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Daily News Blog

30
Oct

Organic Food Consumption Lowers Cancer Risks

(Beyond Pesticides, October 30, 2018) The conclusion of a recent population-based cohort study of 68,946 French adults brings promising, though perhaps predictable, news. Greater consumption of organic food — as opposed to food produced conventionally, with use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers — is associated with a reduction in overall cancer risk, and reduced risk of specific cancers, namely, postmenopausal breast cancer and lymphomas. The NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study was published on October 22 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. It is important to remember that correlation is not causation; but the findings were strong enough that researchers concluded that more research is not only warranted, but also, could “identify which specific factors are responsible for potential protective effects of organic food consumption on cancer risk.”

The project tracked subjects — who were 78% female and 44.2 years old, on average — for 4.5 years. Those subjects reported the frequency of their consumption of 16 organic food products as “never, occasionally, or most of the time.” Those included: fruits, vegetables, soy-based products, dairy products, meat and fish, eggs, grains, legumes, breads, cereals, flour, vegetable oils, condiments, ready-to-eat meals, cookies, chocolate, sugar, marmalade, dietary supplements, and some beverages (coffee, teas, and wine). An organic food score was then computed and assigned to each subject.

Annual follow-ups screened for first-incident cancer diagnoses in the study’s subjects. Results showed that a higher “organic” score was positively correlated with overall decreased cancer risk, and lower risk of developing those specific cancers previously mentioned; no association was detected for other types of cancer. The study controlled for multiple confounding factors, including sociodemographics, lifestyle, and dietary patterns.

The researchers note that environmental risks for cancer include pesticide exposure, whether direct (for pesticide applicators and handlers, e.g.) or through the other primary vector, which is diet. They go on to say, “Epidemiological research investigating the link between organic food consumption and cancer risk is scarce, and, to the best of our knowledge, the present study is the first to evaluate frequency of organic food consumption associated with cancer risk using detailed information on exposure. . . . Among the environmental risk factors for cancer, there are concerns about exposure to different classes of pesticides. . . . The role of pesticides for the risk of cancer could not be doubted given the growing body of evidence linking cancer development to pesticide exposure. While dose responses of such molecules or possible cocktail effects are not well known, an increase in toxic effects has been suggested even at low concentrations of pesticide mixtures.”

The Los Angeles Times reports, “At least three [pesticides] — glyphosate, malathion and diazinon — probably cause cancer, and others may be carcinogenic as well, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.” Foods grown or produced organically are far less likely to harbor such pesticide residues (than is conventionally grown produce) because the National Organic Standards forbid use of virtually all synthetic pesticides, except the few that meet the standards of the Organic Foods Production Act. Unsurprisingly, people who consume a relatively “organic” diet have lower levels of pesticide residues in their urine. One of the key points made by the study authors is this: “If the findings are confirmed [by future research], promoting organic food consumption in the general population could be a promising preventive strategy against cancer.”

The health advantages of organic agricultural production for workers and consumers — compared with conventional agriculture, which uses toxic pesticides and synthetic, petrochemical inputs — are legion. There is a strong case that a switch to a generally organic diet confers not only some protection from development of any number of pesticide-induced diseases and other harmful impacts via, e.g., endocrine disruption and subsequent dysregulation and dysfunction, but also, other significant health benefits because it reduces the body burden of toxic chemicals.

One ready example is the evidence for pesticides’ impacts on sperm quality. The ongoing global drop in fertility is strongly associated with pesticide exposures. A 2015 study demonstrated that eating produce containing pesticide residues adversely affects men’s fertility, leading to fewer and poorer quality sperm — adding to a growing body of research showing impaired reproductive function. The results of that study also underscore the importance of an organic diet in reducing pesticide exposures. Interestingly, a fairly old Danish study (1994), published in The Lancet, showed “unexpectedly high sperm density in members of an association of organic farmers, who manufacture their products without use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers. This is of interest in the light of evidence that indicates a world-wide decrease trend of sperm density in the general population.”

The benefits of organic are perhaps most dramatic for children, whose pesticide exposures come largely through diet (unless they live on or near conventionally managed farms), although they may also be exposed via school or recreational properties. Children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide impacts because their brains, organs, and reproductive systems are still developing. One study showed near-immediate benefit when kids’ diets were switched to organic — their urine showed lowered-to-undetectable pesticide levels within hours of the switch. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report that said, “In terms of health advantages, organic diets have been convincingly demonstrated to expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease. Organic farming has been demonstrated to have less environmental impact than conventional approaches.”

Beyond Pesticides advocates choosing organic because of the health and environmental benefits to consumers, workers, and rural families. The Eating with a Conscience database, based on legal tolerances (or allowable residues on food commodities), provides a look at the toxic chemicals allowed in the production of the food we eat and the environmental and public health effects resulting from their use. See more on the benefits of organic agriculture, and an overview of organics.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2707948 and http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-organic-food-cancer-20181022-story.html

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  • Archives

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