Health In Focus
  • Regular consumption of organic food can reduce the risk of cancer
  • Effect of consumption of organic food on cancer risk was studied in a large cohort of French adults
  • Consumption of organically grown fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts can help in preventing cancer

Organic food consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cancer; a new study suggests. Researchers at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale - INSERM), Paris, in collaboration with other institutes in France have found an association between the frequency of consumption of organic food and the risk of cancer. The research has been published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Background of the Study

There is increasing concern about environmental sources of carcinogens. It is feared that increasing pesticide use in agriculture could lead to increasing prevalence of cancer. In this regard, it should be noted that organic foods do not use any pesticides during production. Hence, organic foods are increasingly becoming popular, especially amongst the health conscious.

Objective of the Study

The objective of this study was to prospectively investigate the association between organic food consumption and cancer risk in a large cohort (NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort) consisting of 68,946 French adults.

Study Design

The volunteers for this study were recruited from the NutriNet-Santé study, launched in 2009 and consisting of a web-based prospective cohort of French adults. Volunteers having access to the internet were recruited from the general population, who had to answer self-administered questionnaires pertaining to the study. The final number of volunteers who participated in the study was 68,946 adults.

Baseline data on the following parameters were collected:
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Occupational status
  • Educational level
  • Marital status
  • Monthly household income
  • Number of children
  • Smoking status
Information on the following parameters were also collected:
  • Sociodemographics and lifestyle
  • Health status
  • Physical activity
  • Anthropometrics (height and weight)
  • Diet (including dietary supplements)
  • Duration of exposure to sunlight
Information on consumption frequency of 16 labeled organic food products were collected using 8 modalities. Parameters such as dietary intake, nutrient intake and diet quality were assessed using standard protocols. Medical records of all the volunteers were accessed for verification, especially if cancer was reported. Cancer cases were classified using the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision, Clinical Modification.

Study Findings

The mean follow-up time was 4.6 years; 78% of the study participants were females, and the mean age at baseline was 44.2 years.

A total of 1340 first incidence cancer cases were reported during follow-up. The three most prevalent cancer cases were breast cancer (34.3%), prostate cancer (13.4%) and skin cancer (10.1%).

Higher organic food scores were positively associated with the following:
  • Female sex
  • High occupational status
  • High monthly household income
  • Post-secondary graduate education level
  • Physical activity
  • Former smoking status
Higher organic food scores were also associated with a healthier diet rich in fiber, vegetable proteins, and micronutrients. Higher consumption of organically grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes and a lower consumption of meat, poultry, and milk were also responsible for higher organic food scores.

The study reveals that regular consumption of organic food can reduce the risk of cancer.

Strengths of the Study

The prospective design and large sample size are the major strengths of the study. This has allowed the stratified analysis of various cancer sites. Other strengths include the use of a detailed questionnaire for collecting data on the frequency of consumption of organic food, as well as the validation of cancer cases by trained clinicians.

Limitations of the Study

The following limitations of the study were noted:
  • The study was conducted mainly in a population of well-educated French women who were already health conscious. Therefore, the study results couldn't be translated to the general French population. This could be the reason for the lower cancer incidence observed in this study, compared to the national estimates.
  • Despite the fact that organic food consumption frequencies were collected using a specific questionnaire, quantitative consumption data couldn't be obtained.
  • The follow-up time was short, since the analysis was based on the first 2 years of the total follow-up period.
  • The statistical analysis could be biased and influenced by residual confounding factors.

Funding Details

The study was funded by the French Ministry of Health, French Institute for Health Surveillance, National Institute for Prevention and Health Education, National Institute for Health and Medical Research, National Institute for Agricultural Research, National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, and Paris 13 University.

Reference :

  1. Association of Frequency of Organic Food Consumption with Cancer Risk: Findings from the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study - (

Source: Medindia

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