• The study's authors observed reduced risks for specific cancer sites among individuals with a higher frequency of organic food consumption. (Caiaimage/Getty Images)
A new study on French adults shows that people who eat a lot of organic food significantly reduced their risk of two types of cancer. We look at the findings and ask: should you be increasing the amount of organic food you eat?
By
Yasmin Noone

23 Oct 2018 - 8:25 AM  UPDATED 23 Oct 2018 - 10:07 AM

Eating a diet rich in organic foods could help to reduce your risk of lymphoma and postmenopausal breast cancer, according to the results of a world-first French study.

The new research, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine today, found that people who ate a lot of organic food significantly reduced their risk of specific cancers.

Almost 70,000 French adults were involved in the study, self-reporting how often they consumed 16 different groups of organic food products including fruits and vegetables, soy-based products, condiments, chocolate, ready-to-eat meals and wine.

“Our results indicate that higher organic food consumption is associated with a reduction in the risk of overall cancer.” 

The results show that participants who ate organic food more frequently had a 25 per cent lower risk of being diagnosed with postmenopausal breast cancer and lymphomas during the five-year follow-up period compared to those who ate organic food the least often.

“Our results indicate that higher organic food consumption is associated with a reduction in the risk of overall cancer,” reads the study, from Centre of Research in Epidemiology and Statistics in France  and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the USA.

“We observed reduced risks for specific cancer sites (postmenopausal breast cancer, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and all lymphomas) among individuals with a higher frequency of organic food consumption.”

However, the researchers did not find any association between eating organic food and lowering your risk of other cancers.

The results also do not explain why there is a link between organic food consumption and a reduction in these cancers. However, the authors speculate it may be because organic foods “are less likely to contain pesticide residues than conventional foods”.

3 ways to check if what you're buying is really organic
If you want to buy genuine organic food, you should know what 'organic' labels mean and how to ensure you're paying for the real deal.

According to Global Organic Trade Guide, France is the third largest market for organic food and drinks in the world.

The guide ranks Australia  as the twelfth largest market by value for organic food and drinks worldwide.

Meanwhile, France rates as the eighth largest worldwide spender, per capita, on organic packaged food and beverages, while Australia sits at position 16.

...the researchers did not find any association between eating organic food and lowering your risk of other cancers.

The study, funded by chiefly funded by the French Ministry of Health, is the first to evaluate and determine a link between the amount of organic food we eat and our risk of developing cancer.

The authors say the findings need to be confirmed with more large studies. But if future research yields similar results, the consumption of organic food could be promoted as a preventive strategy against specific cancers.

Organic food: should we now be increasing the amount we eat?

According to the study’s accompanying commentary, the association between organic food and lymphoma is on par with the results of another study on occupational exposure. The findings from the Million Women Study in the United Kingdom also linked self-reported organic food intake to a 21 per cent lower risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“These consistent results indicate that the association between pesticide exposure at levels observed in the general population and lymphoma risk is worth further study,” the commentary, led by Elena Hemler, says.

However, the Million Women Study also found that organic food consumption was linked to a slightly increased breast cancer risk: an apposite result to the new study released today.

“These consistent results indicate that the association between pesticide exposure at levels observed in the general population and lymphoma risk is worth further study.”

Head of Discipline of Biomedical Sciences in the School of Health Sciences at The University of Tasmania, Associate Professor Rajaraman Eri, says the study demonstrates an association that has yet to be widely proven and supported with more research.

“It is known for a long time that organic foods presumed to be gown without any pesticide exposure are good for general health,” says Prof Eri.

“But, there were no convincing studies that linked the consumption of organic foods to prevention of cancer.

“While these results look very encouraging, we can’t literally interpret the data and start advising expensive organic foods as there are some flaws in this study.”

Is it organic? When lifestyle choices have gone too far
The farmers’ market idea of 'purity' and the promise of 'natural' and 'simple' supermarket products and 'wholesome' tonics is troubling for Helen Razer.

One study limitation was that the answers from respondents were self-reported and did not take other factors, such as health and socio-economic status, into account.

“The other important missing link is the amount of food consumed by the subjects in this study.”

Director of the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of South Australia Cancer Research Institute, Professor Elina Hypponen, says the study is thought provoking.

Yet organic foods carry a high cost and may not be accessible to people on lower incomes. 

“The risk here is that these findings could act as a deterrent to fruit and vegetable consumption, which are an extremely important source of various nutrients, including antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fibre,” says Prof Hypponen.

“Overall fruit and vegetable consumption is good for you, organic or not."

What to eat to prevent cancer: new report
The World Cancer Research Fund has issued diet and lifestyle recommendations on what we should all be doing to prevent cancer.
What to eat to avoid bowel cancer
“Food is the key to turning our gut and bowel health around.”
Will eating 'ultra-processed' foods give you cancer?
We review that headline-grabbing study linking processed foods to cancer.
Can you really get cancer from food?
We look at five household beliefs linking cancer to food and examine the truth behind the statements.