Can Going Organic Cut Your Cancer Risk?

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As the new year starts, many people make resolutions about following a healthy diet. It may not seem important to choose between two different apples at the grocery store. They’re both apples and therefore healthy choices, you might say to yourself. But if one of those apples has been organically farmed, some research suggests that choosing the organic fruit may reduce your overall cancer risk.

One large study of more than 68,000 French adults looked at the link between eating organic foods and cancer risk. The results made headlines: The researchers found that people who ate more organics were less likely to develop cancer. This was especially true for breast cancer in postmenopausal women, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other types of lymphoma—cancers that start in immune system cells.

The study’s authors noticed some interesting factors: The majority of the volunteers in this study were female (78 percent), well-educated and generally had healthier behaviors compared to the general French population. Eating organic food is also associated with activities that also help you live a longer, healthier life. These activities, including getting more exercise and eating less meat and processed food, are also linked to having a higher income.

Organic farming is good for biodiversity, enhances soil fertility and promotes sustainability and agroecosystem resilience. Buying organic produce often supports smaller farms and can be better for the environment due to not using certain pesticides. However, some critics believe that the pesticides that are eliminated in organic farming have not been shown to cause cancer and that only people who are exposed to large doses—such as farmers or field applicators—are at risk for developing pesticide-related cancers.

One major hurdle to buying organic food is the cost, as organic foods cost an average of 47 percent more than their conventional counterparts. If you’re going to spend the extra money on organic food, there are some tips that can help get you more bang for your buck. First on the list for U.S. buyers: Check that your food has a U.S. Department of Agriculture organic seal. This ensures the quality and integrity of the product. Next, research which fruits and vegetables are most important to buy organic. Nectarines, celery and pears are among those that contain higher levels of pesticides, while produce with the lowest levels—typically those with thick skins—include bananas, avocados and broccoli.

Conflicting research results suggests that the jury still may be out on just how much of a difference going organic makes on your cancer risk. However, including a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet—organic or not—is always a good choice. Happy New Year and happy eating!

Amanda Jo LeBlanc, PhD, is a cardiovascular physiologist and an associate professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. She studies microvascular function in aging.

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