For a food to be labelled organic, it must be produced:
- Without using chemical pesticides
- Without using synthetic fertilizers
- With no genetically modified organisms
“Does eating organic reduce cancer risk” isn’t a simple question. Let’s break this down:
By nature, pesticides are killers. They are meant to kill insects, which are obviously different than humans, but to expect that something deadly to some life has zero impact on other life is a stretch. When the World Health Organization publishes warnings about pesticides, as it’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) did, we have mainstream agreement about the dangers of pesticides. Some pesticides have been widely banned. The IARC listed two pesticides still in use, Malathion and Diazinon, as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. A number of others it listed as “possibly carcinogenic”. The use of pesticides is clearly a risk, and your risk increases as your exposure increases. Since organic food avoids all these chemical pesticides, right there we can say that eating organic improves your chances of avoiding cancer. What else?
The first problem with chemical fertilizers is that they supply a limited set of nutrients to the soil (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) — hardly the full range of minerals the plants need to give you a full range of nutrients. Over time, the soil, replenished only with the major nutrients, give you less and less of the secondary ones. Thus, the food grows and appears just as good as organic, but the subtle lack of nutrients robs you. Many find the extra nutrient content of organic food just tastes better. When you consider that your body needs the full set of nutrients to keep cancer at bay, not having them is increasing your risk of cancer.
At worst, though, the chemicals used to make artificial fertilizer have a direct link to cancer. The University of Wisconsin linked nitrate fertilizer to damage to the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems of young children. More recent studies show other hidden dangers. Organic food relies on naturally recycled “fertilizer”, which replicates the natural process of plants breaking down and returning their nutrients to the soil. This is a double win: avoid the artificial chemicals and provide all the nutrients.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Genetic modification is a marvel of modern gene manipulation. Plants can be “taught” to produce pesticides as part of their life cycle. They can be given characteristics of other plants or even animals. They literally become something else. The worst news about modified genes is that they pollinate with others and spread those new genes across the globe. It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. So while the effects of these new creations are unknown, massive efforts are being made to retain seeds that have the original genetics before they are lost forever.
The effects of GMOs are hard to pin down, because there are so many versions out there having lots of different effects. But much of Europe has severely restricted their spread due to concerns about their impact. Avoiding them by eating organic seems sensible.
Organics avoid risks across the spectrum, but they are generally more expensive. As they become more popular though, the cost has dropped. Most grocery stores devote at least some aisle space to organic produce and products. Many people say that organics just taste better, and the higher quality has made them more popular.
With all the evidence that aspects of conventional foods increase cancer risk, how about studies directly showing that a high intake of organic food reduces cancer risk? The JAMA Internal Medicine journal has concluded a recent study which shows an overall 25% reduction in cancer risk for those who primarily eat organic, with huge decreases in risk of lymphoma and certain other cancers. This is a very prestigious journal confirming with direct evidence.
Less Bad, More Good
Organic farming returns the production of food to the way it used to be, in a sustainable manner which avoids adding harmful chemicals and gives the plants back even the rare nutrients. Organic food is generally given more time to mature, and this also improves quality. Organics avoid risks, both known and suspected, while improving your intake of resources that your body needs to keep cancer from gaining a foothold. If you juice or dehydrate food, you concentrate whatever is in the food, making organics shine even more.
We all have garbage that assails our bodies daily. Some we cannot control, but we can maximize what is good. The overall mix of good and bad our bodies deal with determine our cancer risk. Let’s tilt the odds in our favor!
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Obviously the more we move from naturally growing food, as it was meant to be consumed from the beginning, add chemicals to our food, and alter genes, the more stress we are going to put on our systems when this food is digested and absorbed. Chemicals and gene-altering increases the risk of all disease, including cancer. Even the Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded this — so what do you do? Grow you own produce when you can, and when you cannot, remember greens are most important to be organic. But as I have told patients for years: anything you eat from a plant source, even non-organic, is far superior than not eating it at all. Bottom line: buy organic when ever you can, but if you cannot, do not worry because animal products concentrate chemicals and toxins to a much higher degree in their tissues.
That is all for now.