Although there is robust medical research indicating that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of many types of cancer, there is little indication that organic fruits and vegetables further reduce the risk of cancer compared to conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
In a recent medical study, researchers in France demonstrated that a diet that is consistently rich in organic fruits and vegetables reduces cancer risk significantly more than a diet rich in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
The term “organic” in regards to fruits and vegetables indicate a specific method of growing, fertilizing, harvesting and processing the food. It prohibits the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
By law, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not considered organic.
Annual sale of organic food (2019) is almost $50 billion comprising about 6% of all food sales. Since 2009, the annual growth in sales of organic food is about 8%. Many grocery stores now have extensive organic food sections. Some sell primarily organic products. Simply put, more people are buying organic.
Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are often exposed to pesticides, artificial fertilizers and herbicides (think glyphosate). These chemicals are not removed before sale, increasing the risk of exposure to the consumer.
Indeed, recent studies suggest that 90% of Americans have measurable levels of the glyphosate in their blood and urine. It has been suggested that regular exposure to glyphosate increases the risk of some cancers.
Do organic fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of cancer beyond conventionally grown fruits and vegetables?
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that they do. This study prospectively looked at the risk of cancer and organic food consumption in almost 70,000 French adults.
Of all participants, 459 developed breast cancers, 180 prostate cancers, 135 skin cancers, 99 colorectal cancers, and 63 non-Hodgkin and other lymphomas.
Comparing the incidence of cancer with eating organic vs, conventional, there was a 25% (one in four) decrease in risk for cancer in those eating organic fruits and vegetables. It was hypothesized that this reduced risk was because of a decrease in the long-term exposure to herbicides.
The definition of organic has been under pressure over the past few years. Large, conventional food suppliers have been trying to get nonorganic food labeled as organic because organic has become a sizable market. Fortunately, the definition of organic is unchanged. Other terms that imply organic, like “all natural, “natural,” “GMO-free,” “free range,” etc. are not necessarily organic — buyer beware.
Organic food is usually more expensive than conventionally grown food and the selection may be limited. However, as the number of farmers growing organic food increases and as more stores offer organic selections, the costs come down.
The treatment of cancer is very expensive, so comparing the costs of organic food against the cost of cancer, organic fruits and vegetables might be a prudent investment.
• Dr. Patrick Massey, MD, Ph.D., is medical director of complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network, and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village.