There have always been doubts about the impact of phytochemicals on both food quality and consumer health. The reasons lie not only in the great variety of herbicides, herbicides, pesticides and insecticides on the market (organochlorines, carbamates, organophosphorus, etc.), but also in the exponential consumption that has been made especially in the last forty years. Effects have been hypothesized on many organs and, after many researches, it has been possible to ascertain that there is a certain mutagenic, cytotoxic and also carcinogenic activity of these molecules on some animal and human organs. For aromatics (e.g. atriazine) and organochlorines (e.g. chlordane) there was confirmation of their ability to increase the risk of leukemia and liver tumors, while for carbamates there would be greater correlation with the appearance of tumors at the lungs and of the nervous system.
But apart from the neoplasms, there is a whole scientific literature that demonstrates the direct correlation between acute exposure to certain categories of phytochemicals, especially organochlorine and organophosphorus, and late neurological damage. Even a single incautious exposure to these molecules has led to the manifest clinical appearance of Parkinson-like syndromes (PDL), multiple sclerosis (MS) or similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). As can be ingested, the most striking cases are to be registered among the farmers who, often in the past, operated anti-parasitic treatments without the simplest protective equipment. There are documented cases of subjects that after a single exposure of 1-2 hours to organ-phosphorus, while not reporting symptoms of “nerve gas” poisoning, have developed a clear neurological symptomatology 6-12 months later.
Considering that the permanence of some phytochemicals in the soil is relatively long (months), it is not impossible that contamination of vegetables and vegetables can happen. However, it is worth pointing out that there are several factors influencing the appearance of any harmful effects. First of all, the dose of the chemical product used at the origin, then the frequency with which it is possible to access plant products that have been treated with that specific phytochemical category; finally, the type of vegetables consumed and the state of health of those who take them also is taken into account. This last statement means that the risk of developing degenerative diseases, after consumption of phytochemical contaminated plants, is directly related to the dose of ingested phytochemical and to the biological soil that this substance finds. Clarifying, if the subject who ingested fruit or vegetables clearly contaminated with one of the phytochemicals mentioned, associates additional risk factors related to the diet (e.g. low intake of antioxidants or chemopreventive substances) and not (e.g. strong smoking, alcohol abuse), the probability that the two or more factors contribute to a net cell damage is greater.
Clearly, in acute a massive dose of toxic generates a cellular damage so extensive that over time it can not be compensated: it is on this basis that appears the symptomatology of destruction of the target nerve structures. S thus explains the appearance of multiple sclerosis if the phytochemical damaged myelin; or Parkinson’s disease if the target was the black substance of the cerebral head; or SLA-like syndromes if the spinal cord neurons were destroyed in good proportion. In chronic exposure, on the other hand, the neoplastic pathology is the most probable: on the same basis, a chronic phytochemical exposure below the threshold, in a cellular medium, provoking antioxidant defenses, increases the risk of DNA mutations and therefore to degenerate in a tumoral sense. In the case of farmers who have developed clinical symptoms after short exposures, on the other hand, it is evident that the phytochemical dose is the major determinant. In fact, it is recalled that the state of antioxidant defenses is the first line of defense against external aggressions. Having a diet rich in antioxidants or vitamins with this power (eg vitamin C or E), gives a certain degree of protection from exogenous chemical aggression.
Antioxidant vitamins and polyphenols directly remove many types of free radicals, even those that derive from the metabolism of phytochemicals and which are then responsible for cell damage. In addition to a diet aimed at replenishing organic stocks of antioxidant vitamins, it is recalled that formulations as supplements are widely available on the market and safe to be taken with cyclicality. Guaranteed that natural antioxidant substances are most represented in the plant kingdom, this does not mean to stop eating fruit or vegetables because the “ghost” of the harmful chemical is always around the corner. If you also have the will, it is good practice to take antioxidants also in the form of a supplement. But, again, not for the fear that in this way you remain immune from the toxicity of phytochemicals; but for the principle of general good prevention.
And eventually, even against pesticides …….
- edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.
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Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci
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