Organic Nothing Special?

A study published in the British Journal of Cancer this week has suggested that eating organic foods may not reduce cancer risk - one of the key concerns for which they are promoted.

The research is a spin-off of the Million Women study in the UK. In this study, the eating habits and health of over 600,000 women have been monitored for years. In this branch of the study it was found that over 9.3 years there did not seem to be a noticeable difference in cancer risk between the 7% of women who consumed only organic food and those who did not choose between organic and other foods.

There are, as always, issues with this study:

- the researchers did not allow for weight in the patients and body fat is associated with a higher rate of cancer.
- the extract does not include the raw data. It is not uncommon to find that such data is very revealing in studies.
- there was a very small reduction in the risk of Non Hodgkin Lymphoma in the organic group.
- there was no effort to match patients with similar food preferences.

That having been said, where studies are over-analysed, it is much harder to determine what if any practical advice can be given from their results. In this case, it is quite reasonable to conclude that organic food seems to offer no appreciable reduction in cancer risk.

There has never been any health concern over non-organic fertilisers; the main worry has been pesticides. Pesticides are used in very small quantities and generally regulation ensures that very little makes it into food. Further, most food is peeled before use, removing pesticides very effectively and much of the rest is boiled, steamed or washed thoroughly before use.
Even those who eat no organic produce at all are exposed to miniscule levels of pesticides so of course the difference between the groups is bound to be small.
It is possible that those who choose to eat lots of leafy foods or vegetables that are not peeled before use and therefore contain higher levels of pesticides might benefit from organic food, but this was not studied in the recent paper.

The staff at Hei Hei Health do not recommend organic diets routinely but find that they can be a good way to exclude artificial additives as a cause for some behavioural problems. If you are no better 3 weeks after starting a totally organic diet, your problem is probably not being caused by additives.

Additional resources:

Br J Cancer. 2014 Mar 27. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2014.148
http://www.nature.com/bjc/index.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food

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