Since Sikkim became the first organic paddy farming state in India in 2015, many other countries have shown interest in working towards establishing a safe and organic food industry.
Senior Professor and Chairman of the Department of Food Science & Technology at the University of Sri Jayawardenepura, K.K.D.S Ranaweera, explained how people can avoid diseases like cancer by consuming organic food. The professor also explained why people should change the present system and adopt the old system of farming and food consumption.
“The Gene Structure of humans who lived 10,000 years ago was different compared to the modern humans. The majority of the food they consumed were of plant origin and not artificial like today. Maybe the food we consume today is incompatible with our genes and it is causing non-communicable diseases.
“Those people lived before the boom in the pharmaceutical industry and controlled diseases with the food and the medicines found in the wild. They didn’t consume higher levels of sugar or anything artificial. Their drinking water was not contaminated with harmful chemicals and they didn’t have diseases such as Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). ” Professor Ranaweera said.
How are cancer cells formed?
“The human life starts with one cell dividing and multiplying into trillions of cells which are then coordinated. There are about 80-100 trillion cells in the human body. The coordination keeps the cells well tuned into do what is expected.
“This coordination is broken sometimes when the cells lose control and become abnormal. Genes sometimes change themselves in a way that could develop cancer cells. Cancer cells have an advanced defensive mechanism when compared to healthy cells in our body. They can move anywhere. They grow without control in blood cells and lymphatic cells.
Cancer cells make a lump or a cluster of cells, grow and spread. This is how cancer cells grow except for Leukemia cells. There are more than 100 types of cancer. Abnormal genes inside a cell are the cause of this abnormality.
“A developing fetus has the best gene combination of father and mother. When the baby’s genes fail to meet the demands of the environment it is being born to, stillbirths occur as a result of the ‘Natural Selection’, which might create a baby with resistance to the Viruses like HIV, in the future.” professor Ranaweera noted. A gene is a sequence (a string) of bases. It’s made up of combinations of A, T, C, and G. These unique combinations determine the gene’s function, much as letters join together to form words. Each person has thousands of genes – billions of base pairs of DNA or bits of information repeated in the nuclei of human cells -which determine individual characteristics (genetic traits), MedicineNet.com says.
There are friendly as well as unfriendly genes in our body. Friendly genes help us to fight diseases and suppress the bad ones, while some do help the spread of diseases. Some genes get ‘silenced’ (by attaching to a part of Methyl or CH3) and loses the ability to help us in fighting diseases. Gene Silencing is resulted by the food and drinks we consume while other factors are stress, food additives, certain medications and drugs. (Medicines are as harmful as pesticides, even though we do not think deeply of the danger of the former.)
Irradiation (exposure into a radioactive substance), Ultra Violet rays, X rays, Cigarette smoke, a high dose of medicine as well as long-term consumption of medicines, pesticides, chewing betel nut with tobacco, some viruses and most serious ‘Free Radicals’ make cancer cells except for gene silencing.” Professor Ranaweera explained.
The story of Free Radicals
Unpaired electrons are called free radicals – an atom or atoms with at least one unpaired electron; in the body, it is usually an oxygen molecule that has lost an electron and will stabilize itself by stealing an electron from a nearby electron – (defined by the Vocabulary.com)
“These free radicals are made in our body. They are made naturally. Those are aggressive and try to bond themselves with another electron, regardless of whether it is good or bad.
Then the robbed electron becomes a free radical (because there is only one electron) This robbing and pairing might proceed in a chain, and the entire DNA molecule could be changed, generating a cancer cell. Free radicals display both good and bad traits as well as fighting viruses and bacteria.
Oxidation (exposure to air) can get one electron out of a paired electron other than free radicals. Cigarette smoke might have oxidation compounds, which force one electron out of the bond. Free radicals cause Cancers and Organ damage (Liver -the machine in human). Pesticides and other chemicals are far harmful to the liver than liquor.
If one electron volunteered to give an electron of its’ pair, the chain reaction stops. Those volunteers are called antioxidants that are so common in fruits and vegetables.
“We can control this dangerous play of free radicals by consuming more fruits and vegetables. It is true, fruits and vegetables can prevent the formation of cancer cells, but from where on the earth comes fruits and vegetables free of chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides?” he questioned.
Chemicals and the food chain
“It was discovered that artificial chemicals avoid the damage of pests and weeds and improved harvest. The West began to research on food species and introduced their new, but less successful varieties and developed the existing ones. Even then we had developed agricultural practices in Sri Lanka, which were later replaced by the Westerners.
“They acquired and deposited those samples in their ‘Gene Banks’ in the guise of offering scholarships to countrymen, In the name of “International Rice Research”. It was easier for them to manipulate us since the islanders always looked down upon themselves.
“New varieties were lower in quality compared to the local ones which had great characteristics of resisting salt and floods. Punctual management, proper caring and more water were needed for the newly introduced ones. However the root system was also weaker and chemicals were mandatory in all paces of cultivation. The commonly used chemicals eventually became hazards not only for pests and to the soil, but also for the farming and consuming human, environment and the wildlife.
Years passed and the farmers couldn’t survive without pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Many of them are still unaware of the toxicity of these highly poisonous substances. After knowing of these dangers, some farmers grow vegetables and crops for their own consumption, free of chemicals. Responsible Government officials lack the interest to inform and explain the dangers of these hazards.” he pointed out.
We can control this dangerous play of free radicals by consuming more fruits and vegetables. It is true, fruits and vegetables can prevent the formation of cancer cells
“Some farmers make a ‘Cocktail’ by mixing several pesticides together. They are unaware of the fact that when applying these to vegetations such as Snake Gourd most of the spray falls back on them. It takes time to decompose chemicals in vegetations.
Therefore farmers are advised to use them at least two weeks before harvesting time, but they use it the day before. They have no understanding of the doze too.
“Using Glyphosate in tea plantations is quite popular in the hills while some paddy farmers use the same substance for their rice harvest, expecting a smooth and separate bran (the outer husks of the grain) and the seed during threshing. Manioc farmers are using it around the bush a few days prior to harvesting so that the entire bush comes out smoothly.
These are the results of the restricted connection between farmers and the immediate Agrarian officers. Private agrochemical firms take this opportunity to reach farmers, giving ‘sound advice’ and good chemicals for crops. The remaining gap in these loopholes allow the malpractices and misuse of pesticides and fertilizers.
Sri Lanka is a paddy farming country inheriting a proud history of successful agriculture, but hasn’t yet produced any equipment to test the percentage of pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals present in the crops.
Sri Lankan farmers are still using banned pesticides secretly. Many of these pesticides dissolve in the fat layer in our body since many pesticides are not water-soluble. Therefore the pesticides we consume could have been stored in our body, in the forms of Vitamin A & D. These substances will produce unhealthy long-term results.” Professor Ranaweera noted.
Fruits and vegetables
“The majority of fruits and vegetables we consume are results of the basic needs of plants (Primary Metabolize), such as fruits and seeds. Some plants have unique characteristics developed to protect themselves from herbivores, to resist drought, salinity and floods, and attract animals etc, – these fall into Secondary Metabolize which are known as “Bio-Active Compounds.” These are present in spices (Cinnamon), food, antibiotics.
The bright red colour in Water Melon and Tomatoes is a pigment called Lycopene present in fruits and vegetables in Carotenoid Family. Lycopene is strong enough to fight free radicals, Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL – bad cholesterol) in blood, and cancers in Pancreas, Colon, Rectum, Esophagus, Breasts, Teeth and even the Cervix. (Lycopene pigment emanate only when the food is cooked or heated up.) Vegetables in Brassicaceae family including Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Chinese Cabbage, Cauliflower, Radish, Mustard and Turnips have a natural component, a bioactive group called “Glucosinolate”s, which protect the body from cancers. Eating those vegetables is like having medicine.
But there will be benefits only if the vegetables are planted naturally, without the use of chemicals. According to the results of a university research, Purple Cabbage is rich in glucosinolates. Chewing the food will give the best effects. The majority of fruits and vegetables are rich in flavonoids, Isophane, and saponins that may help lower the risk of cancers.
Small Onions, Green Tea, Red Grapes have a component called ‘Quercetin’ which helps the DNA methylation in a good way. ‘Genistein’ present in Soy Bean and Curcumin changes the DNA methylation according to the bodily needs. Vegetables belonging to the Caretonoid family like Pumpkin and Carrot as well as fruits like Mango also possess antioxidants.
The commonly used chemicals eventually became hazards not only for pests and to the soil, but also for the farming and consuming human
Many farmers and sellers use calcium carbide (highly carcinogenic substance) to forcefully ripen fruits as mango, pineapple, and bananas. Many fertilizers could include heavy metals, which are harmful to human health.
Nearly all the harmful chemicals are used in leafy green vegetations. Cleaning vegetables and soaking them in moderately warm salt water to remove chemical residue is also important. Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Turmeric water play important roles in removing these chemicals and germs.
These fruits and vegetables help us get rid of diseases like cancer and to take advantage of that we should cultivate our fruits and vegetables organically.
“A proper monitoring system and a value chain must be implemented by the Government. Consumers, farmers, retailers, transporters and all related should not miss this since food safety is a collective responsibility.” he concluded.