Does Eating Organic Food Prevent Cancer?
Published Jan 8, 2019
Eating organic food can lower the risk of cancer . However, this French study published at the end of October illustrates the difficulty of establishing a precise cause-and-effect relationship.
Recent studies on organic
Previously, only one large study had looked at the effect of organic food on cancer: the Million Women Study, consisting of 600,000 British women, in 2014. It found no difference between organic and non-users on the general risk of cancer, but had seen a reduced risk for a particular cancer: non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A French study (Sorbonne, Inra, Inserm ...) also reviewed the subject. Published in the American magazine Jama, it is based on the observation of 69,000 participants, mostly women.
Fewer pesticides, fewer cancers?
The hypothesis is that consumers of organic foods ingest less synthetic pesticides from fruits, vegetables, and cereals, and thus, reduce their risk, as some pesticides are suspected of being carcinogenic . After their recruitment, the volunteers of the NutriNet-Santé study completed a questionnaire (income, physical activity, smoker or not, body mass index ...) and declared the organic food consumed in the previous 24 hours. The study divided participants into four groups, according to their bio consumption. Then the number of cancers in each group was counted over four and a half years on average. In the quarter of people who reported eating the most organic food, the risk of cancer was 25% lower than in the quarter who never ate organic food. In absolute terms, the increase is only 0.6 points, ie six additional patients per 1,000 people.
The study found a statistically significant correlation only for breast cancer for postmenopausal women, and for lymphoma including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The authors took care to correct their results to take into account that organic eaters were, on average, richer, less obese, and less smokers . But other invisible factors, environmental or lifestyle-related, may also play a role. This is the typical problem of these studies.
Organic consumers, better overall health?
"People who eat organic deliberately, to the point of declaring it, are probably different from others in many other ways," AFP Nigel Brockton, research director at the American Institute for Research Against Cancer, told AFP. (AICR). He recommends, rather than a particular type of food, a set of practices to reduce the risks of cancer: normal weight, physical activity, healthy diet, and to not consume too much red meat ...
"The diet is a complex thing," he says. "We would never make a recommendation based on a single study, even if it is statistically significant." Another problem mentioned is that most people would be unable to say exactly how much organic food they eat. "The study is 3% lucky to have found something important, and 97% to propagate absurd and ridiculous results," concludes Nigel Brockton, who nonetheless welcomes the inevitable advance of medical research .
As for red meat or cigarettes, it will take many studies going in the same direction to conclude on organic food . In the meantime, the American Cancer Society continues to advocate eating fruits and vegetables, organic or not .
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