Eating organic food lowers cancer risk by 25%, study reveals
A French study of nearly 70,000 people yielded startling results for two forms of cancer.
- A French study of nearly 70,000 people states that organic foods reduce the risk that you'll develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and postmenopausal breast cancer.
- Agricultural pesticides have been shown to have a toxic effect on the human endocrine system.
- The high cost of organic food remains a barrier to entry for those wishing to eat a healthier diet.
In 1998, while working as a reporter at a Princeton newspaper, I wrote a story on organic foods, at the time a $3.5 billion business. The feature was inspired by Rutgers University research, the Firman Bear Report, and the effect of soil quality on nutrient levels. A few of the results:
In the report, tomatoes grown organically contained 1938 mg of iron for every 100 grams dry weight, compared to 1 mg for the same weight found in non-organic farm tomatoes. In that same tomato, there were 148.3 mg of potassium in the organic product and 58.6 mg in the farm product. Organic spinach yielded 1584 mg of iron compared to 19 mg in non-organic spinach, and 71 mg calcium against 16 mg.
In the 20 years since that article was published, organic food has skyrocketed. The Organic Trade Association now pegs the value of organic products at $45.2 billion. The problems with industrial agriculture are now well-documented. Strangely, however, few large-scale studies on organic food's relationship to human health have been conducted (at least in terms of cancer), making a new report by JAMA even more eye-opening.
The French study followed 70,000 predominantly-female adults over the course of five years. After that time, adults who ate organic food were 25% less likely to have developed certain forms of cancer than "conventional" eaters. More specifically, study participants who ate organic foods were 73% less likely to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and 21% less likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer. As The New York Times reports,
Those who ate the most organic fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and other foods had a particularly steep drop in the incidence of lymphomas, and a significant reduction in postmenopausal breast cancers.
The study authors, led by French National Institute of Health and Medical Research researcher, Julia Baudry, were not surprised by the fact that organic foods reduce cancer risks, but were shocked by the actual reduction. She also notes that her study doesn't prove that organic foods reduce the risk of cancer, but "that an organic-based diet could contribute to reducing cancer risk."
And it shouldn't be surprising. The combination of pesticides and mono-cropping has depleted the nutrient value of fruits and vegetables, affecting both soil and plant. We're told that a plant-based diet is the healthiest, yet if those plants are stripped of nutrient value and contain residue from toxic chemicals there is certainly going to be negative effects. One of those happens to be cancer.
The authors cite a 2018 European Food Safety Authority report, which states that 44 percent of conventionally grown foods contained one or more pesticide residues, while only 6.5 percent of organic foods measured any such residue. That number should be zero; there has been criticism about what constitutes "organic." While many toxicologists claim residue levels in foods are not dangerous, the cumulative effects of not-dangerous can equal dangerous over time.
It should also be noted that this French study found decreased risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which occurs when your body overproduces abnormal lymphocytes, and postmenopausal breast cancer. There was no noticeable decrease in other types of cancer.
Two common agricultural pesticides, malathion and diazinon, are listed as potential carcinogens. These two, along with the herbicide glyphosate, are all linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This could be the reason people who eat organic foods are less likely to develop that cancer. And as The NY Times notes, a number of pesticides are "endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen function"—hence, the reduction in breast cancer.
As with most everything in life, the reason one develops cancer is often multivariant. Pesticides or low nutrient profile or asbestos in your building or toxins in the air or chemicals in your drinking water or job stress alone will likely not cause cancer. Add them together and a dangerous cocktail has been produced. The more ingredients you can subtract from said cocktail, the better your chances of not developing diseases become.
The study authors note that while most people would prefer organic food, the expense is a barrier to entry. Those involved in the study were likely better off financially, which could lead to other healthier behaviors unavailable to those who cannot afford organic produce. Money changes many variables.
Yet we have to consider how we've gotten here in the first place. The study reminds me of Bucks County farmer Scott Kutzner, who I talked to back in 1998. He began farming organically after discovering the low nutrient profile of his tomatoes. He said organic vegetables should be less expensive given that farmers are not treating them with additional chemicals, but that's not how it's played out. He concluded,
Many farmers are still using chemicals for their plant's problems, and this is not necessary. The plant will tell you if it has a problem, you just have to look at it.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.
- Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
- The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
- The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.
Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine
The number of people with dementia is expected to triple by 2060.
The images and our best computer models don't agree.
A trio of intriguing galaxy clusters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNDA0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTkzNzUyOH0.0IRzkzvKsmPEHV-v1dqM1JIPhgE2W-UHx0COuB0qQnA/img.jpg?width=980" id="d69be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d2664d9174369e0a06540cb3a3a9079" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The three galaxy clusters imaged for the study
Mapping dark matter<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d904b585c806752f261e1215014691a6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fO0jO_a9uLA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The assumption has been that the greater the lensing effect, the higher the concentration of dark matter.</p><p>As scientists analyzed the clusters' large-scale lensing — the massive arc and elongation visual effects produced by dark matter — they noticed areas of smaller-scale lensing within that larger distortion. The scientists interpret these as concentrations of dark matter within individual galaxies inside the clusters.</p><p>The researchers used spectrographic data from the VLT to determine the mass of these smaller lenses. <a href="https://www.oas.inaf.it/en/user/pietro.bergamini/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pietro Bergamini</a> of the INAF-Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science in Bologna, Italy explains, "The speed of the stars gave us an estimate of each individual galaxy's mass, including the amount of dark matter." The leader of the spectrographic aspect of the study was <a href="http://docente.unife.it/docenti-en/piero.rosati1/curriculum?set_language=en" target="_blank">Piero Rosati</a> of the Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Italy who recalls, "the data from Hubble and the VLT provided excellent synergy. We were able to associate the galaxies with each cluster and estimate their distances." </p><p>This work allowed the team to develop a thoroughly calibrated, high-resolution map of dark matter concentrations throughout the three clusters.</p>
But the models say...<p>However, when the researchers compared their map to the concentrations of dark matter computer models predicted for galaxies bearing the same general characteristics, something was <em>way</em> off. Some small-scale areas of the map had 10 times the amount of lensing — and presumably 10 times the amount of dark matter — than the model predicted.</p><p>"The results of these analyses further demonstrate how observations and numerical simulations go hand in hand," notes one team member, <a href="https://nena12276.wixsite.com/elenarasia" target="_blank">Elena Rasia</a> of the INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy. Another, <a href="http://adlibitum.oats.inaf.it/borgani/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Stefano Borgani</a> of the Università degli Studi di Trieste, Italy, adds that "with advanced cosmological simulations, we can match the quality of observations analyzed in our paper, permitting detailed comparisons like never before."</p><p>"We have done a lot of testing of the data in this study," Meneghetti says, "and we are sure that this mismatch indicates that some physical ingredient is missing either from the simulations or from our understanding of the nature of dark matter." <a href="https://physics.yale.edu/people/priyamvada-natarajan" target="_blank">Priyamvada Natarajan</a> of Yale University in Connecticut agrees: "There's a feature of the real Universe that we are simply not capturing in our current theoretical models."</p><p>Given that any theory in science lasts only until a better one comes along, Natarajan views the discrepancy as an opportunity, saying, "this could signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have permitted us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales."</p><p>At this point, it's unclear exactly what the conflict signifies. Do these smaller areas have unexpectedly high concentrations of dark matter? Or can dark matter, under certain currently unknown conditions, produce a tenfold increase in lensing beyond what we've been expecting, breaking the assumption that more lensing means more dark matter?</p><p>Obviously, the scientific community has barely begun to understand this mystery.</p>
Scientists have found evidence of hot springs near sites where ancient hominids settled, long before the control of fire.