The Grapevine

Organic Foods Protect Against Cancer? Research Says Yes, But Weakly

People who consume organic food may be less likely to develop cancer compared to those who consume non-organic food, according to a large study from France. But just how strong is this supposed link?

The research team examined the eating habits of nearly 70,000 adults in France, categorizing them based on the prevalence of organic foods in their diet. These included not only fruits and vegetables but also oils, meat, fish, ready-to-eat meals, eggs, grains, legumes, dietary supplements, and other products. Follow-ups took place approximately four to five years later.

Overall, the likelihood of developing cancer was 25 percent lower among those who ate the most organic food. When examining the risk of specific types of cancer, the likelihood of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma and post-menopausal breast cancer were lower by 73 percent and 21 percent respectively.

The study authors suggested that the reduced exposure to pesticide residues could possibly play a role in linking organic foods with a reduced risk of cancer. "Although our findings need to be confirmed, promoting organic food consumption in the general population could be a promising preventive strategy against cancer," they stated in their conclusion.

Caution was advised with a good reason as the findings are still preliminary. First, it must be kept in mind that the study was observational. So it is not yet proven that the organic products were directly responsible for reducing the risk of cancer.

For instance, it was noted that those who consumed organic diets were also more likely to follow healthier habits in general i.e. reducing junk food consumption, getting enough exercise, not smoking, etc. Such a lifestyle matches the guidelines and recommendations offered by the American Cancer Society.

Affordability should also be considered — organic foods, as we know, are more expensive than their counterparts. Being able to afford organic foods may indicate higher income and higher levels of education, which are important factors tied to the lower risk of cancer.

Another recent study from Europe observed a strong association between junk food consumption and the risk of developing cancer. So any possible risk from pesticide exposure is greatly outweighed by the benefits of simply including fruits and vegetables in your diet.

"These findings should not prevent people from eating fruit and vegetables, whatever the farming system (organic or not), as they are important protective factors against cancer risk," said Julia Baudry, an epidemiologist at Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale in France who led the study.

While eating organic is good if your budget allows for it, health experts emphasize following the Mediterranean diet above all. The dietary pattern — which includes a high intake of fruit, vegetables, fish, pulses, olive oil and a reduced intake of processed foods — is linked to a significantly lowered risk of various illnesses and diseases.