In a study, those who ate more organic produce, dairy, meat and other products had 25 percent fewer cancer diagnoses over all, especially lymphoma and breast cancer.
People who buy organic food are usually convinced it’s better for their health, and they’re willing to pay dearly for it. But until now, evidence of the benefits of eating organic has been lacking.
Now a new French study that followed 70,000 adults, most of them women, for five years has reported that the most frequent consumers of organic food had 25 percent fewer cancers over all than those who never ate organic. Those who ate the most organic fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and other foods had a particularly steep drop in the incidence of lymphomas, and a significant reduction in postmenopausal breast cancers.
The magnitude of protection surprised the study authors. “We did expect to find a reduction, but the extent of the reduction is quite important,” said Julia Baudry, the study’s lead author and a researcher with the Center of Research in Epidemiology and Statistics Sorbonne Paris Cité of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. She noted the study does not prove an organic diet causes a reduction in cancers, but strongly suggests “that an organic-based diet could contribute to reducing cancer risk.”
The study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, was paid for entirely by public and government funds.
Nutrition experts from Harvard who wrote a commentary accompanying the study expressed caution, however, criticizing the researchers’ failure to test pesticide residue levels in participants in order to validate exposure levels. They called for more long-term government-funded studies to confirm the results.
“From a practical point of view, the results are still preliminary, and not sufficient to change dietary recommendations about cancer prevention,” said Dr. Frank B. Hu, one of the authors of the commentary and the chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
He said it was more important for Americans to simply eat more fruits and vegetables, whether the produce is organic or not, if they want to prevent cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends consuming a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of refined grains and limited amounts of red meat, processed meat and added sugars.
Dr. Hu called for government bodies like the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture to fund research to evaluate the effects of an organic diet, saying there is “strong enough scientific rationale, and a high need from the public health point of view.”
The only other large study that has asked participants about organic food consumption with reference to cancer was a large British study from 2014. While it found a significantly lower risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among women who said they usually or always ate organic food, it also found a higher rate of breast cancers in the organic consumers — and no overall reduction in cancer risk.
The authors of that study, known as the Million Women study, said at the time that wealthier, more educated women in the study, who were more likely to purchase organic food, also had risk factors that increase the likelihood of having breast cancer, such as having fewer children and higher alcohol consumption.
The organic food market has been growing in recent years, both in Europe and the United States. Sales of organic food increased to $45.2 billion last year in the United States, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 survey.
For food to be certified organic by the Department of Agriculture, produce must be grown without the use of most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and may not contain genetically modified organisms. Meat must be produced by raising animals fed organic food without the use of hormones or antibiotics. Such items now represent 5.5 percent of all food sold in retail outlets, according to the organic trade group.
A representative of the Alliance for Food and Farming, a group that seeks to address public concerns about pesticides, said consumers should not worry about cancer risks from consuming conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables. “Decades of peer-reviewed nutritional studies largely conducted using conventionally grown produce have shown that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables prevents diseases, like cancer, and leads to a longer life,” executive director Teresa Thorne said in an emailed statement.
For the study, researchers recruited 68,946 volunteers who were 44, on average, when the study began. The vast majority, 78 percent, were women.
Participants provided detailed information about how frequently they consumed 16 different types of organic foods. The researchers asked about a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy and soy products, meat, fish and eggs, as well as grains and legumes, bread and cereals, flour, oils and condiments, wine, coffee and teas, biscuits and chocolate and sugar, and even dietary supplements. Study volunteers provided three 24-hour records of their intake, including portion sizes, over a two-week period.
The information was far more detailed than that provided by participants in the British Million Women study, who responded to only a single question about how often they ate organic.
Participants in the French study also provided information about their general health status, their occupation, education, income and other details, like whether they smoked. Since people who eat organic food tend to be health-conscious and may benefit from other healthful behaviors, and also tend to have higher incomes and more years of education than those who don’t eat organic, the researchers made adjustments to account for differences in these characteristics, as well as such factors as physical activity, smoking, use of alcohol, a family history of cancer and weight.
Even after these adjustments, the most frequent consumers of organic food had 76 percent fewer lymphomas, with 86 percent fewer non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, and a 34 percent reduction in breast cancers that develop after menopause.
The reductions in lymphomas may not be all that surprising. Epidemiological studies have consistently found a higher incidence of some lymphomas among people like farmers and farm workers who are exposed to certain pesticides through their work.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified three pesticides commonly used in farming — glyphosate, malathion and diazinon — as probable human carcinogens, and linked all three to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
One reason an organic diet may reduce breast cancer risk is because many pesticides are endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen function, and hormones play a causal role in breast cancer.
Take action to protect your food—and your family—from BPA.
Our exploding use of plastics may be causing population decline in the industrial world. The possible cause? “Chemicals in commerce.” Namely plastics.
Our bodies have receptor sites for hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. These sites fulfill various important bodily functions. Imagine if instead of real hormones the receptors receive chemicals that mimic hormones, such as are found in plasticizers. This fools the body into thinking it has the real thing until, oops, the plasticizer or other hormone disrupting chemical derails the system. Called endocrine disruption, this phenomenon was brought to worldwide attention in 1996 with the seminal book Our Stolen Future.
There are a number of before-and-after reports of people eating food that had been stored in plastic packaging who then have their blood drawn to see horrifying spikes of the plasticizer bisphenol a (BPA). The discussion about the experiment in the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck is the most famous. Many plastic items are made with BPA, and parents especially have put pressure on companies to drop it. Unfortunately, the common “BPA-Free” substitute, BPS, may cause hyperactivity.
A 2014 NIH study reports that “Growing evidence from research on laboratory animals, wildlife, and humans supports the view that BPA produces an endocrine disrupting effect and adversely affects male reproductive function.”
Phthalates such as DEHP are designed to make plastic soft, such as for plastic food wrap. DEHP has been reported in an NIH study to affect male reproductive development, sperm quality and male hormone levels in general. The problems can go beyond low sperm quality, to include low libido, cancer and erectile dysfunction.
Worse, experimental results actually suggested that multiple generations of exposure may have increased male sensitivity to the chemical. Niels Erik Skakkebaek, an adjunct professor in endocrine disrupters, has for years advocated the concept that poor semen quality is part of a bigger phenomenon, called testicular dysgenesis syndrome.
One real challenge with the research is that scientists have only measured plasticizers in urine since 2000. Skeptics will say there isn’t nearly enough research to prove that plastic exposure is causing low sperm count. Industry is fighting hard to keep BPA on the market and FDA is changing course due to that pressure.
BPA isn’t just bad for men. Research has shown that BPA exposure can impact pregnant women’s thyroids and has been linked to cell damage in post-menopausal women.
The mandate of the precautionary principle is to take preventive action in the face of scientific uncertainty in order to prevent harm. Carolyn Raffensperger is the founding executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network. She says the precautionary principle “has three building blocks. One is scientific uncertainty. The second is the likelihood or the plausibility of harm. The third element is precautionary action….the Precautionary Principle invites action: it says you’ve got to take action.”
Here are ways to take action to protect your food from BPA.
1. Smell and taste test.
Can you smell or taste plastic? If you can smell plastic, track down the source and remove it. If you can taste plastic, don’t eat that type or source of food again.
2. Use glass or stainless steel.
Avoid drinking from plastic bottles and choose glass or stainless steel instead. Make a special point to avoid polycarbonate, the “hard” plastic with a recycling code of #7 (more about this in #5, below). And be sure to use glass baby bottles for infants.
3. Avoid processed food.
If there was ever a reason to stop eating processed foods, this is it. The plasticizer adipate (DEHA) is used as an additive in all sorts of foods, including ones you wouldn’t expect, such as fat, dairy and egg-based deserts, frozen fish, processed fruit and breakfast cereals. It is a chemical that helps material resist high temperatures and is also used in foods as a bulking agent, stabilizer and thickener.
4. Skip plastic food wraps.
DEHP (phthalates) are found in food wrap and many kinds are made of PVC, #3 on the recycling code. It’s especially important to refrain from storing hot, fatty food in plastic as the plastics easily migrate into the food. So skip the cling wrap and go for glass food storage containers. Never heat food in plastic in a microwave.
5. Check recyling codes.
Check for #3 and #7 recycling codes, and use plastic-free alternatives for the products. #3 is commonly used for packaging of salad dressing, ketchup, mineral water, cooking oil, mouthwash, shampoo, etc. #7 is commonly found in aseptic packaging and baby bottles. It is also found in some reusable water bottles, stain-resistant food storage containers, most canned foods, and hard plastic water bottles. Read more about toxic plastics in “The 10 Most Contaminated Foods in Your Fridge.”
6. Don’t burn plastic.
Don’t burn plastic, whatever you do. Don’t start a fire using any food packaging in the fireplace or wood stove, don’t clean up a campsite before you leave by burning packaging, and don’t burn food packaging in the backyard burn barrels. Breathing these chemicals is not a good idea!
7. Make food essentials at home.
Buy products packaged in glass or learn to make your own: 10 Healthy Food Essentials You Can Make at Home.
8. Skip canned foods and soda.
Just skip canned food and soda until the industry finds plastic-free alternatives. Epoxy resins containing BPA are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans. Note that aseptic packaging, such as Tetra Pak, is BPA-free, but does contain low-density polyethylene (LDPE).
9. Check your wine and beer containers.
Wine that has been fermented in BPA-resin lined vats will contain BPA, as will wine that touches synthetic corks that are made with BPA. Happily, it is extremely rare for wine to be fermented in BPA-resin lined vats to begin with. Most wine is fermented in temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks. Wines that have BPA are fermented in concrete fermentation vats, but check your vineyard to make sure, if local. Also, beer cans are lined with BPA, so choose glass bottles instead.
10. Avoid plastic food containers.
Polycarbonate is a hard plastic, so those hard plastic food storage containers are out. Instead of storing food in plastic, use glass.
11. Store filtered water in glass containers.
You need filtered water. Most counter-top water filters have a polycarbonate receptacle. You can manage a few workarounds for this. Place the top of the filter on top of a big glass or stainless steel jug so the water will pass through the filter and be stored in a clean container.
12. Swap out plastic kitchen appliances for glass.
The receptacles of many kitchen appliances, like coffee makers, blenders and food processors are plastic. Most coffee makers have a plastic reservoir to hold the water. Most blenders, food processords and popcorn makers are made entirely of polycarbonate. For coffee, you can use a glass French press. Make sure you don’t put hot fatty food into kitchen appliances as they suck up plastic the most.
13. Avoid handling receipts.
The thermal paper for cash register receipts carries large amounts of BPA. When you shop for food, try not to handle the receipt with your exposed hand.
Annie B. Bond is the author of five healthy/green living books, including Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999). She is the co-author of True Food: Eight Simple Steps to a Healthier You, winner of the Gourmand Awards Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook in the World.
Michelle Schoffro Cook October 21, 2015
When you paint your nails or go for a manicure, you may be getting more than you bargained for: hormone imbalances and the potential health problems that can result.
A new Duke University-Environmental Working Group (EWG) study published in the medical journal Environment International found that the hormone disruptor triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) found in nail polish (even some seemingly “natural” ones) showed up in every woman the researchers tested, if they had recently painted their nails. The researchers tested ten different brands of nail polishes to determine which ones contained the hormone disruptor: eight of the nail polish brands contained TPHP, including two brands that did not list the ingredient on the label.
Hormone disruptors, or endocrine disruptors as they are also known, are a group of chemicals that cause hormonal imbalances, which are sometimes linked to obesity and weight gain, development of breasts in men, breast cancer and many other possible health issues.
The researchers took urine samples of the women who participated to obtain baseline readings of diphenyl phosphate (DPHP) in their urine since DPHP is a metabolite of TPHP that shows up in urine and demonstrates exposure to the toxin. Then the women painted their nails with a nail polish containing less than 1 percent of TPHP by weight and had their urine tested again 10 to 14 hour afterward. The women had a nearly seven-fold increase of DPHP in their urine, suggesting that the TPHP had made its way into the women’s bodies.
But the researchers wanted to determine whether the TPHP found its way into their bodies through inhalation of fumes or through absorption through their nails. To do so, some women painted synthetic nails adhered to rubber gloves so that TPHP could not be absorbed. In this way, the researchers could compare their results. Urinary levels of DPHP were assessed again and found to be significantly lower in the women who wore gloves, suggesting that the primary route of TPHP into the body was through contact with the nails, not inhalation as many people might think. The researchers concluded that painting nails with nail polish is a significant source of the endocrine disruptor TPHP.
TPHP is a plasticizer that may be added to nail polishes to make them more flexible and durable. According to the Environmental Working Group, TPHP is a reproductive and developmental toxin, meaning that it can interfere with fertility and potentially fetal development. Additionally, the chemical can be toxic to the brain and nervous system and cause hormonal imbalances that could lead to many serious health effects. It is also suspected of being an environmental toxin. The organization has compiled a database of over 3,000 nail polishes, of which 49 percent disclose that they contain TPHP, but some contain the endocrine disruptor and do not disclose its presence in the products.
The scientists believe that other ingredients found in the nail polishes made the nails more permeable, thereby allowing TPHP to be absorbed through the nails into the body.
Some of the brands that contain TPHP include: Sally Hansen, Wet n Wild, Opi, Revlon, Maybelline, Essie, butter LONDON, Milani, SpaRitual, Orly, theBalm, Nuance by Salma Hayek and perhaps most surprising, Beauty without Cruelty (BWC). Check out the article, “12 Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands” to find better options but be aware that because there are insufficient regulations surrounding the use or disclosure about use, some brands may claim to be devoid of TPHP and may still contain the toxic ingredient.
Environmental pollutants may alter the body’s metabolism and predispose some individuals to weight gain.
Sedentary lifestyles and poor diets have long been blamed for people’s inability to lose weight. But growing evidence points to environmental pollutants called “obesogens” that may alter the body’s metabolism and predispose some individuals to weight gain.
“There’s no question that diet and exercise are the major players in the obesity epidemic. But the environment plays a significant role, too,” says Dr. John Molot, a physician at the University of Toronto-affiliated Environmental Health Clinic at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. “There are many chemicals in the environment that make you gain weight and make it more difficult to lose weight.”
These chemicals are found in many everyday products, including some plastic bottles and containers, liners of metal food cans, detergents, personal care products, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics and pesticides, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which has conducted research in this area for three decades.
What are Obesogens?
Obesogens are known as “endocrine disruptors” because they interfere with the chemical messaging of hormones to cells by turning on, shutting off or modifying signals. The endocrine system consists of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, and more. Some obesogens affect the number or size of fat cells, while others impact hormones associated with metabolism. Fetal and early life exposure to obesogens may alter fat-cell makeup and metabolism. Adults are at risk, too.
The World Health Organization has identified about 800 chemicals that are known or suspected to be endocrine disruptors, yet only a few have been investigated. The NIEHS has called endocrine disruption “an important public health concern.”
“The research is absolutely exploding in this area. There are many man-made chemicals that affect the receptor sites on cells so they respond differently,” says Margaret Sears, an environmental health researcher associated with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and other institutions.
More than one-third of American adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in teens in the last 30 years. Obesity-related conditions – such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers – represent the leading causes of preventable death.
Scientists once believed that fat cells primarily stored and released extra energy as needed. “Now we know that fat is a complicated hormone gland that is capable of communicating with other tissues, such as the brain and immune system,” Molot says.
One group of chemicals called persistent organic pollutants is difficult to avoid. “These chemicals don’t break down,” Molot says. “They get into the atmosphere and the water and travel around the world. They get into the food chain and climb up the food chain. They’re found in newborn children because their mothers have been exposed.”
Chemicals like flame retardants found in mattresses, pillows, computers, wall insulation and many other products are obesogens. These chemicals can be inhaled when they adhere to tiny dust particles in the air that can’t be seen.
“Even microwave popcorn bags contain chemicals so they’re less likely to explode,” Sears says.
Although people of all ages are at risk to chemical exposure, children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.
“We need to be super concerned about our kids,” Sears says. “There are chemicals that can affect the number of fat cells that your body makes as you’re growing as a child. Although fat cells can get larger or smaller, it’s much more difficult to destroy fat cells when you are older if you created a lot of fat cells as a child.”
Young children who crawl on the floor and put their hands or toys in their mouths are at a higher risk of ingesting flame retardants, stain repellents and other chemicals that land on tiny dust particles. “Although it seems trivial, this hand-to-mouth behavior is a major route of exposure for very young children,” Sears says.
Air pollution is a major risk factor for obesity, too. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from motor vehicle exhaust, residential heating, oil refining, charbroiled foods and cigarette smoke are obesogens. “One study found that kids with high exposure to these chemicals are more likely to be obese,” Molot says. “Children born to mothers who had higher exposures to these pollutants are more likely to be programmed to become obese.”
Protecting Yourself and Your Family
Although more research is needed to understand the potential adverse health affects of environmental pollutants, people can take steps now to protect themselves and their loved ones.
“There are lots of things you can do to reduce your exposure to these chemicals, save money, simplify your life and save the environment all at the same time,” Sears says. For example:
Choose organic products when possible, and make foods rich in antioxidants (fruits and vegetables) a main part of your diet.
- Avoid eating foods heavily wrapped in plastic. “Plastics don’t last long in the body, but we just keep eating them every day,” Molot says. “So the majority of humans have plastics in them.”
- Beware of canned goods. Some cans are lined with bisphenol-A and bisphenol-S, both considered to be hormone disrupters.
- Avoid scented products – air fresheners, fabric softeners and personal care products – that contain phthalates. “That’s why the smell doesn’t go away,” Sears says.
- Improve the ventilation at home, and work to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals.
- Use natural cleaning products such as vinegar, plain soap and baking soda rather than products loaded with chemicals. “It’s a lot cheaper and it works just as well,” Sears says.
- Clean dust off surfaces, and damp mop the floor often.
- Avoid food with artificial colors and flavors. “Food tastes good and looks good. You don’t need to add this extra stuff to make it a weird color,” Sears says. “It’s done for marketing.”
- Sweating from exercise and sitting in a sauna helps the body get rid of toxins.
While these steps can reduce chemical exposures, experts encourage consumers to call upon policy makers and politicians to address the health implications of environmental pollutants in a more comprehensive and long-lasting manner.
“We need to start proving that chemicals and products are safe first, rather than proving that things are unsafe after [the] fact, as people are being affected,” Sears says.
BY CHERYL BIGUS SEPTEMBER 30, 2013
You endocrine system is an information superhighway that regulates your bodily functions. It releases hormone “messengers” through your body’s glands to stimulate and regulate everything your body does to keep you alive.
Understanding endocrine disruptors is a first line to balancing your endocrine system and hormone functions.
What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors and man-made chemicals that alter, mimic or block hormone production or the system that carries them. You can call these external stressors, while your internal stressors that affect the system are rooted in negative emotions, fear, trauma and stress.
Where can endocrine disruptors be found?
You might be surprised at how common they are, and that you’re exposed to them every day. They can be found in:
- common household cleaners
- yard, garden and farm chemicals
- personal care products
- artificial and “natural” flavors in processed food products
- parfum, “natural” fragrance, or anything “unscented.”
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council some of the proven endocrine disruptors include dioxin, PCBs, DDT, and other pesticides.
Some of these disruptors are surprisingly abundant in your internal and home environment. Here are some of the most common ones, along with the products that often contain them:
- Bisphenol: BPA, BPS in plastics and in the lining of canned goods.
- Triclosan: “antibacterial” products that interfere with thyroid hormones.
- Phthalates (DBT, DEHP): haircare products, lotions, some plastic food containers, vinyl.
- Perfluorinated chemicals: Teflon, Gore-Tex, PFOS, PFOA, as well as anything “stain-resistant,” make-up, nail polish and (surprise) dental floss.
- Parabens: butyl-, methyl-, ethyl-, and propyl-parabens act as synthetic estrogen.
- Sodium lauryl sulphates (SLS): a foaming agent in personal care and cleaning products.
- Fluoride: blocks proper absorption of iodine by the thyroid gland as well as affects the pineal, parathyroid and pancreas. It causes dental and skeletal fluorosis.
These are some of the major culprits, and by no means is this a complete list. There are more than 80,000 chemicals and pesticides on the market in the U.S. that have never been tested for safety, and they’re in everything from food packaging to your clothes, your furniture, carpets and cabinetry.
Why should you care?
These chemicals are in the air you breathe and many water supplies in the US. They affect everything in the food chain from plants, fish, birds and the mammals that eat them (that means you).
Even with the EPA in place, there isn’t proper testing done on chemicals to determine toxicity or the effects on the population. The government takes the stance that many of these chemicals are GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) … until proven otherwise.
The general population doesn’t have the resources to prove these chemicals are safe and government feels its a burden that is too much for industry to bear.
What can you do?
Start by getting rid of the plastics in your life and cleaning up your personal care products (including sunscreen) by replacing them with ones that don’t have parabens or SLS. Here are a few other rules of thumb that can help you eliminate some of the worst endocrine disruptors on the market today:
- Don’t buy anything stain-resistant or Teflon.
- Buy fresh or frozen instead of canned. There are a few companies that don’t use BPA-lined cans, such as Muir Glen and Eden Foods.
- If it smells like plastic or vinyl, it’s off-gassing and your body is absorbing that through your skin (your largest organ) and your lungs.
- Don’t purchase or use anything anti-bacterial which are in most personal care products to protect us from germs and microbes. Watch out it is in toothpaste now as well. Plain old fashioned non-detergent soap is good enough to fight most germs.
- Use bamboo cutting boards instead of plastic. They are naturally anti-microbial.
- Use fluoride-free dental products and water that you drink, cook with and bathe in.
- Start swapping out your cleaning and laundry supplies for soaps instead of detergents.
Don’t try to attack this all at once. As you can afford, start replacing things that you use or that you are in contact with the most.