Preventive medicine: Does organic prevention cancer? For years I have written – most recently in a dedicated post in The…
For years I have written – most recently in a dedicated post in The Truth on Food – which, despite my general enthusiasm for organic food and environmental benefits of organic farming, direct evidence of human health of organic food is very sharp and quite difficult. It’s still true this week, but with a remarkable addition. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine associates routine consumption of organic foods with reduced cancer risk.
The researchers from France followed nearly 70,000 people for 10 years and lent the study a great statistical power. They assessed the rate of intake of different foods contained in organic and conventional versions, giving a 32-point scale. In total, they found significantly lower cancer levels – a relative decrease of 25 percent on average – among those who were highest compared to those with the lowest rate of organic food intake.
This new study, however, was not a randomized study. It is rather an observation coordinate study called NutriNet-Santé. Study participants share information online about a wide range of habits and lifestyle practices and health outcomes. The researchers analyze the associations.
Studies of associations can not be the cause and effect of a cause that is apparent as the schoolyard party: two things can be “true, true, but unrelated.” Those who eat organic food consciously and usually can simply systematically differ from the more cavaliers about it. Perhaps they are more careful about everything, more devoted to health, more attentive.
NutriNet-Santé researchers did an excellent job to capture many other variables that could explain the association between organic food and cancer risk. The aggregate data on dietary patterns and quality, tobacco use, exercise, environmental exposures, education and much more. But this diligent effort can not completely eliminate the possibility of eating organic and less cancer is nevertheless “true, true and unrelated”, a concession that the scientists make clear and humble.
Of course, a study of a subject of such great interest created extensive media actions, inevitably hyperbolic in both directions. Some headlines made the cause and effect, and offer organic food as an established opportunity to reduce the risk of cancer. Detractors were quick to beat and note that because the new study did not turn out like that, it’s not true.
I do not care much about hyperbolt in any direction, but I have a particular problem with the discontinuation of this research in some parts. For one thing, let’s be clear – there are interests for the food industry that simply prefer the many chemical counterfeits of our food delivery are not judged for crimes they may well commit. If dismissals of the new study come from such sources, they can not rely on.
For another, as a matter of routine, research methods are criticized by entities that do not like the results, but exactly the same methods are sent as gospels when the same entities like the results. All pages in the “diet war” use this tactic, and I will certainly renounce it. The strengths and limitations of given methods are what they are, regardless of the results, and regardless of whether or not we like them.
Once again, there is insinuation that since a study of solely unification does not prove cause and effect, therefore, the cause and effect has been disproved. This is of course completely nonsense. As the French authors correctly report, their study proposes a association that justifies further studies. But in the meantime, their study suggests the association. The group is organically more often experiencing significantly less cancer. The desired result is attributable to something. Failure to reach the final proof threshold does not mean that support has not been granted. The new study provides support for the credible and hopeful proposal to eat organic can reduce the risk of cancer over a lifetime.
No, the new study does not show that eating organic reduces the risk of cancer. But in both opinion and science, it lends support to the hope that it can. Because there are plenty of other good reasons for promoting organic eating, I encourage you to do it whenever you can reasonably.
Dr. David L. Katz Author, The Truth About Food.