Eating an organic food diet can boost health, longevity, and fertility, according to a new study of fruit flies that researchers said may have implications for humans, too.
The study, conducted by researchers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, examined the potential health benefits of organic versus non-organic food and found that flies raised on an organic diet performed better on a variety of tests for general health.
"While these findings are certainly intriguing, what we now need to determine is why the flies on the organic diets did better, especially since not all the organic diets we tested provided the same positive health outcomes," said lead researcher Johannes H. Bauer, an SMU biologist.
Ria Chhabra — a student at Clark High School in Plano, Texas, who helped conduct the study with Bauer — said she became interested in the benefits of organic food after hearing her parents discuss whether it's worth it to buy organic foods to achieve possible health benefits.
"We don't know why the flies on the organic diet did better. That will require further research," said Chhabra. “But this is a start toward understanding potential health benefits.”
Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU's Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra by helping guide and design her research experiments. The research focus of Bauer's fruit fly lab is nutrition and its relationship to longevity, health, and diabetes.
"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.
Past studies by other researchers have found conflicting results on the health benefits of organic foods. While several studies have shown elevated nutrient content and lower pesticide contamination levels in organic food, a recent analysis of all available studies concluded no clear trend was apparent.
For the new study, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One, conducted experiments on fruit flies, which are often used as models to study human diseases, from diabetes to heart function to Alzheimer's disease.
The Bauer lab fruit flies were fed organic and nonorganic produce — potatoes, soybeans, raisins, and bananas — purchased from a leading national grocery retailer. The researchers then measured longevity, fertility, stress, and starvation resistance.
"To our surprise, in the majority of our tests of flies on organic foods, the flies fed organic diets did much better on our health tests than the flies fed conventional food," Bauer said. "Longevity and fertility are the two most important aspects of fly life. On both of these tests, flies fed organic diets performed much better than flies fed conventional diets. They lived longer, had higher fertility, and had a much higher lifetime reproductive output."
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