Organic food consumption and the incidence of cancer

There are a number of reasons people support or grow food they call organic. One of the ones often articulated is the cancer causing chemicals that are in the food. However, this argument is dependent upon there actually being a difference in cancer rates that can be traced to a diet of pesticide free food. As most of us would expect, the link hasn’t been found.

A study published in March in the British Journal of Chemistry specifically looked at this link and and didn’t find it.

Organic food consumption and the incidence of cancer in a large prospective study of women in the United Kingdom. Bradbury KE, Balkwill A, Spencer EA, Roddam AW, Reeves GK, Green J, Key TJ, Beral V, Pirie K.

Background: Organically produced foods are less likely than conventionally produced foods to contain pesticide residues.Methods:We examined the hypothesis that eating organic food may reduce the risk of soft tissue sarcoma, breast cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other common cancers in a large prospective study of 623 080 middle-aged UK women. Women reported their consumption of organic food and were followed for cancer incidence over the next 9.3 years. Cox regression models were used to estimate adjusted relative risks for cancer incidence by the reported frequency of consumption of organic foods.
Results: At baseline, 30%, 63% and 7% of women reported never, sometimes, or usually/always eating organic food, respectively. Consumption of organic food was not associated with a reduction in the incidence of all cancer (n=53 769 cases in total) (RR for usually/always vs never=1.03, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.99-1.07), soft tissue sarcoma (RR=1.37, 95% CI: 0.82-2.27), or breast cancer (RR=1.09, 95% CI: 1.02-1.15), but was associated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (RR=0.79, 95% CI: 0.65-0.96).
Conclusions: In this large prospective study there was little or no decrease in the incidence of cancer associated with consumption of organic food, except possibly for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

This is a large study that encompassed over 675,000 women in which researchers followed soft tissue sarcoma, breast cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other common cancers over a period of 10 years. The overall cancer rate was not different among the groups that rated by the regularity with which they ate organic food. The only cancer that showed a difference was non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and since the overall cancer rate was unchanged, this result is suspect.

Remember that when you pay the extra money at the grocery store, the organic food you are buying may give you the Gaia fuzzies, but it’s not making you healthier.

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