They were classified into four groups based on their consumption of 16 organic products such as fruits and vegetables, ready-to-eat meals, meat and fish, condiments, spices and vegetable oils and dietary supplements. At least three of them - glyphosate, malathion and diazinon - probably cause cancer, and others may be carcinogenic as well, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
In addition to a reduction in post-menopausal breast cancers and lymphomas, researchers found that those who ate organic foods also had less prostate cancers, skin cancers and colorectal cancers. There's a previous study from the United Kingdom which also shows a lower risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but in that study you find a higher risk of breast cancer - as opposed to a lower risk of breast cancer - associated with consuming organic foods.
Dr. Shepard said while more research needs to be done to look at the role that organic food may play in cancer prevention, its important for people to focus on risk factors that are within their control, and eating a healthy diet is something everyone can do. Most of these were breast cancer (459 cases).
People should eat right and maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise to prevent cancer, Hu said.
Pesticide is among the risk factors of cancer and organic food has less of the stuff compared to regular food. In such a situation, it is natural to have more awareness of organic food than in general.
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Researchers at the Sorbonne Paris Cité Epidemiology and Statistics Research Centre (INRA, Inserm, University Paris 13 and CNAM) conducted the epidemiological study.
"This is a very difficult area to study, and it's very hard to accurately assess habitual consumption of organic food", says Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department of nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and author of an independent commentary that accompanies the study. "Even though the authors had access to information of why people are choosing not to eat organic foods, they consider all non-consumers of organic foods the same". "Low levels of synthetic pesticides, including those linked to cancer and other serious health problems, are found in some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables". This revealed that the people who ate organic food most often had higher incomes, more education and higher-status jobs. For example, compared to Q1, participants in the highest quartile of organic food consumption (Q4) had a 34% lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer at a HR of 0.66 (95% CI 0.45-0.96, P=0.03). Bean sprouts and soy are also good anti-cancer food.
However, Chavarro added that researchers designing future studies should be mindful of certain limitations in this new study.
The organic food questionnaire was also not validated, making it unclear what researchers were actually measuring.