A diet high in fruits and vegetables, whether organic or not, is the gold standard in cancer prevention. But new studies show that eating mostly organic decreases your odds of developing cancer even more.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine followed the diets of almost 70,000 French adults over five years, and made the determination that eating mostly organic significantly reduced the risk of certain types of cancer.
The study participants were divided into three groups: people who never eat organic foods, people who eat them occasionally, and those who eat organic most of the time. Over the course of five years, those who ate organic most of the time were 25% less likely to develop any type of cancer.
Eating organic seems to especially protect against non-Hodgkin lymphoma and postmenopausal breast cancer. The risk of skin and breast cancer dropped by 1/3, and researchers found a reduction in prostate, skin, and colorectal cancers as well. Though this is just the beginning of research into this connection, following are 6 reasons why eating organic might help you avoid cancer.
The Environmental Protection Agency swears that the pesticides they approve are safe for human consumption (at certain levels). But many of these chemicals are never digested by the body, instead growing in concentration throughout our lives in our fatty tissue. More than 600 active chemicals are registered for agricultural use in the United States, several of which have been banned in Europe because they’re so dangerous.
Studies have shown that cancer rates in farmers who use pesticides on their crops are higher, especially for leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, soft tissue sarcoma, and cancers of the stomach, skin, brain, lip, and prostate.
Work-related exposure is clearly a risk factor. It also appears that exposure to pesticides within the home ups the risk of childhood cancers. The damage can occur as early as preconception – via sperm – or in utero.
2. Growth Hormones
In yet another massive risk to your children, beef produced in the United States is often heavily laced with growth hormones. The practice increases the amount of meat on the animal, but is associated with an increased risk of reproductive and childhood cancers.
The risk is strongest for men, with a 60% increase in the incidence of prostate cancer and a 59% increase in testicular cancer.
The FDA and USDA insist that hormone residues in meat are within “normal levels,” and waive any requirements to test residue levels. Independent studies have determined that the levels in meat from cows deliberately treated with growth hormone are at least 20% higher than normal. It is likely no coincidence that childhood cancer rates have increased by 38% since 1975.
Many non-organic farms feed their livestock antibiotics all the time, even if they aren’t sick. The goal is to reduce the chances that a sick animal will spread disease and wipe out an entire herd.
That is a real risk, but indiscriminate use of antibiotics poses a greater risk. Overexposure to antibiotics has been linked to several autoimmune diseases, which contribute to a weak immune system and leave the door open for cancer to develop.
This is not just speculation. The International Journal of Cancer has published a study that demonstrates a link between regular antibiotic use and the risk of developing certain cancers. The most common are breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancer. Choose organic meat and dairy products so that you only take antibiotics when you really need to.
4. Genetically Modified Foods
Members of the baby boomer generation fondly remember a slogan used by the DuPont company from 1935-1982 – “Better Living Through Chemistry.”
The phrase continues to be used today to marvel at the wonders of scientific advancement, but not all advances are good ones, and we need to be willing to conduct thorough testing before making a determination. Genetically modified organisms are a perfect example.
GMOs are plants or animals created in a lab by inserting genes from one species into another in order to enhance certain desired traits. In terms of produce, this is usually to make plants more resistant to pesticides, disease, and the hardships of shipping.
Sometimes the goal is even to improve nutritional content. But altering the DNA of a plant or animal makes it an unknown quantity in terms of cancer risk, and not nearly enough study has been done on GMOs before pushing them to market.
5. Organic Has More Nutrients
A balanced all-around diet reduces cancer risk considerably. Eating organic can make this job easier, because organic produce often has more nutrition per serving.
That’s because responsible and sustainable growing practices are one of the main tenets of organic farming. Soil is tended carefully and never stripped of its vital nutrients. Therefore, crops grown organically have greater access to them.
Several studies have confirmed that on average, organically grown foods provide 27% more vitamin C, 29.3% more magnesium, 21.1% more iron, and 13.6% more phosphorus than conventionally grown foods. Eating organic makes it that much easier to get the right nutrition. This translates into a lower lifetime cancer risk.
6. Overall Commitment to Health
And finally, it may be that people who eat more organic food have a stronger overall commitment to health. The French study was observational, and therefore didn’t take into account how much participants exercised, slept, and took part in other healthy activities.
People who buy a lot of organic products also tend to have a higher income, which further supports good health via access to top tier preventative medical care.
The upshot is that eating organic is just one component of a cancer-prevention lifestyle. It is clearly beneficial, but is not the only thing you could or should do to improve health outcomes for you and your family.
And if you can’t afford to eat organic, don’t stop buying fruits and vegetables. Try soaking them in a solution of water and baking soda before eating to remove more pesticide residue than rinsing alone.
There are changes happening to our food supply all the time, some of them naturally and others guided by science. Some of these changes are likely safe for humans, but many are not. We need only look at the increase in cancer rates to see that something has gone wrong. More research is necessary to determine underlying cause, but in the meantime, it’s clear that eating organic reduces your exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and GMO foods while providing better nutrition. In the end, it’s a small price to pay to reduce your risk of developing cancer.