Does an Organic Diet Lower the Risk of Cancer?

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I shop at Whole Foods and live in one of the natural-foods capitals of Planet Earth, Boulder, Colorado. The idea that eating organic is healthier for you is just accepted as fact, but do we really know that’s true? This morning I’ll review a new study that weighs in on the idea.

The Benefits of an Organic Diet

There are many out there who simply think buying organic is just all hype, a passing trend, just a ploy by some companies to get us to dig deeper into our pockets. Unfortunately, however, the massive scale of industrial and factory-based farming today truly has altered the quality of our foods, and as food quality decreases, disease, such as cancer, seems to increase. Even if we wanted to try to chalk it up to coincidence, many studies tell us otherwise.

Organic meat and milk, for example, has been found to have benefits that far exceed conventionally produced meat and milk. Organic meat and milk has 50% more omega-3 and 39% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Does this really matter? Maybe; CLA is associated with lowering inflammation and high blood pressure, reducing tumors, and lowering heart disease risks among many others. Organic meat and milk is also richer in antioxidants, such as carotenoids and vitamin E, which can protect our cells from free radicals, which are associated with cancer, heart disease, and more.

Even livestock that are fed genetically engineered food (something that is not allowed under “USDA ORGANIC” labeling), such as the pigs I covered at this link, are much sicker animals than their counterparts, and that may be passed on to us when we consume nonorganic pork products.

Another big benefit to an organic diet is that you aren’t consuming foods doused in Roundup and other horrible chemicals. Roundup, for example has been linked to killing off the friendly bacteria in our gut that helps us digest gluten, making it possible that the pesticides in our foods could have something to do with the epidemic of gluten intolerance in the past few decades.

Now, a new study just investigated if there was a connection between an organic diet and lower cancer risks. Let’s take a look.

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Is Your Expensive Organic Diet Really Paying Off by Lowering Your Cancer Risk?

While we know the primary purpose of an organic diet is the assurance that minimal to no pesticides have been in contact with our food during farming, is this lower chemical consumption actually translating to healthier people by minimizing disease, such as cancer? One new study set out to determine this as it investigated whether or not a diet of organic foods can actually be linked to a lower risk of cancer.

Nearly 69,000 participants were each given an organic food score based on their reporting of the frequency (ranging from never to most of the time) of organic food consumption. These participants were followed for more than seven years, during which 1,340 were diagnosed with some form of cancer. The results? Analyzing cancer prevalence against the frequency of organic food consumption, researchers found that cancer diagnoses were higher in those who never ate organic food and significantly lower in those who frequently ate organic food.

The study was limited, and it wasn’t within the scope of this study to determine why those who follow an organic diet are less likely to develop cancer (though the milk and meat study I discussed above covered some possibilities). However, it’s certainly promising to learn that for those of us who are being more selective in our food choices and constantly pushing our grocery budgets to the limit to buy organic, it really may be paying off.

The upshot? So I think I’ll keep shopping at Whole Foods and looking for those organic labels when I’m not. While other studies may be published in the future that draw other conclusions, it’s certainly encouraging right now to see that spending more here may be well worth it in the long run.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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