a U or an inverted U or they can be a wavy line. The reality is they are unpredictable, so if we’re thinking about traditional toxicology and that path from the maximum tolerated dose all the way down to the LOAEL and then the NOAEL and then they put it in that little buffer and then they stop. It’s that everything that’s happening in those really low doses that they are just assuming follows that same path, but with endocrine disruption, we’re finding that there’s all kinds of activity in there.

Ari Whitten: In other words, to simplify all that and distill it into something very practical, a very low dose of something is not necessarily safe. A very low dose can still be biologically active.

Lara Adler: Absolutely. Absolutely. We’ve seen this with– what blows my mind is that this is well established in the literature in some parts. If you look at the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen, it actually shows a non-monotonic dose-response curve, like it’s well established. That what we have is in the beginning when you’re giving somebody Tamoxifen, nothing happens. Then they actually get a flare where their symptoms get worse and the cancer cells proliferate and then it comes down and that’s where Tamoxifen really has that sweet spot.

People with breast cancer, patients who are taking Tamoxifen experience this really painful flare. That’s just showing it’s going up and then it’s going down. This is what’s happening with endocrine-disrupting chemicals at these really tiny doses. The hormones in our bodies are measured typically in parts per trillion. It’s really, really tiny. I like to say that our hormones are communication messengers and they communicate in whispers, really quietly. When we’re being exposed to parts per trillion and parts per million and parts per billion of chemicals, it’s at a frequency that our body responds to and that’s more concerning than a really high dose for those types of chemicals.

Ari Whitten: There’s two other layers to this story that I think are from my understanding, and I’m certainly much less of an expert on this topic than you are, but there’s two other layers of this kind of safety research that I think are relevant. You tell me if my thinking is on the right track. One is this example you gave of Tamoxifen just now the fact that we know this non-monotonic response and we’ve done the safety research.

My understanding is that like, the fact that we’ve done it with that particular chemical is great, but we actually haven’t done that kind of not actual detailed study of the actual true effects of very low dose effects of a substance for most of these tens of thousands of chemicals that we’re referring to. That’s one layer is we don’t actually know where, as you said before, just basing it off of the LOAEL and NOAEL measurements and then extrapolating down to what we think would probably be the effect of lower doses of that substance.

Then the other thing that I think is a big factor, especially as we talk about pesticide residues and conventional organic, which I want to get into. When you look at those studies and the conclusions people are drawing about these pesticide residues in health, one of the consistent concerns that these toxicology researchers are bringing up is we have no idea what any potential synergism is between low doses of multiple, of dozens these different chemicals are. We have some real indication that there may be synergism. We’ve got examples of synergism of chemicals and other places and there’s no real studies of the synergism of these chemicals. All the safety studies that do exist, for the most part, they’re not taking into account these non-monotonic dose responses and they’re doing these safety studies in isolation on each individual chemical for the most part.

Lara Adler: They’re short studies, they’re three months studies. They’re not doing chronic low-dose exposure studies. Those don’t exist. They just don’t. There are certainly when it comes to endocrine disruption, there have been some studies that are starting to tease apart this like cocktail effect of what happens when we have two endocrine-disrupting chemicals or three and the effect compounds. It’s not one plus one equals two. It might be one plus one equals five, and that’s, again, in isolation. That’s how these– all of our research is done in isolation and beyond that, we’re looking at epidemiology, which a lot of people in the evidence-based space are like, epidemiology is not, it’s junk, but it’s what we have.

It’s not ethical to test chemicals on humans so this is what we have and that data tells us things that we should be paying more attention to and not being so dismissive of.

Ari Whitten: This is an important juncture. I want to emphasize this point, which is if you figure in these layers of the story that you just explained and that I added with the fact that these chemicals are studied in isolation, the non-monotonic issue. The reality is with a lot of these chemicals, we don’t have any real relevant research as far as the long term effects of low dose exposures that are chronic for years or decades. We don’t know. We don’t have a randomized controlled trial that lasts for 40 years or even five years of people who are administered doses of dozens of different chemicals or even one of these chemicals versus a group that wasn’t given that, a placebo-control group.

Lara Adler: The reality is if you talk to any of the companies that do like urine testing for these types of toxins, there’s no control. We have no control, meaning there’s no unexposed control population. We are all exposed.

How the government toxin regulation is failing

Ari Whitten: My point is that there’s real limitations in the research. In a perfect world, we just do a placebo-controlled study of the substance versus no substance. We’ve got a very clear randomized controlled study that we can know the effect but if we can’t do that, as is the case with these chemicals, we have to rely as you said on epidemiological research, which is not ideal, but it’s the best we got.

The juncture that you’re at is you can either– like either way you have to make some kind of speculative leap from this point. You either have to assume that all of these chemicals are perfectly benign and that these low doses can’t possibly have an effect or you have to assume that, especially since we know the effect of these chemicals in larger doses that actually has been studied and shows clear negative effects, you can assume it maybe is more likely that they do have negative effects.

Lara Adler: Absolutely. I think that’s the– it’s erring on the side of caution because the reality is that we’re all living in an age where we have the highest rates of chronic disease, the highest expenditure of healthcare, and we can’t afford to not look at this. There was a really fascinating study published in 2016 that was headed by Dr. Leo Trisandi from the NYU Langone medical center. They looked at in this study, 5% of the known endocrine-disrupting chemicals– of which there’s over a thousand that have been identified using very limited criteria by the federal government. There’s probably a lot more.

They looked at 5% of the known endocrine-disrupting chemicals and compared them to, I think it was around 11 chronic diseases or chronic health issues like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and also loss of IQ. What they found was– they extrapolated out the financial burden of having those illnesses. They found that this 5% of endocrine-disrupting chemicals contributed $340 billion annually in healthcare costs and lost wages. That’s 2% of our gross domestic product and that is a tiny sliver.

In the European Union where they regulate chemicals differently, it was about a third less of a burden because in the European Union, the European Union countries have national healthcare. We can argue about whether or not it’s good or not. That’s not the point, but the point is that the government foots the bill for that healthcare expenditure. In the US because we don’t have any federal mandated healthcare system, we foot the bill. The federal government is under no pressure to regulate chemicals differently because they don’t have to pay for it. We have to pay for it in healthcare costs. I think it’s a dangerous assumption to make that these chemicals, these very low doses are safe. Here’s a good example, the FDA has set 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight of this phenol A as being safe per day. They’re like that’s the level that’s safe. Two years ago research team said, “Okay, we’re going to test that and we are actually going to administer this phenol A to humans because this is the level that the government says is safe.” Like these studies are rare.

Ari Whitten: It becomes ethical to do it. To do study of [crosstalk]

Lara Adler: Yes, and the chemical industry actually questioned the ethics of that study, which is like, “Oh, come on guys, what are you so worried about if your product is safe?” What they found was that I believe it was, it might be misspeaking, but I believe it was after one day of having this exposure, they had increased insulin resistance. One day from an exposure that’s “safe.”

There’s been other studies that have found that, these are my studies, but that BPA at like 1000 fold less than what the EPA considers is safe alters leptin and ghrelin levels in the body. There’s all of these endpoints that are just not being explored. We have very incomplete data about what is safe and what is not safe. If we look back historically, at the track record of chemical use and what we’re learning, all the messes that we’re cleaning up after the fact, there’s a consistent enough pattern for me to proceed very cautiously going forward.

Ari Whitten: It’s basically like what makes more sense, to proceed with some caution in case these chemical closures, even at low doses. Again, we know they’re toxic and harmful in high doses, it’s undebatable. Even in low doses should we assume that there’s a potential for harm, or should we assume they’re perfectly safe? One of those two things just makes vastly more sense to me than the other one.

Lara Adler: I think that if we were living in a time where people were predominantly very healthy, I might take a different opinion, but we’re not. We’re not. We’re living in an age when people are predominantly sick. The rates of disease are increasing faster than can be explained by genetics. When we have cancer that 90% of cancer’s attributed to the environment. That term environment means things like exercise and smoking and not just environmental chemicals. Like many of the chronic illnesses that we are experiencing right now are preventable, and that’s what the research says. They’re preventable.

We have to move towards the direction of limiting when a option exists in the marketplace, let’s choose that. The great thing is the landscape of consumer products in the marketplace has shifted dramatically in the last decade, so there are so many more options. It’s absurd to not choose safer.

Ari Whitten: Yes. I want to mention one quick thing as you’re talking about the BPA study. As I was prepping today for this podcast, I was going through a bunch of research around pesticides and endocrine-disrupting chemicals and things like that. I was listening to on YouTube, there’s a really nice, second hour-long lecture from Harvard Medical School that the Harvard YouTube channel. They have a panel of their Harvard experts all talking about specifically pesticides and health. One of the guys, one of these experts on the panel mentioned, he brought up the example of lead.

Historically lead was thought these LOAEL and NOAEL measurements and they basically thought, “Oh, as soon as we get below this amount of lead, then it’s not going to be harmful anymore.” They kept studying lower and lower and lower doses of this lead and they kept finding evidence of harm even at way lower doses than they were speculating that they would find. Eventually, they just realized that lead has known toxic effects at like, even tiny, tiny doses. Then the guy said, specifically after that, he concluded or he said speculatively, I believe that we will find the same thing is true for pesticide exposures.

Lara Adler: Absolutely. I think it depends. Certainly, not all pesticides are the same. Some pesticides are extremely persistent. Those are the ones that I think are extremely concerning. Because some of those have half-lives of 10, 20 years, 30 years and we are building them up in our tissues faster than where bodies are able to break them down. That’s really concerning. Yes, I think that that’s probably what we’re going to find is that as the research continues in this space, we’re going to go, “You know what, we got it wrong.” Like we didn’t really understand how bad these are.

How safe are pesticides, really?

Ari Whitten: Yes. Let’s dig into pesticides and convention more organic right now. There’s a bunch of topics we could cover. We’re not going to have time to cover everything. I want to dig into conventional versus organic. I want to dig into water, maybe personal care products if we have time, another topic or two. Do you have a hard cut off at five?

Lara Adler: No.

Ari Whitten: Okay. I think we’re going to go a little over.

Lara Adler: That’s fine.

Ari Whitten: Thank you. First of all, conventional versus organic. There was a friend and colleague of mine who put out some information on this topic recently that I really strongly disagreed with. I think even the panel of Harvard experts I was just referring to strongly disagree with the conclusions. Some of the arguments that are being put forth by skeptics, these evidence-based skeptics that I was referring to previously, are things like, there’s chemicals everywhere, even organic has chemicals too, which is true.

Lara Adler: True, absolutely.

Ari Whitten: Since they both use chemicals one isn’t superior to the other. Then they might selectively cite an example of like one pesticide that’s used within organic agriculture that’s like, and they’ll say, “Oh, this one is even super toxic, and therefore organic is just as bad.” I’m just curious, what’s your take on this landscape of conventional versus organic? Do pesticides– I guess let me also add one layer to the story, which is to what we were talking about earlier. There are people who argue the amounts of these pesticide residues on produce, even conventional produce, is so small it’s barely detectable.

It’s in as you said earlier, like parts per trillion. They’ll say things like, these amounts of pesticides are insignificant. They’re so small such that you’d have to consume 100 pounds of celery in a day to reach any significant toxicity from the pesticide residues. At that point, the chemicals, for example, the oxalates in the spinach will be more toxic than the pesticide residues. What is the problem? If you think there’s a problem. What’s the problem with that line of reasoning?

Lara Adler: I think we just talked about this idea that low doses matter, first of all. When we’re talking parts per trillion, this is not a pesticide, but this will connect. The level of PFAS chemicals that is considered safe is in drinking water is 70 parts per trillion. A lot of health bodies are like, “Whoa, that’s way too high to up disease risk.” That’s in a parts per trillion. I think that the reality is that the weight of evidence of the data is all pointing to these very minuscule amounts of pesticides residues that are on the final product that we take back from the grocery store and into our homes. That is our primary exposure source.

That’s what the EPA says. That’s what the NIH and the CDC say, that our primary source of exposure to organophosphate pesticides, which is the primary class of pesticides that are used or certainly, other classes, comes from our produce. Then we have studies that are saying, “Okay, if we’re looking at the levels of exposure that we are being exposed to these pesticides, and then correlating with them to all of these different diseases, I think you can’t make that statement that those low levels don’t matter.” It also reinforces this whole cocktail effect conversation. We’re not just eating one vegetable, hopefully. We’re eating a lot of vegetables, and lots of fruits.

These are also not the only sources of pesticides and herbicide exposure that we’re getting is certainly not through our fruits and vegetables. That’s certainly a primary place, but when we’re looking for example at like the environmental working groups, Dirty Dozen, Clean 15. They’re only looking at fruit and fruits and vegetables, because that’s what the US EPA market basket or FDA market basket data is based on, j just fruits and vegetables. I don’t think the data supports that we can find data that supports that the low levels of pesticides are not at all harmful, but I think that the weight of evidence just showing the opposite. I think we also have to consider, although this is certainly not a primary reasoning why somebody would choose organic, but there have been numerous studies that show that organic foods have higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants because they have their own natural pesticides in the form of antioxidants that are what we are seeking when we go eat a colorful red pepper or a deep green kale. We’re looking for these nutrients, and the higher nutrient compounds come- they are the plants natural defensive mechanism. When we rely on pesticides, plants no longer produce those higher levels of natural pesticides, so there’s that.

I think–

Ari Whitten: Actually, let’s dig into that because there’s some more that needs to be built out there. First of all, most people don’t realize that a lot of these phytochemicals that are in plants, that are associated with health benefits, are, as you said-

Lara Adler: Natural pesticides.

Ari Whitten: -natural pesticides, insecticides that the plant produces. Now, that fact– First of all, it’s very interesting. There’s a whole area called xenohormesis in literature that’s fascinating, one of my areas of passion, but this fact has also been used by some of these evidence-based skeptics as they’ve reframed this as though it were a bad thing. They’ve basically said, “See, the organic ones have higher levels of these phytotoxins to these natural insecticides.” Then they draw this false equivalence between these natural phytotoxins and synthetic pesticides, and basically saying, “Well, if you eat organic, you’re getting higher levels of internally produced by the plant pesticides, and therefore, either way, you’re getting pesticides.” What they leave out of this story is that those phytotoxins are decidedly associated with health benefits in humans as opposed to the synthetic pesticides which have no such benefits.

Lara Adler: Absolutely. I think a really key piece of information here when we’re trying to say like, “Organic also uses pesticides.” Yes, they do. They’re primarily not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, and the amount of pesticides, meaning the different types of pesticides, is far more restrictive than the thousands of pesticide products that are on the market for conventional produce.

I think, where, for example, the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen gets it wrong, is that they’re only looking at the amount of the residue, not the relative toxicity of the pesticide. There’s a new analysis, Dr. Lyn Patrick has been doing this past year that’s really kind of blowing that whole concept apart, and what she found, based on the what’s in the EPA published literature, is that there is a 6000-fold difference in toxicity in organophosphate and organochlorine pesticides.

Organochlorines are mostly phased out, but there is a 6000-fold difference in toxicity. You might have a really tiny amount of pesticide on food on the Clean Fifteen list that is 6000 times more toxic than the equal amount on the Dirty Dozen. It’s not just the amount of pesticide, it’s the relative toxicity of those pesticides. The only way to systematically reduce our exposures is to move towards organic, that’s it. There is no cheat sheet unless you want to get into majorly in the weeds with [unintelligible] versus [unintelligible] versus whatever, and nobody wants to do that, except Lyn Patrick, obviously.

Ari Whitten: There’s one more nuance to this that I think needs to be understood by people, which is, there are people who make this argument that conventional organic, both use pesticides and then, again, try to draw this false equivalence, therefore, they’re both equally toxic. You just pointed out one of the big flaws in that.

The other thing is, it doesn’t matter really what is used on the farm. It does for the environment, which is a whole other discussion, and there’s a whole big discussion to be had around what’s happening in the environment as a result of these chemicals. Too broad of a scope for this discussion, we’ll just talk about human health. But in the context of human health, we also know that when– It doesn’t matter what’s used on the farm, it matters the residues that end up on the produce and a weight of the evidence that actually measures that and that measures also levels of pesticides in the human body. Well, it’s not perfect, and you can always point out, “Well, they didn’t measure this or that pesticides so we don’t really know. It needs to be more comprehensive.”

The weight of all of that evidence is very consistently in the direction of organic produce having lower amounts of pesticide residues, much higher percentage where there’s no detectable pesticide residues at all, and the pesticide residues that are detected are of lower toxicological concern. It’s just very clear, given all the caveats of the research that we don’t know, we don’t have great long term studies on the risk of multiple exposures of dozens of exposures long term in low doses, it is clear that moving towards organic does lower your body load of pesticides overall and lower especially the ones of greater toxicological concern.

Lara Adler: Yes. I think the other audience that were completely leading out of this is pregnant women, babies in utero, that are extraordinarily sensitive to these minute levels of substances that can affect their neurodevelopment or their sexual differentiation, and they are the most sensitive audience. We know that they’re being exposed in utero because we have these umbilical cord studies. There’s not a lot of them, but they are showing that these chemicals, compounds, pesticides, jet fuels, heavy metals, nonstick chemicals, et cetera, are showing up in minute amounts, and we’re seeing that what are we also seeing in our population is this massive increase in neurological issues, developmental issues in children, attention issues, even things like gender dysmorphia.

We have to start questioning what is the role of these chemicals in this massive uptake in these types of outcomes that we’re seeing. It’s such a sensitive population. I know that there’s been some studies of agricultural workers, which is a whole another reason. If we are consuming conventional food, we are supporting the poisoning of human beings who are working in the fields, and those human beings go home and they have pesticide residues on their clothes and they are having– There is a– It’s called para-occupational exposures. Their family members are now being exposed to much higher levels.

There was a study done in Salinas Valley in California looking at the families of agricultural workers and their children in neurodevelopmental status and they paired children in the valley who are in the area where all this agriculture is and the ones outside of the valley in the mountain range that don’t have pesticides and they just said drastic figure. When you see the side by side comparison of these images, it’s heartbreaking because the kids are the exact same age, and the kids in the valleys can’t draw a stick figure. The kids outside can.

I cannot see any reason to defend the use of pesticides even if all of the data said there’s no individual human health from consuming these foods. We also have to think of the broader implication of who else is being exposed. We have hundreds of thousands if not millions of agricultural workers that are occupationally exposed to these chemicals and have increased rates of all different types of prostate cancer and lung cancer and skin cancers. Do we ignore them?

Ari Whitten: Yes, 100%. One of the other arguments that I want to bring to the table that you sometimes hear is, if these pesticides and all these chemicals that are sprayed on produce are so harmful, why is it that we can see that people who consume more produce, even if it’s conventional produce, show health benefits versus people who consume less produce? We had some discussions outside of this on the subject. I also just sent you a brand new study like in the last few days, that gives us some fodder for discussion here, but if these chemicals are harmful, how would it be possible that you could see health benefits from consuming more produce?

Lara Adler: Because vegetables are good for us and most people don’t eat vegetables. I think that’s the reality is that we have– Of course, these foods also provide nutrients that our bodies need absolutely. I never want people to feel like they’re in a position first of all between eating organic or eating no vegetables. A lot of critics of the Environmental Working Group say that they’re fear-mongering and now people are afraid to eat vegetables, that’s definitely not the intention. We want people to eat vegetables.

There is also within that population very likely higher risks of other types of illnesses. Maybe overall, they have improved health and decreases of disease, we have to look at the subsets of how’s their thyroid function, how’s their hormone function because that might not be classified as a disease, but if they have low-level hormone dysregulation or gut dysbiosis because they’re being exposed to glyphosate which acts as an antibiotic in the GI system. We have to take all of those things into consideration for sure.

You had a really great point that you had made when we were going back to forth on this topic about we have to have enough comparison groups to actually make that data meaningful because we can always take two points and argue like, one is better, therefore, the other one is bad, but we have to put it in relation to what? Let’s add a third group then that says, “Okay, great. Now let’s see if we can say, what are the studies of people who eat more fruits and vegetables that are organic and compare how their health markers versus the ones that are eating a lot of fruits and vegetables that or not.”

Ari Whitten: It’s a very interesting concept of like, “Can you have a negative within something that is a net positive? Can you still have some aspect that’s negative?” There’s a couple of examples that I thought of. One was like, if you compared a group of people that were sleeping eight hours a night to a group that was sleeping four hours a night, the group who’s sleeping eight hours a night, even if they were sleeping with the TV and all these artificial lights blaring into their eyes before bed, the group who is sleeping eight hours every night is going to have health benefits if you’re comparing them to sleeping four hours, but that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is perfect.

If you were to compare them to a third group that’s sleeping the same amount of hours but doesn’t have artificial light glaring into their eyes at night suppressing melatonin, then you would see that that group is actually even more superior, and therefore, that the artificial light is associated with harm. Another example is if you compared a group that does no exercise to a group that exercises but has terrible forms such that, they’re going to get back injuries and tendinitis and stress fractures and bulging discs in their back, all these different things.

On the average across the whole population, the group who’s doing exercise is still going to have net health benefits compared to the group doing no exercise, but they’re also going to have increased injuries in all those different ways. If you compare them to a third group that is doing all the exercise but was taught good form, they would perform even better. Then you’d realize you’d expose all of the problems of that second group of people having bad technique and bad form doing exercise.

Lara Adler: Yes, I think it’s just a weak and not fully thought out argument to just pair. What do we need three points to make a line? We need three to have an adequate comparison when we’re trying to make comparisons like that. I think it’s– Yes, of course, eating fruits and vegetables is good for us and it would be better if they were organic.

Ari Whitten: Yes. Do you want to speak to that study that I just sent you?

Lara Adler: Yes. I just skimmed it, to be honest.

Ari Whitten: Yes, I did too [laughs] because it’s brand new.

Lara Adler: It’s brand, brand new, and I’m just looking at it now. I apologize, it’s so dark in here because daylight savings changed and I don’t have good lights in this room.

Ari Whitten: It’s basically speaking to the same principle– [crosstalk]

Lara Adler: Exact principle. Yes.

Ari Whitten: They actually did a study where they compared people consuming plenty of produce that’s conventional versus plenty of produce that’s organic. It was 145,000 women and over 24,000 men, they followed them for over a decade and they found that eating organic produce correlated with a lower risk of heart disease while eating conventional produce did not even after adjustment for a healthy lifestyle factor. It’s basically exactly the examples that I just gave of if you just compare eating conventional produce versus no produce, it’s going to show that there’s benefits to consuming produce even if it’s conventional. If you add in a third group where they’re consuming the same amount of produce but organic, that group will be superior and that’s [crosstalk]–

Lara Adler: I think it completely changes the takeaway when we exclude that third group, which I think a lot of people do intentionally because it allows them to make the arguments that they want to make without presenting the full data or full analysis. We see that a lot for sure within different industries that are working really, really hard to defend the profits because we also live in an economy where they’re legally required to produce a profit if they’re a publicly-traded company. We’re in this situation where we have giant multinational companies that are going to every length possible to defend the use of the product that they make and they have everything to lose.

We have to take their research and their rebuttals of these arguments with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t have the critical eye to see through some of the research that’s coming out. There was another, I don’t remember where I saw this, it was a paper somewhere that was basically saying that the vast majority of– It wasn’t a paper, it was a book, I don’t remember which one, the vast majority of studies that are coming out of industry are showing benefit, whereas the vast majority of studies coming out of independent science show harm. This is not just a pesticides, it’s to the PFAS chemicals and all of these different types of toxicants that we’re being exposed to.

Ari Whitten: Yes, interesting and well said. I think the grain of salt is very appropriate when you’re looking at industry-funded studies. One more thing, I just want to say lest we be accused of being food elitists here. I just want to mention there is a real economic concern for some people around this conventional versus organic issue such that some people are in a financial position where it really makes a meaningful difference to them to have to buy organic or to buy organic versus conventional. I just want to be clear, I think you agree with me that buying conventional produce is certainly better than no produce.

Lara Adler: 100%.

Ari Whitten: The net benefits over no produce are clear. You should still buy even if you can’t afford organic, and if you can’t afford organic, just go conventional. That’s certainly a much better option than no produce.

Lara Adler: Yes. In situations like that, I really encourage people to make other changes around their home that maybe aren’t costly or that many things are free like open your windows, take your shoes off when you come in the door. Stop buying scented candles and synthetic air fresheners, that will save you money. There are other things that we can do to reduce the overall body burden of environmental chemicals that were exposed to if we are in a financial situation where we can’t spend more money on certain things.

The other thing that I would add to that is, Costco is the largest retailer in the United States for organic foods. If people are shopping at Costco, which I know a lot of families that struggle financially will go to a store like Costco because they can get a good deal. Go to Costco for your organic foods. Then this is a shout out to everybody else who can afford these foods, is this is what changes the landscape for everyone else. This is like– We vote with our dollars. For all the ladies out there, our ladies are the primary spenders in society. We are the primary spenders of household. We have a tremendous power as consumers to create the kind of marketplace that we want.

I think we forget that because we become lazy consumers because the computer and the TV are telling us what to buy and we’re like, “Okay, I’ll buy it, I’ll buy it,” because the TV told me to. I think that if we become informed on this topic and we double down for the people who can on organic food, we are investing in the types of industries and supporting the types of companies who are doing good work, and that does affect everybody. Then we get to have larger organic farms that employ more farmworkers that now don’t have to be exposed to pesticides.

There’s lots of residual– I hate the expression trickle-down, I think it’s ruined from the ’80s, but there is a tremendous amount of trickle-down to society as a whole. If we have the means, let’s do it.

Ari Whitten: The fact that the demand has increased, it caused an explosion of the organic market and has driven prices down as demand has gone up such that there isn’t such a huge price gap in many cases anymore and personal care products, which I want to talk about a bit maybe in brief. Also, there’s been an explosion of healthy personal care products that are free of a lot of the toxic crap.

Lara Adler: Yes.

The danger of personal care products and how to find safe products

Ari Whitten: With that in mind, let’s actually cover the personal care stuff.

Lara Adler: Great.

Ari Whitten: Personal care products, what is our concern here? Are the chemicals here– Maybe we’ll start with something basic that maybe not everybody understands. Are the things that we put on our skin relevant to human health? Are these substances actually doing anything besides just sitting on our skin?

Lara Adler: Yes, absolutely. First of all, I’ve seen this being so splashed around Facebook and the internet for years is this meme that’s like, “Oh, everything you put on your skin enters your body in 26 seconds.” It’s usually somebody who’s trying to sell you a non-toxic skincare product. That is a statement that’s pertinently not true. We have to, again, be mindful of our words and make sure that we’re being accurate in what we’re saying so that we’re not feeding the naysayers who are going to take that and run with it.

Our skin is a barrier. It does, obviously, keep out many of the things that we put on it, but a lot of the chemicals that are used in the personal care products that we use do absorb into the skin. Some of them do absorb quickly, but there’s no universal timeframe. There’s lots of factors that determine whether or not something is capable of penetrating all the way into the bloodstream. It has to do with molecule size, how large or small is the molecule, what’s the integrity of the skin like, are you hydrated, do you have a scratch? There’s all of these different factors. Does the product contain ingredients that are known penetration enhancers? Their job is to actually decrease the lipid barrier on your skin and increase penetration. There are chemicals whose job it is to actually push stuff into the skin.

The reason why I think this is so concerning, not certainly for all chemicals but certain chemicals in this class of personal care products, is that when we absorb something through the skin and when we inhale something, these substances go right into the bloodstream. They bypass what’s called first-pass metabolism. When we eat something and it goes through our GI system and then it goes into the liver to be broken down or metabolized and then that blood circulates back through the body.

When we absorb something, it actually bypasses the benefit of getting broken down by the liver first. It goes right into the bloodstream straight away and does its thing and then will eventually make its way to the liver to be metabolized if that’s even possible. That is concerning to me is that we are absorbing chemicals that don’t have the ability to be broken down.

We have that thing to consider when we’re slathering body lotions and shampoos, and shaving creams on. Most of the personal care products that we’re using are made with synthetic fragrances. Those fragrances contain a chemical called phthalate. Phthalates are a very well established endocrine disruptors, so they very often have that non-monotonic dose-response. They have health effects that are extraordinarily low levels. The first thing somebody does when they go to the grocery store and tries a new product, they pop the top and they smell it because we love fragrance. Fragrance is the largest or strongest trigger for memory. Our olfactory receptor lives in the oldest and most primitive part of our brain, so we love things that smell good.

Product manufacturers know this and they pump these synthetic fragrances into these products. There’s entire brands that are just nothing but the scent. Irish Spring, it’s just the scent. Herbal Essences shampoo, it’s just the smell. That’s what they’re selling you. They’re not selling you on how good it cleans your skin or washes your hair. Herbal Essences, I don’t even know if [unintelligible 01:04:30] sell anymore because I don’t really watch TV or TV commercials, but in the ’80s and ’90s, they was the lady with having orgasm in the shower because her shampoo smelled so good. Everybody remembers that because–

Ari Whitten: That’s why I actually stocked up on that.

Lara Adler: You did? It’s great. Okay. So you have that experience?

Ari Whitten: Yes, to keep my wife satisfied.

Lara Adler: Fair. Whatever it takes, man.

Ari Whitten: That’s correct.

Lara Adler: We are using dozens and dozens of these personal care products every single day. The Environmental Working Group– This was, I think, in 2000 maybe 2008 or 2009, did a survey, just a small survey of couple hundred women and found that they use about an average of 12 personal care products and there’s approximately 168 chemicals that they’re being exposed to every single day before leaving the bathroom. Certainly, not all of those chemicals are harmful, but we do have some data on many of them, the parabens, the phthalates, the other types of preservatives in there for products like sunscreens which are a major issue.

Ari Whitten: Yes, I was going to say, did you see the recent study that came out on sunscreens and looking–?

Lara Adler: On which one?

Ari Whitten: Blood absorption.

Lara Adler: Yes.

Ari Whitten: There was one that received a lot of publicity. I want to say–

Lara Adler: Yes, it was a couple months ago, maybe six months ago, the UV filters, the benzophenones, and octisalate, octinoxate. Then there is oxybenzone is the other one. These are all endocrine disruptors. All endocrine disruptors, they’re fairly well established and they are ubiquitous. They’re what’s bleaching the coral reef, and there are so many associations in the literature linking these UV filters to chronic health issues and even birth defects.

There’s a birth defect called– I think it’s called Hirschsprung’s disease in an infant where part of the lower intestine doesn’t form. It doesn’t close properly and so the child has like an open intestine. It has to be closed surgically. There’s extremely strong association to specifically UV filters that cause that. Again, it’s this idea of like if we have an option to choose better, which we do now because this didn’t exist 15 years ago.

There was so few options. Then let’s make that choice. Ten years ago when I first started doing this research, I could count the number of clean brands on my hands. Now, I can’t keep up because there are so many. There’s this huge surgence [sic] of consumers that want cleaner products and people that have started creating cleaner products in response to that. It’s the fastest-growing sector of the entire beauty industry is natural and organic. That said, there is a tremendous amount of greenwashing in this space because the terms natural and organic are not regulated by any federal agency as it pertains to skincare. A lot of companies–

Ari Whitten: Even organic isn’t?

Lara Adler: Yes. The only way that you can see a USDA Organic Seal on a personal care product is if they’re using USDA-certified food-grade ingredients. You can do that, but there’s all kinds of companies that will use the word organic, natural. These things don’t mean anything, so a lot of consumers are duped into thinking that’s better.

Ari Whitten: Just specifically in the context of personal care as opposed to food.

Lara Adler: Yes, there’s no regulation for these terms. USDA is only regulating the USDA Organic Seal as it relates to food crops. Outside of food, they’re like, “It’s not our purview.” There was a shampoo brand called Organix with an X at the end. Not organic, nothing organic-

Ari Whitten: [chuckles]

Lara Adler: -at all in the ingredients, but they branded themselves that way. A consumer who is maybe trying to do better for herself and her family is going to spend the extra $2 to buy this product that is perceived to be better but in reality, is not better at all.

Ari Whitten: They’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa we never said it was organic. We said nix with an X.”

Lara Adler: We said Organix.

Ari Whitten: [chuckles]

Lara Adler: It’s like cheese with a Z except that with cheese with a Z, you actually have the FDA that is regulating that even [unintelligible]. I think very much it’s the wild rust when it comes to what’s happening in personal care products, but there is a very large and growing body of safer and cleaner products that are not made with synthetic fragrances, they’re not made with synthetic compounds.

Then, again, I’ll just say play devil’s advocate to myself is that not all synthetics are harmful. There’s a lot of people in the dermatological fields that are like, “Ah, everybody is freaking out about natural.” But there are certain things like as much as I hate to say it, there are some types of petroleum by-products in skin products that are so highly refined that there is actually no harm for them. Still don’t like to use them, but–

We want to make sure that we’re weighing both sides of all of these issues, but I think that we keep simply swap out. When we run out of shampoo, we can buy a safer product at this point because the market, there’s so much product availability. The cost, just like you were saying with organic, it’s really not that different. It used to be that there was a big disparity. It used to be that organic skincare or natural skincare didn’t work and it didn’t do anything but the game has completely changed for that.

Ari Whitten: On a very, very practical level, do you have any specific recommendations on what to watch out for if you want to name two or three things that might be on an ingredient list to watch out for or any specific brands that you recommend in the space of like women’s personal care products or anything like that?

Lara Adler: Yes, sure. I’ll give you one extra too.

Ari Whitten: And sunscreen.

Lara Adler: Yes. As it pertains to personal care products, the number one ingredient that I want people to look for is the word fragrance. It’s like a can catchall container word. There can be up to 3,000 chemicals that make up the fragrance mixture and then there’s other chemicals like phthalates which is not part of the fragrance mixture but it stabilizes the fragrance. It sticks around and it also helps that fragrance stick to your skin, in your clothes so that you can go into the laundry closet or towel linen closet and find, “My clothes still smell Downy fresh two weeks after I wash them.” That’s phthalates that do that job.

Even if the product says it’s phthalates free and it has the word fragrance, I still tell people to ditch it because there are a lot of synthetic masks that are used in the fragrance mixture that can be sensitizers, they can be allergens. Some of them can even be endocrine disruptors, even without phthalates present. If you see the word fragrance and it doesn’t specify this type of essential oil and that type of plant-based essential oil, it’s a no for me. That’s the first word to look for. The second is I really encourage people to be mindful of parabens.

Parabens are just a broad class of preservative but they show up in our body, so most of us have some types of methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben in our urine. Any word that ends in araben is a no. Then we have compounds like SLS, so if you see sodium lauryl sulfate or worse, sodium laureth sulfate, if it’s sodium lauryl sulfate, it can actually be a penetration enhancer and an irritant for the skin. Then the sodium laureth sulfate–

Ari Whitten: That’s sometimes in toothpaste as well.

Lara Adler: Yes, absolutely. It’s in toothpaste. Then, of course, we can add triclosan, which is still found in some types of personal care products.

Ari Whitten: That one was banned, right?

Lara Adler: No, it was only partially banned, so it was only banned from hand soaps and hand sanitizers because the FDA tasked the companies using it to prove that it was actually better than soap and water and they couldn’t do it, so the FDA said you can’t use it then because it doesn’t actually have any benefit and there is some data that suggests risk. Triclosan is a thyroid suppressant. It’s an endocrine-disrupting chemical that goes after the thyroid, so no, thank you.

What else? Any ingredient that ends in ETH, so like sodium laureth, ceteareth, it’s a long list of chemicals that end in that but that is an indication that the chemical or the ingredient has undergone a process called ethoxylation. Ethoxylation produces a byproduct that is carcinogenic. Companies can filter it out but they don’t even bother because they don’t care. Because they think a small amount is fine, so a little small amount of carcinogens is fine for you. Don’t like those ingredients and then as for sunscreen, you basically want to throw everything out that is not zinc oxide.

Ari Whitten: Easy enough. [laughs]

Lara Adler: Eazy enough, everything else is a no. It’s easier to have the yes list than a no list. There’s lots of different brands, my favorite for women’s skincare is Annmarie Gianni. I think you know, the Gianni’s. I use their stuff every single day, I love their skincare.

Ari Whitten: Yes, I have to say my wife has tried several different high quality natural organic brands, and she raves about Annmarie Gianni.

Lara Adler: Their stuff is so hyper-clean. They’re like obsessive about the sourcing and the production, which even a lot of green companies are not. People can also look for third party certifications. There’s a great organization called MADE SAFE which and Annmarie skincare stuff is certified MADE SAFE. MADE SAFE, they look beyond the ingredient label, so sometimes there’s ingredients that companies don’t have to disclose and MADE SAFE basically files an NDA with every company that’s like, “I want to see everything and then we’ll decide whether or not we want to give you our certification.”

They don’t mince any words. If you can people can go to the MADE SAFE website and just look up products that are certified and those are going to be ones that are the best of the best. I tried to give people like this good, better, best option, the same thing with the organic conversation like best would be eating organic but it’s still better than not eating organic to just eat vegetables. Good, better, best and so that exists in the skincare realm as well. I have a resource page on my website where I usually send people where I curate, like, “Here’s the products that I personally like and use that I vetted.”

There’s all kinds of online retailers like The Detox Market and Follain and Credo Beauty that really curate clean products for consumers for like a one-stop-shop. None of these things existed even six, seven years ago, so it’s really awesome to see the marketplace just exploding with options for people.

Ari Whitten: Yes, beautiful. I wanted to mention a couple of things. One is we’re way over time. I want to be respectful of your time. This has also been awesome. What I want to do is actually have you on a second time.

Lara Adler: Yes, I’d love to.

Ari Whitten: I know that there’s so much more knowledge and wisdom that you have to share and we haven’t even touched like water and– [crosstalk]

Lara Adler: Water is one of my favorite ones. I can talk about that one forever.

Ari Whitten: Or air pollution and there’s a whole bunch of other topics we could touch on so I know we have lots more content that we can address. I think there’s more than adequate content for part two and part three.

Lara Adler: Excellent.

Ari Whitten: I would love to do that. This has been epic. The other thing I want to mention to everybody listening is if you go to we’ll put it at your name, Lara Adler, so L-A-R-A and then A-D-L-E-R. That’ll be the link to this episode. We’ll also have links to these specific studies that we’ve referenced for example on pesticides and the one we mentioned on, for example, conventional versus organic and heart disease risk and some of the other studies as well as some of the recommended brands and products and things like that that were mentioned in here and the third party site that I forgot the name of it– [crosstalk]

Lara Adler: MADE SAFE.

Ari Whitten: Yes. We’ll have all those links laid out for you guys,, all one word. Lara, this has been awesome. Thank you so much and thank you for the extra time. We’re almost half an hour overtime so thank you so much. I’m glad you didn’t have an extra appointment-

Lara Adler: No.

Ari Whitten: -after that. Really, this has been such a pleasure. I really, really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with my audience. I really appreciate it and I will reach out to you for part two.

Lara Adler: Awesome. Well, thank you for having me.

Ari Whitten: Yes, thank you. 

How Safe Are Pesticides, Really? Toxins and Health with Lara Adler – Show Notes

The truth about toxins (1:19)
The monotonic and non-monotonic dose response (13:58)
How the government toxin regulation is failing (26:55)
How safe are pesticides, really? (35:19)
The danger of personal care products and how to find safe products (1:00:25)

Listen to the podcast with Dr. Joe Pizzorno on the link between toxins and disease.

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