Dr. Paul's Research Perspectives
Vitamins, organic food and your health
Researchers are uncovering more reasons to get your daily allowances—and they say organic foods may be the best sources

By Paul Hepperly

Editors' note:
As New Farm Research and Training Manager at The Rodale Institute, Dr. Paul Hepperly has been a regular contributor to NewFarm.org for some time, providing research updates, op-ed pieces, and white papers on topics like carbon sequestration in organic farming systems.

None of those venues do full justice to the range of Paul's experience, however. Paul grew up on a family farm in Illinois and holds a Ph.D. in plant pathology, an M.S. in agronomy and a B.S. in psychology from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He has worked for the USDA Agricultural Research Service, in academia, and for a number of private seed companies, including Asgrow, Pioneer, and DeKalb. He has overseen research in Hawaii, Iowa, Puerto Rico, and Chile, and investigated such diverse crops as soybeans, corn, sorghum, sunflowers, ginger, and papaya. He has witnessed the move toward biotech among the traditional plant breeding community and the move toward organics among new wave of upcoming young farmers. Beford coming to the Rodale Institute Paul worked with hill farmers in India to help them overcome problems with ginger root rot in collaboration with Winrock International.

Now we've decided to give Paul his own column, in which he can report on agricultural research from around the world and reflect on its relevance to The Rodale Institute's research program and to the progress of sustainable agriculture more generally in light of his own broad perspective. Enjoy.

December 23, 2004: The New York Academy of Sciences recently sponsored a congress of leading experts on vitamin E from around the world. The congress showcased the extensive and complex role vitamin E plays in human health. Vitamin E was reported to stall the progression of Alzheimer's disease, and, according to a French study, in combination with vitamin C was found to prevent Alzheimer's if treatment preceded symptom expression. Vitamins E and C together also controlled preeclampsia. A randomized trial showed that vitamin E reduced colds in the elderly by 25 percent, while another trial indicated it could help prevent heart attacks1

Professor Maret Traber, Ph.D., of Oregon State University, estimates that 20 to 30 percent of all American adults fail to get their recommended daily allowance of vitamin E on a consistent basis. According to Traber, moreover, there are eight different natural forms of vitamin E, and natural vitamins can have one and one-half times more biological activity than synthetic forms2. Vitamins E and A deficiencies are much more common in developing tropical countries than in temperate developed countries. In developing countries vitamin A deficiencies result in a high incidence of nutritionally caused blindness.

On a biochemical level, higher animals and fishes have been found to have a specific transport protein, called TTT, whose sole function is to transport vitamin E in blood. As University of Bonn researcher Angelo Azzi has observed, of the thousands of antioxidants, apparently only vitamin E has a unique protein of this type. This points to a high and unique biological importance for this vitamin.

According to Danish food scientists, 7 out of 10 samples of organic milk contained significantly more vitamin E than conventional—despite the fact that, as the researchers noted, “synthetic vitamin [E] is added to conventional milk.” In addition to vitamin E's health benefits, as an antioxidant it also prolongs the shelf-life of milk. Researchers linked higher vitamin E levels in organic milk with the organic cows' diet, which was higher in pasture grasses and legumes compared to that of the confined conventional cows, who received mostly corn grain and silage3.

Besides vitamin E, the Danish researchers found organic milk was significantly higher in a number of flavor components and two to three times higher in carotenoids such as beta-carotene4 . Carotenoids are bright yellow, orange and red pigments that are vital to human health by acting as cell protectants, powerful antioxidants, and immune system stimulators. Researchers have found that beta-carotene can have preventive effects against heart disease and certain cancers5. Beta-carotene is most beneficial when it is provided by a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables and when combined with vitamins E, C, and selenium.

From these studies, it appears that organic milk may supply key fat-soluble vitamins more effectively than conventional milk. If nutritional theory holds out, better health can result from using natural organic milk and its products. Finally, research like this corroborates the taste advantage of organic foods that organic consumers have already identified through their shopping habits.

2 http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/sp-su98/vitamine.html
3 http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/

4 http://www.darcof.dk/enews/sep04/milk.html
5 http://www.wholehealthmd.com/news/viewarticle/
; http://www.wholehealthmd.com/news/viewarticle/

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