Bringing Up Baby Organically
There's a new movement under way to go green – starting from the first days of life.
What Does Going Green Really Mean? continued...
According to Frank Greer, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, going organic has no real advantages.
"I believe there is almost no evidence to document any real health advantages to using these products for children," says Greer, who is also spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Pediatrician Sophie Balk, MD, is more open to the idea, but she says studies are still too limited to know for sure. And she doesn't routinely advocate organics in her own practice.
"There are few, if any, scientifically proven health benefits to buying organic foods, or any other 'organic' products," says Balk, a pediatrician at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City and the former chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health.
Does Organics Equal Common Sense?
But even without hard science, other experts say going organic simply makes good sense. Pediatrician Lawrence Rosen, MD, says one reason is that anything that reduces baby's exposure to nasty chemicals of any kind will have important health benefits.
"There's still definitely a gap between what we know to be true scientifically and what we theoretically think is true, but either way, avoiding even potentially damaging compounds, particularly with babies, can never be a bad thing, and it simply makes good common sense," says Rosen. Rosen is section chief of the division of pediatric integrative medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center and medical advisor to Deirdre Imus Center for Pediatric Oncology.
Moreover, he says that while we may have less evidence of the good that "going organic" can accomplish, we do have very strong evidence of the kind of harm that is being done through nonorganic living.
"There are advantages to doing something, and then there are also risks and costs to not doing it. And certainly, there are theoretical environmental compounds or toxins that have negative health consequences, either leading to cell damage or cell death or, down the road, cancer, heart disease, and neurological changes," says Rosen.
Among those compounds, he says, are the very chemicals used in the growing or processing much of our food supply - including baby food.
Going back as far as 1995, the Environmental Working Group reported that, in independent laboratory tests, 16 different pesticides, including three carcinogens, were identified in baby foods manufactured by eight different companies. The CDC reports that a main source of pesticide exposure for U.S. children is, in fact, from the food they eat.
Complicating matters further: Experts say that infants and babies are far more susceptible to even the smallest chemical assaults.
"In infants and toddlers, the brain and nervous system is much more susceptible to neurological toxins. There are literally anatomical and physiological reasons why there's more of an effect with a smaller dose, plus we now believe there are both cumulative and synergistic effects, so that small but repetitive doses over time may have a significant impact," says Rosen.
Studies seem to bear this out. In research published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2003, researchers found that in urine samples taken from children aged 2 to 4, pesticide byproducts were six times higher in those who were reported by their parents to eat nonorganic foods compared with those who ate an organic diet.