Can Eating More Organic Food Reduce Your Risk of Developing Cancer?

How to interpret a new study's findings

We’ve all heard about the benefits of eating organic food when it comes to a healthy diet. But can going organic actually help reduce our risk of developing cancer? A new study looked at 68,946 people and followed them for about five years to try to shed some light on this question.

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The people were divided into three groups — those who never ate organic foods, those who ate them occasionally and those who ate organic most of the time.

A decrease in certain cancers for organic-food eaters?

Oncologist Dale Shepard, MD, PhD, did not take part in the research, but says the study did show a decrease in risk for certain cancers for those who ate more organic.

“What they found was that in patients who ate mostly organic foods, there were fewer cancers — specifically post-menopausal breast cancer and lymphoma,” Dr. Shepard explains.

In addition to a reduction in post-menopausal breast cancers and lymphomas, researchers found that those who ate organic foods also had fewer prostate cancers, skin cancers and colorectal cancers.

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Is it diet or overall healthy lifestyle?

Dr. Shepard points out that people who eat organic foods also have the tendency to eat healthier diets and exercise more, both of which are traits that have been associated with reduced cancer risk.

While it’s difficult to say at this point that eating organic is directly associated with a reduction in cancer risk, he says it’s always good to think of ways we can try to prevent cancers — whether it’s through more screening or improving our lifestyle habits.

Eating a heart-healthy diet, whether specifically organic or not, is beneficial for reducing our risk of all cancers, Dr. Shepard notes.

“In general, we know that healthier diets are better for you when it comes to cancer risk,” he says. “Any time people can incorporate more fruits and vegetables and minimize processed foods, the better.” 

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Dr. Shepard says while more research needs to be done to look at the role that organic food may play in cancer prevention, it’s important for people to focus on risk factors that are within their control. And eating a healthy diet is something everyone can do.

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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