©Xavier Remongin/Min.Agri.Fr

A decrease of 25% in the risk of cancer was observed in “regular” consumers of organic food products when compared to those who consume them less often, according to a new epidemiological study conducted by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research and other French research centers. The study analyzed data coming from nearly 70,000 people (78% women, average age: 44 years) to reach this conclusion. Even if the link between cause and effect cannot be established based only on this study, the results suggest that a diet rich in organic products could limit the incidence of cancers. Complementary studies will nonetheless be necessary to put in place public health measures that are well adapted and targeted. The data relating to consumption of organic or conventional food products of the 70,000 volunteers were collected with the help of a questionnaire based on the frequency of consumption (never, from time to time, most of the time) for 16 food groups. Sociodemographic characteristics, lifestyle and nutritional choices were also taken into account for the analysis.

During a seven-year study (2009-2016), 1,340 new cases of cancers were found and validated based on medical files. A decrease of 25% in the risk of cancer (all types included) was observed among “regular” consumers of organic food, compared to more occasional consumers. This association was particularly strong for breast cancers in menopausal women (-34% risk for more frequent organic consumers) and lymphomas (-76% risk). Taking into account various risk factors that are able to affect this relation (sociodemographic factors, food, lifestyle, and family history) did not change the results.

Several hypotheses could explain these data, including the much higher frequency and dosage of synthetic pesticide residues in food coming from conventional agriculture compared to organic food products. Another possible explanation: Potentially higher concentrations of certain micronutrients (carotenoid antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamin C, or low acid profiles) in organic food products.

The market for organic agricultural food products has seen a substantial development over the past several years. Beyond ethical and environmental aspects, one of the primary motivations for consuming organic products is the fact that the products come from production methods that do not use phytosanitary products and could thus have potential health benefits. Nonetheless, the few epidemiological data that are available are not sufficient at the current time to conclude that there is a protective health effect for organic food (or that there is an increased risk linked to consuming food coming from conventional agriculture). While there is an increased risk associated with conventional agriculture for farmers via exposure to chemicals like pesticides, there is no known risk that has been shown that comes from consuming the products in the general population.

The conclusions from this study must thus be confirmed by other investigations conducted on other study populations, in different contexts.