Can Eating Organic Foods Lower Your Cancer Risk? It’s Complicated

Organic foods have become increasingly popular over the last decade. A 2018 study conducted by the Organic Trade Association found that sales of organic foods and goods topped $49.4 billion in 2017, an increase of 6.4 percent over the previous year and more than double the profits of 10 years ago. Of course, people buy organic for numerous reasons, but can an organic lifestyle prevent cancer? According to a new study, yes. But of course, there are caveats. 

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The study, conducted by the French government with public funds and published in JAMA Internal Medicine, followed nearly 70,000 adults over a five-year period. What researchers found is that those who consumed organic fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and other foods had up to a 25 percent decreased risk of certain cancers — specifically lymphomas and postmenopausal breast cancers.

“We did expect to find a reduction," Dr. Julia Baudry, the study’s lead author and a researcher with the Center of Research in Epidemiology and Statistics Sorbonne Paris Cité of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, told The New York Times, "but the extent of the reduction is quite important.” That said, Baudry was quick to point out that correlation is not causation, but the findings do suggest “an organic-based diet could contribute to reducing cancer risk."

Also, the study did have some inherent flaws: All data was self-recorded and -reported, meaning participants were responsible for tracking their organic food consumption according to an editorial published in JAMA Internal Medicine alongside the study. However, "organic food intake is notoriously difficult to assess and its self-report is highly susceptible to confounding by positive health behaviors and socioeconomic factors," the editorial continued. 

The organic food questionnaire was also not validated, making it unclear what researchers were actually measuring.

What's more, a previous study — the Million Women Study — actually reported contradicting results; namely, that organic food consumption actually increased one's risk of contracting breast cancer, albeit slightly.

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As such, while this information is good preliminary data, additional research is necessary. Furthermore, those who cannot afford to buy organic goods or have limited access to organic goods should not worry. Instead, consumers should focus on eating a healthful and well-rounded diet, one consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and other white meats.

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