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Dioxins in the Food Supply

Which foods accumulate the highest levels of industrial toxins?

November 26, 2010 |
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Every five years, our government measures the amount of dioxins in our food supply. Dioxins. are toxic waste pollutants spewed out into the atmosphere that accumulate in the fatty tissues of humans, and food animals consumed by humans. The most significant exposure to dioxin-like compounds is thought to be dietary intake of animal and fish products. But which ones, are the worse?
Using data from the EPA published last year, is there more toxic waste in beef, cheese, chicken, eggs, fish, lamb, or pork? When you hear toxic waste and diet, the first thing we should think of is fish, and indeed that was by far the worst, but what’s second worst?
Second only to fish in terms of dioxin levels, eggs. (with cheese the runner-up.) That’s why we got to be careful. If you’re breast feeding for example, then you can reduce infant exposure by avoiding fish, but if you replace that fish with some other food group containing chemicals, like the dioxins in dairy products, then you might not be doing your baby any favors. And we now know that eggs have about 3 times as much as dairy.
This may explain this new study: “Egg consumption and the risk of cancer,” which found that just a half an egg a day or more was associated with about twice the odds of getting mouth cancer, throat cancer, esophageal cancer, and voice box cancer. Three times the odds of getting colon cancer, about twice the odds of rectal cancer and lung cancer, three times the odds of getting breast cancer—just eating a half an egg a day or more. And about twice the odds of prostate cancer, bladder cancer and all cancers combined.
This is from a study last year that measured the amounts of PCBs, DDT, and other dioxins and pesticides inside people’s bodies. Both male, female, infants, children, teens, adults, and the elderly. The red line represents what the EPA considers to be the level at which there’s significantly increased cancer risk. Was there any age group that exceeded that level? Let’s, look at the results. Every single age group.
Ten times that benchmark level of PCBs—the red bar, especially in the bodies of young children. And DDT levels right about at that cancer level across the board. How are still we exposed to DDT—wasn’t it banned decades ago after Silent Spring came out? Yes, but it’s still polluting the environment. As the CDC points out, we’re primarily exposed, through meat, fish, and dairy, though thankfully the levels in the U.S. continue to decline.
A commentary in a journal called Reproductive Toxicology summarized the rather grim situation. Contemporary reproductive aged women and their offspring are facing an unprecedented onslaught of toxicant exposures from myriad sources in their day-to-day life. And it’s not just cancer we’re worried about. Increasing evidence suggests that maternal exposure to toxic chemical compounds may be associated with various birth defects, pediatric problems, skewed gender ratios, lethal cancers in children and teens, psychosexual challenges, as well as reproductive and hormonal dysfunction in later life.
The author concludes: “I anticipate that future generations of scientists will look back with disbelief at a medical culture that permitted poisoning of reproductive aged women and ignored ramifications to unborn children.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on industrial toxins. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: EPA dioxin limit has National Chicken Council worried products could be declared “unfit for consumption”Harvard’s Meat and Mortality StudiesPoultry and Penis CancerBreast Cancer and Diet How Chemically Contaminated Are We?, Fukushima Radiation and Seafood, and Male Fertility and Dietary Pollutants.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on industrial toxins. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

    And check out my associated blog post EPA dioxin limit has National Chicken Council worried products could be declared “unfit for consumption”.

    • Lori

      Dr. Greger,does egg substitutes like, egg beaters, have the same risk?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    I refer to this video in my blog post EPA dioxin limit has National Chicken Council worried products could be declared “unfit for consumption” if anyone is interested in this topic.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/hollygirly310/ hollygirly310

    So does the list go like this: fish, eggs, cheese, beef, lamb, pork, chicken?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/johnbonitz/ JohnBonitz

    I wanted to ask Dr Greger, is he aware of any studies of the toxic content of non-industrial meats? I and my family eat lots of free-range eggs, range chicken, heritage pork, and grass-fed beef, all from farmers whom I know and trust. I feel noticeably worse when I lapse and eat factory-farmed chicken. Also, I recall a study by Mother Earth News showing much higher nutritional content of truly free-range eggs. http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx So I believe we’re doing the right thing.

    But I would like to know if any empirical analysis has been attempted on meats and animal-based foods that were raised the way our grandparents raised animals?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/ridovem/ ridovem

    When I first ‘became acquainted’ with dioxin (late 1970s) I recall that there were several chemicals in this group… and the one which attracted the most concern was “TCCD” dioxin. Is that still the case? Does the government study distinguish between the various compounds? Are we more likely to encounter certain ones?
    I appreciate having this info accessible. Thanks! ^..^

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drdons/ DrDons

      You are correct that several chemicals in the group and they have different toxic effects. When they enter the environment most commonly from burning of waste they enter as a mixture. So each chemical is measured and multiplied by its toxic equivalency factor to estimate the overall effect. The estimated half life of these substances in the human body has been estimated at between 1 to 7 years. These estimates are based on studies done in cases of large industrial exposures. So you will encounter a variety in the environment but the exposure for those on a plant based diet is only about 2% of those on the standard american diet. Complicated area… take home message… the best approach is a whole food plant based diet. The good news is the amount in the environment is decreasing.. the bad news the amount of other chemicals like flame retardants is going up. See other videos including http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/flame-retardant-chemical-contamination-2/

  • http://www.facebook.com/mkla31 Mikayla Cruz

    So…What is safe to eat, then?

    • Harel B

       Mikala, I can’t speak for Dr. G but it seems that vegan sources (no meat, dairy or eggs…the rest of this website and the website of PCRM have lots of info on vegan diets) help avoid most of it. I’ve found this chart on the web:

      http://www.ejnet.org/dioxin/dioxininfood.gif

      As you can see the lowest bar is the one marked “vegan diet”

    • Kartoffelmao

      Also eating organic helps with avoiding some heavy metals and other contaminents used in fertilizers and pesticides.

  • Harel B

    Dr. Greger – very much a wake-up call, alarming…but I have two questions

    1. The graph at 2:12 is alarming, but is there a graph you can show us that shows the answers for vegan populations (or even not by age group but just overall)?

    hopefully lower graphs but how much are we exposed to from other sources, I don’t know..(of course a more careful analysis would grade into several levels, depending on how many years vegan or maybe how many years non-vegan that person has eaten in their life so far, and show us the average for each such catetory)

    2. I remember as clearly as yesterday reading this in 1999 on BBC, just google for “British breast milk ‘highly contaminated’” It reads in part,

    “British babies fed on breast milk could be receiving as much as 40 times
    World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended levels of a wide range of
    potentially harmful chemicals, says a report.

    “The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says more than 350 man-made
    pollutants have been identified in the breast milk of women in the UK. These include 87 dioxins, the poison which sparked the recent…”

    Dr Greger – What’s the update in 2012, 13 years later, surely we know more?

    I even tried to contact WWF about two years ago but got not reply from the one source I tried. Has the research during 1999-2012 confirmed, or strengthened, or weakened, the worries about, confirmed or contradicted the amounts, etc? Or have virtually no studies been done in the past 13 yeas (which would be shocking but shocking things happen in terms of what’s studies and what’s not studied..)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=743412894 Louisa Dell’Amico

    What about farm animals that are fed organic feed? I’m thinking that synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, etc cannot be used for organic crops, but crops could be contaminated by chemicals in the atmosphere just like conventional crops? For that matter, so can the organic produce, grains, etc that we purchase?
    Thank you for all this wonderful information and for making it accessible to everyone and anyone. Louisa

  • Christine

    Hi Dr. Gregor, I love your website. Thank you so much for all your efforts. I was wondering where that graph comes from, the one that was from last year’s study where they tested the levels of 4 different toxins in humans by age group. I don’t think it was from the articles listed in your references, and I couldn’t find it when I searched pubmed. I just was wondering what country that study took place in and was hoping to get the reference. Thank you!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mel.haynes Mel Haynes

    http://www.epa.gov/dioxin/pdfs/EPA_Dioxin-Factsheet-2012.pdf this fact sheet seems to show the EPA doesn’t feel dioxins are a problem? Id love to know your views on this – is it just changing evidence? Are they required to support the ADA guidelines?

    Kind regards,

    Mel

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      The “fact” sheet you referenced correctly states that the air emissions have gone down and our exposure is “low” level. Unfortunately dioxin family is the most carcinogenic substance known so even low levels are not good. They have a long half life in the body of up to 7 years. By going plant based you can reduce your exposure to as low as possible while allowing the body to rid itself of the dioxins that have built up in your body if you have been eating the standard american diet or vegetarian with dairy/eggs.

  • me8932

    I have recently switched to a plant based diet. I’m loving it and my health has improved significantly, but I worry that I may be consuming large amounts of pesticides. I can’t source exclusively organic veg, but I do wash everything before cooking / eating. Is this enough? Is there a way of washing veg that has been shown to be most effective?

    • Thea

      me8932: Congratulations on switching to the healthiest human diet on the planet!

      I have heard your concern from other people before. While I don’t have an answer to your exact question, I hope the following thoughts will ease your fears:

      Dr. Greger has a great blog post where he puts pesticide consumption into perspective. :
      “A new study calculated that if half the U.S. population ate just one more serving of conventional fruits and vegetables, 20,000 cases of cancer could be prevented. At the same time the added pesticide consumption could cause up to 10 extra cancer cases. So by eating conventional produce we may get a tiny bump in cancer risk, but that’s more than compensated by the dramatic drop in risk that accompanies whole food plant consumption. Even if all we had to eat was the most contaminated produce the benefits would far outweigh any risks.”

      from: http://nutritionfacts.org/2013/06/25/apple-peels-turn-on-anticancer-genes/
      I translate this bit of info into: Eat organic when you can, but don’t stress about it when you can’t.
      Happily, there is a way to take this advice a step further to minimize your risks without completely depleting the pocketbook. Every year, the Environmental Working Group actually measures pesticide levels in fruits and veggies–after those fruits and veggies have been prepared in the way people would normally eat them. (For example, peeling a banana or washing first.) If you scroll down on the following page, you will see a list for the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen”.

      http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

      I bring your attention to these lists because I think they are very helpful for people who can’t afford to eat organic for everything. You could use these lists to help you decide when it is worth putting down money for organic and when it might be safer to buy non-organic.

      I hope this helps!

      • me8932

        It certainly does help – thank you for the quick and comprehensive response! I really appreciate Dr Greger and all the NF team’s efforts in getting this vital information out to the public.

  • Bill Gere

    Question for the Doctor;

    This video got me thinking about pesticides and other toxic residue on fruits and vegetables. Do you have any data that supports the use of ultrasonic cleaning to remove these hazards? I did find one study from Thailand which did recommend warm water and 10 minutes of ultrasonic therapy, but wanted to hear your wisdom. I suppose that a better question is “Which method best cleans fruits and vegetables”.

    Thanks for all you do!

    Ultrasound and pesticide residue:
    As. J. Food Ag-Ind. 2012, 5(05), 364-373

  • Kate McConaughy

    Chlorophyll derived from Chlorella inhibits dioxin absorption http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240248/