What Are the Benefits of Organic?

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The medical literature has been historically hostile to organic foods, blaming in part erroneous information supplied by the health food movement for our ignorance of nutrition. But until just a few generations ago, all food was organic. It's kind of ironic that what we now call conventional food really isn't very conventional for our species.

By eating organic we can reduce our exposure to pesticides, but it remains unclear whether such a reduction in exposure is clinically relevant. In my video, Are Organic Foods Safer?, I talked about some of the test tube studies comparing health-related properties of organic versus conventional foods. Organic produce was found to have higher antioxidant and antimutagenic activity combined with better inhibition of cancer cell proliferation, but in terms of studies on actual people rather than petri dishes, there isn't much science either way.

Why can't you just compare the health of those who buy organic to those who don't? Organic consumers do report being significantly healthier than conventional consumers, but they also tend to eat more plant foods in general and less soda and alcohol, processed meat, or milk, and just eat healthier in general. No wonder they feel so much better!

Therefore, there is an urgent need for interventional trials, or studies following cohorts of people eating organic over time like the Million Women Study in the UK, which was the first to examine the association between the consumption of organic food and subsequent risk of cancer. The only significant risk reduction they found, though, was for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This is consistent with data showing a higher risk of developing lymphoma in those who have higher levels of pesticides stored in their butt fat, a study undertaken because farmworkers have been found to have higher rates of lymphoma.

Parental farmworker exposure is also associated with a birth defect of the penis called hypospadias, and so researchers decided to see if moms who failed to choose organic were at increased risk. Indeed they found that frequent consumption of conventional high-fat dairy products was associated with about double the odds of the birth defect. This could just be because those that choose organic have other related healthy behaviors, or it could be that high-fat foods like dairy products bioamplify the fat-soluble toxins in our environment.

In my video, Are Organic Foods Healthier?, you can see two other general population pesticide studies that have raised concerns. One study found about a 50 to 70% increase in the odds of ADHD among children with pesticide levels in their urine, and another that found triple the odds of testicular cancer among men with higher levels of organochlorine pesticides in their blood. 90% of such pollutants come from fish, meat, and dairy, which may help explain rising testicular cancer rates in many western countries since World War II.

What about interventional trials? All we have in the medical literature so far are studies showing organically grown food provides health benefits to fruit flies raised on diets of conventional versus organic produce when subjected to a variety of tests designed to assess overall fly health. And what do you know--flies raised on diets made from organically grown produce lived longer. Hmm, insects eating insecticides don't do as well. Not exactly much of a breakthrough!


For how to best get pesticides off of conventional produce, see my video How to Make Your Own Fruit and Vegetable Wash.

Pesticides are one thing, but Are Organic Foods More Nutritious?

Overall, Are the Benefits of Organic Food Underrated or Overrated?

For more on the impact of food contaminants during pregnancy, see:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

What Are the Benefits of Organic?

What Are the Benefits of Organic?.jpeg

The medical literature has been historically hostile to organic foods, blaming in part erroneous information supplied by the health food movement for our ignorance of nutrition. But until just a few generations ago, all food was organic. It's kind of ironic that what we now call conventional food really isn't very conventional for our species.

By eating organic we can reduce our exposure to pesticides, but it remains unclear whether such a reduction in exposure is clinically relevant. In my video, Are Organic Foods Safer?, I talked about some of the test tube studies comparing health-related properties of organic versus conventional foods. Organic produce was found to have higher antioxidant and antimutagenic activity combined with better inhibition of cancer cell proliferation, but in terms of studies on actual people rather than petri dishes, there isn't much science either way.

Why can't you just compare the health of those who buy organic to those who don't? Organic consumers do report being significantly healthier than conventional consumers, but they also tend to eat more plant foods in general and less soda and alcohol, processed meat, or milk, and just eat healthier in general. No wonder they feel so much better!

Therefore, there is an urgent need for interventional trials, or studies following cohorts of people eating organic over time like the Million Women Study in the UK, which was the first to examine the association between the consumption of organic food and subsequent risk of cancer. The only significant risk reduction they found, though, was for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This is consistent with data showing a higher risk of developing lymphoma in those who have higher levels of pesticides stored in their butt fat, a study undertaken because farmworkers have been found to have higher rates of lymphoma.

Parental farmworker exposure is also associated with a birth defect of the penis called hypospadias, and so researchers decided to see if moms who failed to choose organic were at increased risk. Indeed they found that frequent consumption of conventional high-fat dairy products was associated with about double the odds of the birth defect. This could just be because those that choose organic have other related healthy behaviors, or it could be that high-fat foods like dairy products bioamplify the fat-soluble toxins in our environment.

In my video, Are Organic Foods Healthier?, you can see two other general population pesticide studies that have raised concerns. One study found about a 50 to 70% increase in the odds of ADHD among children with pesticide levels in their urine, and another that found triple the odds of testicular cancer among men with higher levels of organochlorine pesticides in their blood. 90% of such pollutants come from fish, meat, and dairy, which may help explain rising testicular cancer rates in many western countries since World War II.

What about interventional trials? All we have in the medical literature so far are studies showing organically grown food provides health benefits to fruit flies raised on diets of conventional versus organic produce when subjected to a variety of tests designed to assess overall fly health. And what do you know--flies raised on diets made from organically grown produce lived longer. Hmm, insects eating insecticides don't do as well. Not exactly much of a breakthrough!


For how to best get pesticides off of conventional produce, see my video How to Make Your Own Fruit and Vegetable Wash.

Pesticides are one thing, but Are Organic Foods More Nutritious?

Overall, Are the Benefits of Organic Food Underrated or Overrated?

For more on the impact of food contaminants during pregnancy, see:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

GMO Soy and Breast Cancer

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In response to concerns raised about the toxicity of Monsanto's roundup pesticide, which ends up in GMO foods (See Is Monsanto's Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?), Monsanto's scientists countered that these in vitro experiments used physiological irrelevant concentrations, meaning dripping roundup on cells in a petri dish at levels far above what would be realistically found in the human body.

Sure, it's probably not a good idea to mix up your alcohol with your roundup and chug the stuff, or try to commit suicide by drinking or injecting it. And there are rare cases of Parkinson's reported after getting directly sprayed with it, or working for years in a pesticide production plant, but that's not your typical consumer exposure.

As shown in my video GMO Soy and Breast Cancer, some of the researchers responded to the accusation claiming they used the kinds of concentrations that are used out in the fields. Therefore every little droplet we spray worldwide is above the threshold concentration they found to cause adverse effects. Monsanto's folks responded saying, "Yes, that's the concentration we spray, but that's not the concentration that human cells are bathing in. Once it gets into drinking water or food, it's highly diluted." And, they're quick to point out, if we look at people with the greatest exposure--pesticide workers--the vast majority of studies show no link between the use of Roundup and cancer or non-cancer diseases. There are a few suggestive findings suggesting a link with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. One study of pesticide applicators suggested an association with multiple myeloma, and one study of the children of pesticide applicators found a tentative association with ADHD, but again these are folks experiencing a much greater exposure level than the general population that may just get a few parts per million in their food. But there had never been any studies done on the tiny levels found circulating in people's bodies, until now.

In a study out of Thailand, the maximum residue levels were set at parts per million (the concentrations found within human bodies is measured in parts per billion). The study found glyphosate can activate estrogen receptors at a few parts per trillion, increasing the growth of estrogen receptor positive human breast cancer cells in a petri dish. These results indicate "that truly relevant concentrations of the pesticide found on GMO soybeans possesses estrogenic activity."

But consumption of soy is associated with lower breast cancer risk (See BRCA Breast Cancer Genes and Soy), and improved breast cancer survival (See Breast Cancer Survival and Soy).

That may be because most GMO soy in the U.S. is fed to chickens, pigs, and cows as livestock feed, whereas most of the major soy food manufacturers use non-GMO soy. Or it could be because the benefits of eating any kind of soy may far outweigh the risks, but why accept any risk at all when we can choose organic soy products, which by law exclude GMOs.

The bottom-line is that there is no direct human data suggesting harm from eating GMOs, though in fairness such studies haven't been done, which is exactly the point that critics counter. This is why we need mandatory labeling on GMO products so that public health researchers can track whether GMOs are having any adverse effects.

It is important to put the GMO issue in perspective though. As I've shown (See Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease), there are dietary and lifestyle changes we can make that could eliminate most heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and cancer. Millions of lives could be saved. A healthy enough diet can even reverse our number one killer, heart disease. So, I'm sympathetic to the biotech industry's exasperation about GMO concerns when we still have people dropping dead from everything else they're eating. As one review concluded "consumption of genetically modified food entails risk of undesirable effects... similar to the consumption of traditional food." In other words, buying the non-GMO Twinkie isn't doing our body much of a favor.

For more on the public health implications of genetically engineered crops in our food supply, check out the these videos:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image: Nesbitt_Photo / Flickr

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Does Antioxidant Intake Matter for Cancer?

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The USDA removed their online antioxidant database of foods, "concerned that ORAC values were routinely misused by food and dietary supplement manufacturing companies to promote their products." Indeed, supplement manufacturers got into my-ORAC-is-bigger-than-your-ORAC contests, comparing their pills to the antioxidant superfood du jour, like blueberries. We know there are lots of bioactive compounds in whole plant foods that may help prevent and ameliorate chronic disease in ways that have nothing to do with their antioxidant power, so I understand the USDA's decision. So should we just eat lots of whole healthy plant foods and not worry about which one necessarily has more antioxidants than the other, or does one's dietary antioxidant intake matter?

We have some new data to help answer that question. Researchers recently analyzed total dietary antioxidant capacity and the risk of stomach cancer, the world's second leading cancer killer. A half million people were studied, and dietary antioxidant capacity intake from different sources of plant foods was indeed associated with a reduction in risk. Note that they say dietary intake; they're not talking about supplements.

Not only do antioxidant pills not seem to help, they seem to increase overall mortality--that's like paying to live a shorter life. Just giving high doses of isolated vitamins may cause disturbances in our body's own natural antioxidant network. There are hundreds of different antioxidants in plant foods. They don't act in isolation; they work synergistically. Mother Nature cannot be trapped in a bottle.

Similar results were reported with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: the more ORAC units we eat per day, the lower our cancer risk drops (though antioxidants or not, green leafy vegetables were particularly protective. Going from eating one serving of green leafy vegetables per week to a serving a day may cut our odds of lymphoma in half).

Should we be worried about antioxidant intake during cancer treatment, since most chemo drugs work by creating free radicals? According to some of the latest reviews, highlighted in my video Food Antioxidants and Cancer, there is no evidence of antioxidant interference with chemotherapy, and antioxidants may actually improve treatment and patient survival.

But should we take a multivitamin? See Should We Take a Multivitamin?

What about fish oil supplements? Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

I recently covered how and why we should strive to eat antioxidants with every meal in an important three-part series:

  1. Minimum "Recommended Daily Allowance" of Antioxidants
  2. How to Reach the Antioxidant "RDA"
  3. Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal

Preferentially getting one's nutrients from produce not pills is a common theme in the nutrition literature. See, for example:

Antioxidants may also slow aging (See Mitochondrial Theory of Aging), reduce inflammation (See Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants), improve digestion (See Bulking Up on Antioxidants), and help prevent COPD (See Preventing COPD with Diet). So where are antioxidants found? See my series that starts with Antioxidant Content of 3139 Foods and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods.

What about the role of antioxidants in other leading causes of death? That's the subject of my video, Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Arya Ziai / Flickr

Original Link