Study: Does eating organic reduce risk of cancer?

In recent years, more and more consumers have incorporated organic foods into their diets as a lifestyle choice for several reasons, such as perceived health benefits, supporting local producers and promoting sustainable growing practices. Now, a new study suggests that organic food might help reduce cancer risks as well.

The publicly funded study, coming out of France, kept track of five years’ worth of eating habits of nearly 70,000 adults, mostly women in their 40s. It found that those who ate organic foods frequently, including fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat, developed 25% fewer cancers than consumers who never ate organic. Especially notable was the reduction in rates of lymphoma (73%) and postmenopausal breast cancer (21%).

“We did expect to find a reduction,” said study lead Julia Baudry, “but the extent of the reduction is quite important.” Baudry was careful to note that organic food doesn’t necessarily prevent cancer, but “an organic-based diet could contribute to reducing cancer risk.”

Participants shared detailed information about their consumption of a diverse range of organic foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy and soy, meat, fish, eggs, grains and legumes, bread and cereals, flour, oils and condiments, wine, coffee and tea, biscuits, chocolate, sugar and dietary supplements.

The theory behind the findings is that organic food poses less of a risk of exposure to pesticides, as all certified organic food must meet strict guidelines regarding their usage. In fact, some Harvard nutrition scientists noted testing participants for pesticide residues to confirm their exposure levels as a factor that might be important to measure in this study.

Other scientists note that the study can’t incorporate other factors that might have affected cancer rates. For instance, they point out consumers who choose to avoid organic food might care less about their health in other ways, leading to increased cancer rates. Study participants self-reported whether they ate organic or not, and their reports might not be 100% accurate.

But the report does correlate with some previous studies on related topics, like how organic food corresponds to lower levels of pesticides in consumers’ bodies.

The French study is the first of its kind, and more research is planned to see if the findings can be backed up or built upon.

To reduce cancer risks, the American Cancer Society recommends a diet rich with fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

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