What is good health?
It can be quite easy to assume that people we come into regular contact with are completely healthy individuals because they “look well” – unless you have a debilitating disease or illness, then you are otherwise healthy. But what if it were more complex than this?
The World Health Organization (WHO) define health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ But many of us may be dealing with symptoms that we accept as the ‘norm’ as we go about our daily lives, for example we may experience fatigue, feel low, lack energy, sleep poorly, feel anxiety, or put up with food intolerances. It’s possible that these symptoms may be the result of chronic exposure to environmental pollutants, or carrying a body burden (an accumulation of pollutants).
Environmental pollutants and mental wellbeing
Numerous studies have identified a correlation between depression and pesticide exposure. Exposure can lead to an increase in anxiety like symptoms, depressive-like behaviour, prolonged irritability, and cognitive impairments. Further, since the 1940’s there have been recorded incidents of psychiatric illness following pesticide poisoning including; depression with weeping, uneasiness, and an inability to perform familiar tasks following high exposure, sometimes known as ‘brain fog.’
Pesticides and poor gut health
Pesticides and herbicides act as inhibitors on plants to protect them from insects, other pests, weeds, pathogens, and microbes. When ingested they’ve been shown to adversely affect the gut microbiota by changing its abundance and composition, which can cause an imbalance between good and bad bacteria. They mostly affect the beneficial microbes in our gut, by reducing the levels of ‘good’ bacteria which aid in digestion. These imbalances in gut microbiome can lead to a poorly functioning digestive tract.
Further, some harmful bacteria such as salmonella and clostridium have developed a resistance to pesticides, making it harder for the gut to manage potential infections. This imbalance could be why more people now suffer from so many food intolerances and allergies – it may even apply to foods that were once well tolerated. Exposure to pesticides and herbicides could also be one of the drivers of antibiotic resistance.
Can gut microbiota affect our mental health?
Numerous animal studies have connected gut microbiota alterations with behavioural changes. In a study where mice were exposed to glyphosate the researchers found a clear association with anxiety and depressive like behaviours. Imbalances in our gut microbiome arising from exposures to pesticides and herbicides can also lead to neurological deviations. Pesticides have also been sown to disrupt honeybee learning and behaviour.
We don’t know yet how this may also be affecting humans with chronic exposure in low doses.
Can we reduce the impact of pesticides on our health?
The good news is that we can take positive action to reduce our environmental exposure to pesticides and herbicides, starting with eating more organic foods. The Pesticides Action Group regularly update their “Dirty dozen” list and EWG’s “Clean 15” which is a valuable resource to draw from. Gardening without using any pesticides and drinking filtered water filter using a system that removes pesticides is also worth considering.
You can also learn more about improving your intake of healthier food by reading the Ideal Food Plan prepared by dietary experts at Breakspear Medical.