PhotoA group of French researchers, led by Dr. Julia Baudry, recently conducted a study that focused on the effects of eating organic and the risk of developing cancer.

As cancer is one of the leading causes of death in France, the researchers began to look into the ways pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables are affecting consumers -- and their likelihood of developing cancer. While organic produce is oftentimes more expensive, the outcomes of this study suggest that it may be worth the extra cost -- particularly for women in later life.

Though some organic produce is still exposed to pesticides, the researchers noted that in the European Union, they’re natural pesticides, which are known to be less harmful than traditional sprays.

Going organic

The researchers used data from the NutriNet-Santé study to examine the eating habits of nearly 70,000 French adults. Established in 2009, NutriNet-Santé was created with the intention of studying dietary and nutritional behaviors of the French population.

At the start of the study, the participants were asked to record how often they ate 16 organic products, including:

  • Dietary supplements

  • Wine

  • Biscuits, chocolate, sugar, and marmalade

  • Fruit

  • Vegetables

  • Coffee, tea, and herbal tea

  • Vegetable oils and condiments

  • Bread and cereals

  • Grains and legumes

  • Eggs

  • Ready-to-eat meals

  • Dairy products

  • Soy-based products

  • Meat and fish

  • Flour

  • Other foods

Each participant was given an organic food score -- from 0-32 -- based on their responses. Scores that were closer to 32 indicated that the participant consumed more organic foods, and the closer to zero, the less organic food the participant consumed.

Participants were asked to record everything they ate and drank for three randomly selected days -- that included two weekdays and one weekend -- over the course of two weeks. All of the participants also completed follow-up questionnaires -- on average around four years following the first round.

The researchers also took into consideration: annual income, education, marital status, sex, age, occupational status, number of children, and smoking status.

Significantly reduced risk

While over 1,340 new cases of cancer were recorded among all of the participants, the researchers found that, overall, those who had highly organic diets were 25 percent less likely to develop cancer.

The results were most prominent for cases of postmenopausal breast cancer and lymphomas -- specifically non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL). Those who reported eating the least amount of organic produce were found to develop 15 new cases of NHL and 69 new cases of postmenopausal breast cancer, while those who reported eating the most amount of organic produce developed two new cases of NHL and 50 new cases of postmenopausal breast cancer.

Despite the significant findings, the regulations for organic produce vary between the United States and the European Union. Additionally, as this was a purely observational study, the researchers believe further research needs to be done in this area to draw the most complete conclusion.


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