One of the requirements for a food to be labeled organic in Europe and the U.S.is that it must be produced without the use of most synthetic pesticides.
The researchers used data from the NutriNet-Santé study to examine the eating habits of almost 70,000 French adults. The separation experts take into account the presence in the diet of 16 organic products, including fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, ready meals, vegetable fats, seasonings and food additives.
People should eat right and maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise to prevent cancer, Hu said. This was then translated into an organic scorecard, with scores ranging from 0-32, to distinguish frequent and infrequent organic consumers.
By the end of the study, out of the 68,946 participants, a total of 1,340 cancer cases were recorded.
Although some previous research suggests that agricultural chemicals may be linked with certain cancers, researchers don't have a clear picture of whether organic foods free of these chemicals can help lower the risk of cancer. The most common was breast cancer which was diagnosed in 459 volunteers.
Participants who are low-to-medium quality diets but with organic food still experiences a reduced risk of cancer. In particular, the risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and breast cancer was reduced by 73% and 21% respectively.
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Investigators also carried out a sensitivity analysis by including the main determinants of pesticide exposure - namely vegetable products - in the organic food score. You can imagine that's two very different groups of people. Some researchers such as Dr. Jorge E. Chavarro from Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health remains skeptical.
"These factors may may have led to a lower cancer incidence herein than the national estimates, as well as higher levels of organic food consumption in our sample". Study participants also self-reported their food intake, and such self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate.
Chavarro also noted that food labeling, particularly in the US, can be confusing for consumers. They also align with those of another study that showed a negative relationship between eating organic food and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he said.
In the meantime, "concerns over pesticide risks should not discourage intake of conventional fruits and vegetables", they advised. One is actually for medical researchers, which is that we should probably be paying more attention to this than we are, that the exposure to pesticide residues through foods may be a more important exposure than we have realized until now.
"For overall health, current evidence indicates that the benefits of consuming conventionally grown produce are likely to outweigh the possible risks from pesticide exposure", they said.
The authors say if the findings can be confirmed with further research, promoting organic food consumption could be a promising preventive strategy against cancer.