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Organic Food vs. Conventional: Is There Any Difference?

Megan Pribyl, PT, CMPT is a practicing physical therapist at the Olathe Medical Center in Olathe, KS treating a diverse outpatient population in orthopedics including pelvic rehabilitation. Megan’s longstanding passion for both nutritional sciences and manual therapy has culminated in the creation of her remote course, Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist, designed to propel understanding of human physiology as it relates to pelvic conditions, pain, healing, and therapeutic response. She harnesses her passion to continually update this course with cutting-edge discoveries creating a unique experience sure to elevate your level of appreciation for the complex and fascinating nature of clinical presentations in orthopedic manual therapy and pelvic rehabilitation.

 

As a course developer and instructor for the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehab Institute, it is a privilege to continue sharing my passion for nutrition and pelvic rehabilitation with professionals nationwide. Interest in the topic continues to grow, and many pelvic rehab providers have identified nutrition as the “missing link” in their clinical practice. Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist has helped hundreds of pelvic rehab professionals integrate nutrition-related information into their clinical practice since 2015.

In the realm of nutrition, few questions provoke discussion with the same fervor as our title question: Organic Food vs. Conventional: Is There Any Difference? This question deserves a multi-dimensional answer - not unlike many topics in nutrition - including accessibility concerns, ethical factors for farmers, socio-economic factors, and our unique agricultural construct here in the United States. But the question about organic vs. conventional might just be the most important one deserving a thoughtful discussion to unravel the complexities around the topic of food.

You see, the answer to this question has profound implications for us. As we expand our ability to identify potential root contributors to conditions commonly encountered in pelvic rehabilitation, we must factor in nutrition. At first glance, it might be a stretch to see how one might link organic foods and potential effects on conditions such as constipation, inflammatory bowel diseases, IBS, PBS, and endometriosis for example. However, looking at food in a functional way, we acknowledge there may be under-appreciated qualitative differences between foods grown organically or produced conventionally.

Take, for example, the recent article by Kesse-Guyot et.al., 2020. which discusses the prospective association between organic food consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes. In this study of over 30,000 participants, those with the highest quintile of organic food consumption compared to those with the lowest quintile had a 35% lower risk of having type 2 diabetes. The conclusion made by the authors was that organic food consumption was inversely associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Said a different way, the study described a phenomenon where, for example, you might eat an organic bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and I might eat the same serving size conventional bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. If we extrapolate the comparison over our entire dietary intake pattern, you would have a 35% lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes compared to me…..despite you and I “eating the same foods”. How can this be possible? And might this begin to explain the sheer exasperation and frustration that can evolve in persons trying to make positive dietary changes - only to find they have no notable effect? How many times do you hear someone say “I am trying to eat healthily but it doesn’t seem to make a difference”.

Keeping in the context of type 2 diabetes, it is very well established that reductions in the richness and diversity of healthy microbes inhabiting the large intestine (gut dysbiosis) are correlative to metabolic syndrome. In those with type 2 diabetes, microbiomes showed a decrease in anti-inflammatory, probiotic, and other [beneficial] bacteria that could be pathogenic. (Das et al, 2021) Appreciating the differences between organic vs conventional - it is also well established that organic foods do carry less residue of herbicides and pesticides. These residues - which are found in higher concentration in conventionally produced foods - have been implicated in the same reduction in richness and diversity of microorganisms in the gut - which is contributory to dysbiosis. (Rueda-Ruzafa et all, 2019) Therefore it now seems not just plausible - but probable that there is a distinguishable difference between organic and conventional diets - to a degree at which all health care providers would do well to take notice.

In a report on the history of organic agriculture, author George Kuepper points out that:

Pioneers of the organic movement believed that healthy food produced healthy people and that healthy people were the basis for a healthy society.

And if organic foods can be a part of that, our patients deserve to know that these scientifically documented differences exist.

As our awareness of the connection between nutrition and health grows, so does the need to follow the science to share evidence-based and evidence-informed information. It is now more important than ever to have a working knowledge of nutrition basics as a pelvic rehabilitation professional. Plan to join us at one of our upcoming remote offerings of “Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist”: June 19-20 where we will explore this and many additional - and fascinating facets of the nutrition discussion.


Das, T., Jayasudha, R., Chakravarthy, S., Prashanthi, G. S., Bhargava, A., Tyagi, M., . . . Shivaji, S. (2021). Alterations in the gut bacterial microbiome in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus and diabetic retinopathy. Sci Rep, 11(1), 2738. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-82538-0

Kesse-Guyot, E., Rebouillat, P., Payrastre, L., Alles, B., Fezeu, L. K., Druesne-Pecollo, N., . . . Baudry, J. (2020). Prospective association between organic food consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: findings from the NutriNet-Sante cohort study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act, 17(1), 136. doi:10.1186/s12966-020-01038-y

Kuepper, George. (2010) A Brief Overview of the History and Philosophy of Organic Agriculture. Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture. http://kerrcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/organic-philosophy-report.pdf Accessed May 14, 2021.

Rueda-Ruzafa, L., Cruz, F., Roman, P., & Cardona, D. (2019). Gut microbiota and neurological effects of glyphosate. Neurotoxicology, 75, 1-8. doi:10.1016/j.neuro.2019.08.006

Images:
Par, Cecilia for Unsplash.
USDA organic seal.svg. Public Domain.
Interview with Allyson Shrikhande on Physiatry
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