Does Eating Organic Foods Reduce Cancer? Researchers in France Say “Yes”
It’s official: Eating organic foods reduces your risk for developing cancer. New research out of the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale in France indicates that choosing organic foods over conventionally grown foods can reduce your risk of cancer by 25 percent.
That’s pretty astounding, especially considering that more than 90 percent of the U.S. population harbors detectable pesticides in their blood and urine. What does this mean for our future health? Well, for one thing, it means that big companies that continue to defend the use of pesticides on food products may have to start owning the data. Non-industry-funded research repeatedly links these chemicals to cancer. Another thing to consider? This new French study comes on the heels of Environmental Working Group’s recent testing that detected glyphosate in cereal. It appears that Monsanto’s Roundup and other pesticides are downright dangerous for our health.
What Is Organic Food?
Organic foods are produced without the use of:
- Chemical pesticides
- Synthetic fertilizers
- Sewage sludge
- Ionizing radiation
- Bioengineering (GMOs)
To be labeled organic, a government-approved certifier inspects the farm and approves the food product. This happens to make sure the grower is following the rules set in place by the United States Department of Agriculture.
When it comes to organic farming, there are strict standards and inspections in place. Only natural fertilizers like compost and manure can be used. And other hallmark methods of organic farming, like crop rotation, companion planting and natural pest control are commonly used, too. GMOs are also banned from organic farms; animal feed cannot come from GMO seed either. (1)
Research shows that when people switch from eating conventionally grown foods to more organic foods, concentrations of pesticide metabolites in urine samples decrease.
Although we know that eating more organic foods and less conventionally grown foods will reduce the amount of pesticide residues in our bodies, what exactly does this mean for our health?
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified three pesticides frequently used in agriculture as carcinogenic to humans. Yes, that means that according to the IARC, glyphosate, malathion and diazinon are chemicals used on our food even though they may cause cancer in humans.
Until recently, evidence supporting the carcinogenic effects of these pesticides was based only on occupational exposure, primarily in agricultural settings. But what about low-level pesticide exposure in the general population, which primarily comes from the intake of conventionally growth fruits and vegetables? That’s the exact question that researchers in France sought to answer with this study.
The Study of Organic Foods & Cancer Prevention
The study, published in October 2018 in JAMA Internal Medicine, examines the association between self-reported organic food intake and cancer risk. Researchers collected data on more than 68,900 French adults, with a mean age of 44 years, in order to establish their organic food consumption frequency and dietary intake.
For 16 food products, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, eggs and vegetables oils, the participants reported how often they chose organic over conventional options by selecting one of eight categories, including “never,” “occasionally” and “most of the time.” Based on an individual’s self-report, researchers computed an “organic food score” and used it to estimate a person’s risk of cancer.
Study authors followed the participants for a mean of five years, analyzing the incidence of cancer during a followup assessment.
Of the 68,946 volunteers, 1,340 developed cancer, including 459 cases of breast cancers, 180 prostate cancers, 135 skin cancers, 99 colorectal cancers, 47 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas and 15 other lymphomas. Researchers pointed out that among these types of cancer, individuals with a higher frequency of organic food consumption enjoyed a reduced risk for three specific cancer sites: postmenopausal breast cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other lymphomas.
Researchers found that those with the highest frequency of organic food consumption enjoyed a 25 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with overall cancer. More specifically, those with the highest intake of organic foods were 73 percent less likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and 21 percent less likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer. (2)
Any Drawbacks of Study?
Although this recent data suggests what we already suspected — that eating organic foods is likely better for human health, there are some drawbacks to this particular study that we need to address.
One possible weakness of the study lies in the fact that organic food intake is notoriously difficult to assess. Eating at a restaurant, take-out spot or friend’s house makes it more difficult to know verify food sources. So there may be an issue of misclassification in some cases. Plus, not all conventional foods are created equally. Some contain more pesticides (or more potent pesticides), and this study doesn’t take this into account. So if a study participant chose to go organic with all “dirty dozen” foods, but went conventional for the rest, that’s not considered here, either.
Also, researchers admit that the follow-up time for this study was short, which may have limited the statistical data for some forms of cancer.
And finally, people who did not choose to eat organically grown foods had the option to disclose their reasons for doing so. These include:
- Price barriers
- Limited availability
- Lack of interest
All participants who did not choose organic foods, no matter the reason, were lumped into one category. This may be a drawback because people who lack interest in organic foods entirely may experience an overall more negative approach towards health, which could influence the results of the study.
Organic Food Facts
- Certified organic produce is grown without synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, preservatives, genetic modification, sewage sludge or radiation.
- To be certified organic, foods cannot be made with genetically modified organisms.
- You can’t trust misleading food labels. Terms like “Natural,” “All Natural” and “100% Natural” are meaningless and don’t guarantee that the product is organic. (3)
- Research shows that organic foods contain higher amounts of health-promoting antioxidants and lower levels of cadmium, a harmful heavy metal. (4)
- Organic foods are better for the environment because organic farms aren’t polluting soil and nearby waters with harmful and toxic chemicals.
- There are certain non-organic foods called the “dirty dozen” that are known to be especially loaded with pesticides. If you prefer to only buy some organic foods, then these should be the ones.
Final Thoughts on Organic Foods for Cancer Prevention
- This most recent study addressing the organic vs. non-organic food debate suggests that choosing organic over conventional is linked to a reduced risk of cancer. These findings need to be confirmed with more human data, but it does indicate that promoting organic food consumption in the general population could serve as a promising preventive strategy against cancer.
- While the link between organic food and cancer risk is still being investigated, we do know for sure that other factors, like body weight, diet and physical activity, definitely do influence your risk of developing cancer.
- It’s true that organic foods are usually more expensive and sometimes even difficult to find in some areas of the country. So keeping in mind that higher intake of cancer-fighting foods, like fruits and vegetables, whether they are organic or conventional, is still encouraged as part of a well-balanced and healthy diet.
- You don’t want to cut out these important nutrient-rich food groups altogether just because they aren’t organic. To be extra safe, when organic foods are not an option, try avoiding the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables that are known to be contaminated with high pesticide residues.
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