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Eating organic food linked with lower cancer risk

"Organic food lowers blood and breast cancer risk, study finds," the Mail Online reports.

The news website reports on a large study in France that questioned 69,000 people on their consumption of organic food, and then monitored them for 5 years to see how many developed cancer.

Organic food is grown without the use of pesticides, manmade fertilisers or genetic modification (GM) techniques. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Researchers found that people who ate the most organic food had a 24% reduced risk of cancer compared to those who ate the least.

Despite the encouraging media reports, this study does not prove that eating organic food will protect you against cancer.

The study does not demonstrate that organic food is the direct cause of the reduced risk. People who ate more organic food had healthier lifestyles in general, doing more exercise and eating more fruit and vegetables than other people. Though the researchers tried to adjust for such health and lifestyle factors, it's still possible these things had an influence.

So, claims that "eating organic food will reduce cancer rates" remain unproven. It would be better to focus on eating a healthy diet high in fruit, vegetables and fibre and low in processed meat, and to maintain a healthy weight. Eating well, along with taking regular exercise and not smoking, can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer.

Where does the study come from?

The research was conducted by the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale, and Universit é Paris 13. Funding was provided by several French organisations including the Ministry of Health, Institute for Health Surveillance, and the National Institute for Prevention and Health Education.

One of the researchers declared that they had an advisory role promoting the use of organic products to 2 non-profit organisations.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The UK media took the findings at face value without acknowledging other factors that could have potentially influenced the results, and the small number of cancer cases recorded. For example, the Mail's statement that: "The biggest impact was seen on non-Hodgkin's lymphoma risk [a cancer of the lymphatic system], which plummeted among those who shunned chemical-sprayed food" is certainly overblown, given that this was based on tiny numbers and could be a chance finding.

But to their credit, the UK media did point out that people who eat organic food tend to have a healthier lifestyle than people who don't.

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