Can Organic Food Help Prevent Cancer?

Is organic tastier than conventional produce? Is it healthier? Can it help prevent cancer?

Today in Ireland, the organic market is worth more than €110 million a year. Although it has yet to reach pre-recession levels sales of organic food in Ireland grew by 9% over 2015 (2015, There are over 1,700 registered organic farms in Ireland. The reason many of us buy organic food is because we believe it is healthier but is this true?

Organic Food – the basics

Organic food production involves avoiding artificial fertilisers and pesticides and using crop rotation and other forms of husbandry to maintain soil fertility, control weeds and diseases. All food sold as organic in Ireland must be certified as organic by approved organic control bodies. Organic farming works with the environment by encouraging and protecting wildlife whilst looking after the health of the soil.

Reasons for buying organic food

  • Organic farming is friendlier to the environment.
  • If you are concerned about how animals are treated, then choosing organic meat is a good idea. Organic farming ensures that animals are fed a natural diet and kept in free-range conditions.
  • Genetically modified (GM) crops are not allowed under organic standards.
  • There are lower levels of pesticide residues in organic food, as only a small number of chemicals are allowed in organic food production.
  • Belief that it is healthier.

Reasons against buying organic food

  • Organic food may go ‘off’ more quickly than non-organic produce. This is because organic fruit and vegetables do not contain artificial preservatives and are not irradiated.
  • Organic food is more expensive to buy than non-organic food.
  • Many people believe that organic food does not allow the use of any chemicals. Contrary to popular opinion, organic food production does allow a limited number of chemicals to be used.
  • Eating organic food is often thought to be healthier than eating the equivalent non-organic produce. However, a study by Stanford University in the US found that there is not much difference between organic and conventional foods when it comes to health benefits.

Is organic food more nutritious?

Yes - Newcastle University unveiled a study that showed on average organic meet and milk contain up to 50% more Omega 3 fatty acids than non-organic products. Nutritionists agree that Omega-3 is essential in improving cardiovascular disease, neurological development and immune function and that we should all be getting more of it! Some studies have also shown it can be beneficial in preventing the spread of prostate cancer and aid in the treatment of other forms of cancer.

No - researchers at Stanford University don’t believe it is. The researchers looked at the results of more than 200 studies on the health benefits of organic as opposed to conventionally grown foods and they found no noticeable difference between the nutritional content and health benefit of either. They found organic food was 30% less likely to contain pesticides so eating organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

No - These findings are consistent with those of an independent review commissioned by the Foods Standards Agency which reported that there were "no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food".

No - Crystal Smith-Spangler, a primary care physician at Stanford University reviewed over 240 studies that compared either the health of people who ate organic or conventional foods or, more commonly, nutrient and contaminant levels in the foods themselves. The researchers found that organic produce and meat is generally no better for you than conventional food when it comes to vitamin and nutrient content. It concluded though, perhaps significantly, that people were getting a reduction in the exposure to pesticide and antibiotic resistant bacteria, which according to the researchers does not compromise our immediate health.

Does organic food have an effect on cancer rates?

The British Journal of Cancer recently published a study that looked at the theory that eating organic food reduces the risk of certain cancers amongst women - soft tissue sarcoma, breast cancer and non-Hodgkin cancers.

623,080 middle aged women who had never been diagnosed with cancer were asked to choose one of three categories

  1. Never ate organic food
  2. Sometimes ate organic food
  3. Usually or always ate organic food

They were asked this question at the beginning, during and at the end of the study. The study lasted 8 years.
The research took into consideration the women’s lifestyle health risk as well; if they smoked, exercised, were overweight and/or consumed meat. No details were taken about what type of organic food they ate.

At the beginning of the study 30% of women reported never eating organic food, 63% reported sometimes eating organic food and 7% reported usually or always eating organic food. At the end of the study the data was evaluated and showed that 53,769 of the 623,080 women had an incidence of being diagnosed with cancer.

Organic food help prevent cancer

Breast Cancer

The results showed that the women who stated that they usually or always ate organic food had a higher incidence of breast cancer then compared to the women who never ate organic food. However, many of the women who consumed organic food were in a higher socioeconomic group and more likely to consume more alcohol- another risk factor for breast cancer. Also it was possible that these women were more aware of the risk of breast cancer and attended breast screening sessions which may have led to a diagnosis.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma

It was always believed that exposure to pesticides resulted in the diagnosis of sarcoma but the results of the study did not prove this theory. No significant association between organic food consumption and risk of soft tissue sarcoma were found. 213 cases of soft tissue sarcoma were diagnosed.


The study showed a lower incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in women who reported usually or always eating organic food compared to those who reported never eating organic food.

It was not clear though in this study if other factors such as a healthy lifestyle; (non-smoking, exercise, low meat and alcohol consumption) played a part in the results.

Does organic food prevent cancer?

Organic food is now widely available in most major supermarkets and competition always brings prices down. Decide for yourself by looking at both sides of the argument and do what you feel is right for you. Whether or not you choose to eat organic however, keep in mind that the causes of cancer and what causes tumours to grow are unknown. What is certain is that in order to help you cope with the hidden cost of a cancer diagnosis, the new AIG Direct Cancer Cover policy will pay you up a cash sum of €32,000 with Standard cover or up to €64,000 with Platinum Plus cover. Find out more about our cancer care plan.

The article was written by the MedOnline Medical Team. MedOnline is an interactive web/mobile clinic. The views expressed in this article are those of MedOnline and do not necessarily reflect the views of AIG Europe Limited.


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