pesticide spray

Pesticides and Their Effect on Gut Health

By Anita Fernandes, Wellness Blogger

It’s easy to dismiss the growing popularity of organic foods as nothing more than hype. Unfortunately, there’s increasing evidence that most of the food products we consume today are contaminated with chemical pesticides.

Many of the most commonly used pesticides have been linked to serious health risks. Some of these risks include:

  • Neurological Problems
  • Respiratory Disorders
  • Infertility
  • Birth Defects

While these issues are a cause for concern, the impact pesticides have on gut health hasn’t been uncovered until recently. Let’s take a look at the potential damage pesticides may cause your gut biome.

Pesticides and Gut Health

There is no doubt that pesticides increase crop yields, but the indiscriminate use of these chemicals has resulted in the widespread contamination of our food.

According to the pesticide watchgroup, Environmental Working Group (EWG):

“Nearly 70 percent of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues, according to EWG’s analysis of test data from the Department of Agriculture for our 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™.
The most surprising news from the USDA tests reveals that the popular health food kale is among the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. More than 92 percent of kale samples had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could contain up to 18 different residues. The most frequently detected pesticide, found on nearly 60 percent of kale samples, was Dacthal, or DCPA – classified by the Environmental Protection Agency since 1995 as a possible human carcinogen, and prohibited for use in Europe since 2009 1.”

fruits with pesticides
Buy organic for gut health

Furthermore, 90% of the samples of the following fruits and veggies showed traces of pesticide residue:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Kale

Here are some of the most common pesticide popping up on produce and harming the intestinal flora in your gut biome.


Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate pesticide used extensively on crops to kill pests including insects and worms. Using these pesticides is banned for home use in the US, but it is still one of the most popular pesticide ingredients used in agriculture today. That makes it extremely dangerous for those who eat antioxidant-rich fruits while following a healthy gut diet plan.

Pesticides hurt everyone

This pesticide kills insects by inhibiting a specific enzyme which disrupts the normal functioning of an insect’s nervous system. Unfortunately, research shows it’s doing the same to children. An analysis found that 20 children whose parents were exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos due to bug spray used in the Dominican had thinning areas in the cerebral cortex 2.

These children’s brains were compared to children of New York mothers, where chlorpyrifos levels are low.

Pesticides and Weight Gain

Studies show that chlorpyrifos significantly alters gut microbiota composition by increasing the number of opportunistic pathogens as well as bacteria associated with obese phenotypes 3.

These results indicate that people who are exposed to chlorpyrifos are more likely to suffer from weight gain and obesity. Chlorpyrifos is particularly dangerous because the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that people in the US consume 0.009 micrograms of chlorpyrifos per kilogram of their body weight only from pesticide residue on food 4. Furthermore, the EPA scientists state that there is no known safe level of exposure for chlorpyrifos.


Glyphosate is a chemical that is used to kill weeds and unwanted grass. The FDA has approved this herbicide for a wide range of crops including:

Don’t fall for the dark side of wheat

  • Corn
  • Grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • The pesticide is applied to the leaves and absorbed by the plant. This chemical then blocks a specific enzyme that the plant requires to survive. This is why glyphosate is often used along with genetically modified glyphosate-resistant crops.

    Glysophate and Gut Biome

    While good for hurting weeds, glyphosates can also affect humans. Based on 1,000 studies (most only animals but some human analyses as well), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans 5.”

    Recent studies show that glyphosate-based herbicides cause gut microbiota (GM) alterations 6. These changes include a significant decrease in healthy gut bacteria, including:

    • FirmicutesBacteroides• LactobacillusAnimal tests indicate that exposure to glyphosates can induce anxiety and depression-like behaviors 7. This is much in thanks to the gut brain connection.


    Carbamate is a common ingredient in household sprays and includes insect repellents such as DEET (diethyltoluamide) and citronella. It is also used in agricultural insecticides as it is effective against 160 types of harmful insects.

    Keep loved ones in mind when buying food

    Women are more vulnerable to carbamate pesticides as sufficient exposure to this pesticide results in adverse reproductive outcomes, including neurodevelopmental issues and childhood behavioral problems 8.

    Studies show that some carbamate pesticides have a tremendous effect on the gut biome. The gut has several mechanisms to restrain pathogen growth. However, researchers discovered that exposure to carbamate pesticides resulted in a diminished ability of the microbiota to protect against these pathogens 9. They also found that carbamate induced oxidative stress along with DNA damage and protein degradation.

    How to Improve Gut Health Against Pesticides

    An FDA expert recommends that all produce should be washed under running water to get rid of surface contaminants 10. Although you don’t need to use a produce wash, you should use a vegetable brush to clean firm produce such as apples and cucumbers. These methods will help to reduce your exposure to pesticides, but they cannot eliminate it.

    Also, stop using bug spray. Try all-natural alternatives like essential oils. Citronella, cinnamon, and sandalwood essential oils are effective at deterring pests from biting you.

    The most effective way to counter the effects of pesticides on your gut microbiota is to take active measures to improve your gut health. Try microbiome testing with the Thryve Gut Health Program.
    At-Home Gut Health Test Kit
    Take the time to Thryve Inside

    That way, they can pinpoint the stomach bacteria that are causing GI problems. From there, they formulate personalized probiotics supplements that are tailored for your gut biome.

    Consuming probiotics increases the populations of healthy bacteria and suppresses the proliferation of pathogens. Some probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus enhance the integrity of the intestinal barrier and improve immune function. Studies show that the ingestion of probiotics can reduce the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other chronic gastrointestinal conditions. Human gut microbiomes vary greatly from person to person which is why a personalized probiotic plan can offer greater benefits than a general plan.

    Anita Fernandes is a journalist and a writer by profession. She has been writing extensively on health and wellness related topics for a little over a decade now. Besides her professional interests, she loves a game of basketball or a good hike in her free time to fuel her spirits. “Health is wealth” is one motto of life which she lives by as well as advocates to every reader, who comes across her blogs.

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    • 1 Environmental Working Group. “EWG’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™.” EWG’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce | Summary, www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php.
    • 2 Biello, David. “Common Pesticide ‘Disturbs’ the Brains of Children.” Scientific American Blog Network, 1 May 2012, blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/common-pesticide-disturbs-the-brains-of-children/.
    • 3 Staley, Z. R., Harwood, V. J., & Rohr, J. R. (2015). A synthesis of the effects of pesticides on microbial persistence in aquatic ecosystems. Critical reviews in toxicology, 45(10), 813–836. doi:10.3109/10408444.2015.1065471.
    • 4 OFFICE OF PREVENTION, PESTICIDES AND TOXIC SUBSTANCES. “US EPA – Pesticides – Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision (IRED) for Chlorpyrifos.” UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, 2006, www3.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/reg_actions/reregistration/ired_PC-059101_28-Sep-01.pdf.
    • 5 “IARC Monograph on Glyphosate.” IARC, www.iarc.fr/featured-news/media-centre-iarc-news-glyphosate/.
    • 6 “Glyphosate Has Limited Short-Term Effects on Commensal Bacterial Community Composition in the Gut Environment Due to Sufficient Aromatic Amino Acid Levels.” Environmental Pollution, Elsevier, 5 Nov. 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749117328099.
    • 7 Aitbali, Yassine, et al. “Glyphosate Based- Herbicide Exposure Affects Gut Microbiota, Anxiety and Depression-like Behaviors in Mice.” Neurotoxicology and Teratology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29635013.
    • 8 Forde, Martin S, et al. “Evaluation of Exposure to Organophosphate, Carbamate, Phenoxy Acid, and Chlorophenol Pesticides in Pregnant Women from 10 Caribbean Countries.” Environmental Science. Processes & Impacts, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26238297.
    • 9 Nicolopoulou-Stamati, P., Maipas, S., Kotampasi, C., Stamatis, P., & Hens, L. (2016). Chemical Pesticides and Human Health: The Urgent Need for a New Concept in Agriculture. Frontiers in public health, 4, 148. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2016.00148.
    • 10 Commissioner, Office of the. “7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/7-tips-cleaning-fruits-vegetables.

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