Organic Foods Linked To Better Fertility, Longevity In Fruit Flies

By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

(CBS News) New research shows eating lots of organic food can lead to a healthier life -- if you happen to be a fruit fly.

Scientists fed fruit flies extracts from either organic foods or non-organic, conventionally-grown foods, and found the organic group was healthier and lived longer than their counterparts.

"We don't know why the flies on the organic diet did better. That will require further research. But this is a start toward understanding potential health benefits," study leader Ria Chhabra, a student at Clark High School in Plano, Texas, said in a written statement.

That's right, the study was led by a Texas high school student who got the idea from hearing her parents discuss whether or not it was worth it to buy organic foods for health reasons.

So, Chhabra teamed up with her mentor, Dr. Johannes H. Bauer, an assistant professor of biology at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

"It's rare for a high school student to have such a prominent position in the lab. But Ria has tremendous energy and curiosity, and that convinced me to give this research project a try," Bauer said.

The fruit fly, or Drosophila melanogaster, is used in Bauer's lab and other research facilities to study human diseases including diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer's. Fruit flies are widely used in research because they're cheaper and have a shorter life cycle than other lab animal models.

The researchers went to a grocery store and purchased organic and conventional foods including potatoes, soybeans, raisins and bananas. They fed the flies extracts from these foods, testing each independently to avoid mixing the diets.

They found the flies fed organic foods had better fertility, more resistance to oxidative stress (which is linked to formation of diseases), more resistant to starvation (which measures survival) and lived longer.

"To our surprise, in the majority of the tests that we did...these flies fed the organic diets did much better on our health tests than the flies fed the conventionally-raised food," Bauer said in a university-released video.

Fertility and longevity especially are important measures of health in fruit flies, he said.

The research was published March 26 in PLoS One.

"Does that mean organic diets are definitely healthier for a consumer? We don't know the answer yet," Bauer said of the study's implications in humans.

He noted that some negative or neutral results were found from certain foods like organic raisins, which suggests the beneficial health effects might be specific to certain foods. And while fruit flies have been studied for one hundred years as models for human conditions and diseases, it's always premature to draw conclusions from these studies without testing in humans, he said.

The health benefits from eating organic foods, or risks from eating conventionally-grown foods, have been up for debate in recent years.

The Environmental Working Group releases an annual list of "Dirty Dozen" fruits and vegetables that are most contaminated with pesticides, which the group said it created using government testing data. Exposure to pesticides could cause health problems, especially in developing children, according to the group.

In September, Stanford University researchers reviewed over 200 studies and found there's little evidence that organic food is much healthier, citing only a few differences in antibiotic and pesticide exposures. The organic foods were not found to be more nutritious either.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in October released a statement saying parents who want to reduce their child's pesticide exposure could seek organic fruits and vegetables, but that doesn't mean they're safer or healthier than their conventional equivalents.


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