Organic foods tied to slightly lower cancer risk

Organic produce

Participants completed questionnaires that asked them how often they ate commonly labeled organic foods: never, occasionally, or most of the time.

Those who ate more organic food were also more likely to have higher incomes, job status and education level.

There's a previous study from the United Kingdom which also shows a lower risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but in that study you find a higher risk of breast cancer - as opposed to a lower risk of breast cancer - associated with consuming organic foods.

However, the inverse association between frequent consumption of organic food and cancer risk was confined to postmenopausal breast cancer and all lymphomas including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), they noted inJAMA Internal Medicine.

Comparing the participants' organic food scores with cancer cases, the researchers calculated a negative relationship between high scores (eating the most organic food) and overall cancer risk. The most prevalent was breast cancer (34.3%), prostate cancer (13.4%), melanoma and spinocellular carcinoma (10.1%), colorectal cancer (7.4%), NHLs (3.5%), and other lymphomas (1.1%).

If the findings are confirmed, the JAMA researchers said that promoting organic food consumption in the general population could be a promising preventive strategy against cancer. He co-authored a commentary published with the study.

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In the current study, reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, nearly 69,000 adults completed web-based questionnaires about their diets over three 24-hour periods. Study participants also self-reported their food intake, and such self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate. More recently, a study published in 2016 in JAMA Neurology suggested an association between the progressive neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and being exposed to pesticides.

There are several limitations to this current study, which the researchers fully acknowledge.

While all organic foods have less contamination with pesticides and other chemicals than conventionally grown foods, "the benefit in terms of reducing exposure is not the same for all foods", Chavarro added.

Investigators also carried out a sensitivity analysis by including the main determinants of pesticide exposure - namely vegetable products - in the organic food score. We know from crossover trials that if you change from a conventional diet to an organic diet, then the levels of pesticide residues in urine decrease, and when people cross back to eating a conventional diet, urine levels of pesticide residues increase again - which shows very clearly that exposure to pesticides is something that can be decreased by consuming organic diets. "Even though the authors had access to information of why people are choosing not to eat organic foods, they consider all non-consumers of organic foods the same". I think you're much better off consuming a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, even if they're not organic, than deciding to withhold especially fruits and vegetables because they're not organic. However, they acknowledged that the high cost of organic food remains a significant barrier to more widespread consumption. Yet the study does not do a good job of sorting and evaluating these differences, he noted.

"Asking about consumption of organic foods. assesses a behavior but not the causes of the behavior", said Dr. Jorge Chavarro, coauthor of an accompanying editorial and a researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

In the end, the study's takeaway, according to Chavarro, is that we should all probably be paying more attention to how much organic food we eat and "we should probably be studying this more".

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