Image Credit: Sally Plank

What Are the Benefits of Organic?

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:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


23 responses to “What Are the Benefits of Organic?

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  1. I am a 75 year old white male, whom does not smoke, drink hard liquor, nor ever have used narcotics. I eat basically organic foods, and am pretty much a non meat eater. In the last 10 years, I have only gotten head colds, or upper respiratory infections perhaps 3 times. I work out in the gym for one hour, 7 days per week. I feel great, and no one would guess my age. I am a medical and cancer researcher, so that it is safe to assume that I understand the dangers of eating or drinking anything with chemicals in it. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that chemicals in our food and drink, cannot ever be good — period ! If everyone would live this way, in general, the pharmaceutical firms would be out of business ! Not only that, but one could live healthy for at least 100 + years ! That is based on all of my readings and research. This is my opinion. If I am correct, I will be writing a lot of articles relating to healthy living once I am 110+ years old !

    1. I hope you’re right. Although I don’t eat much organic, my personal results are also excellent on a mostly conventional WFPB diet. However, I’m not at all sure that we can produce enough organic food to feed an exponentially growing world population of 8 billion.

      1. Synthetic laden food doesn’t produce more. It just produces more of one product, which is both worse for us and for the planet.
        John S
        PDX OR

    2. Allen – Please continue to post with us and let us know how you’re doing. At 64 I’m right behind you!

      You may be interested, since you are a researcher in science, in the work of Valter Longo, Ph.D. He is the Department Chair USC – Davis Dept of Gerontology studying aging with a particular emphasis in nutrition. He also studies fasting. I’ve posted a link at his most recent presentation in CA and you can take it from there and watch his other Youtube presentations.
      What he and his team have found is that when one fasts for 4 days or longer, the body’s cells go into “hibernation mode”. They stop uptaking nutrients and rest. Cancer cells, however, do not. One portion of his broad work has found that chemotherapy, administered when the body is in hibernation mode, works on the tumor but spares the healthy cells in the body. As well, it appears that after a 4 day fast, the body will have used up its “old” immune system cells and, once feeding begins again, develops new immune system stem cells i.e., the immune system is rebooted. His is a fascinating body of work.

      He has also paired with Dr. Alan Goldhammer at True North medical fasting center in Santa Rosa,CA who has also paired with Harvard Medical school to study these effects of fasting both for health and for medical-treatment reasons. Check out Dr. Goldhammer on Youtube as well.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgo5-5f3Q-Q

      Have fun!

    3. Have you ever heard of Salvestrols ? From what I have read they are Natural petrochemicals which develop on organic foods but not so much on conventional food .

    4. Mister Cohen will see if you are right. However I would like to say, suggesting “chemicals” as inherently bad is somewhat of an over generalization. We are nothing but a bag of chemicals ourselves. After all pretty much everything is. Moreover, if a chemical is natural doesn’t necessarily make it any more benign than a manmade manipulated chemical. There are some deadly toxicants from the animal and plant community that you probably wish to avoid.

      My own elixir for long life is a concoction of every superfood rumored for nutritional greatness in one smoothie consumed twice a day. That with exercise and unhealthy activity avoidance has given me indicators of a cardiovascular system of an 18 year old and blood that nears text book perfection.

      If that is enough for long life, who knows?

    5. Great to hear your doing excellent!
      I feel compelled to mention that organic does not mean chemical free……we could go down the road that everything is chemicals but I wont because its silly. Ill just say that organic agriculture industry uses chemicals, natural* chemicals, usually extracts; meaning unnaturally concentrated. I have seen data that shows these chemicals are actually more toxic than the ones the conventional industry uses. That was a couple years ago so im open to view more current information.

      I started eating mostly conventional, after eating mostly organic, 2 years ago. …..no changes I have witnessed and I consider myself highly aware of my body. I spend 400-500 on food (85% produce) each month. If I did only organic, because of where I live, my food bill would double.

      Ultimately, organic is best, or biodynamic, etc….i absolutely 100% agree. But for those who are unable to efficiently source it, conventional produce is better than no produce.

      *what isn’t natural? Humans are natural so everything we do is natural? Again, a silly point but I’m felling up to mentioning these silly things on this wonderful week or Spring. …Whether or not Im open for discussion on all this content is anyones guess.

    6. Thank you Allen Cohen for your message. I am just behind you and will be 75 later this year. I’ve been on WFPB diet (vegan) since December last year and while my blood tests were seldom bad, I’ve seen marked improvement in most everything. My BP dropped to 110/70, my cholesterol is now 190 and going down, and my major concern with kidney function (which was declining last year) is now normal GFR. I am sold on the vegan “diet” while consuming mostly starches (Dr. John McDougall) and am planning on living to 100, God willing.

  2. What about the soil, water, bees, fish and all environmental sources impacted by these chemicals. It’s not just humans that suffer.

  3. I’m a huge fan of Dr. Greger’s and have been following a plant-based diet for four-plus years because of his excellent work. I feel so healthy! (I was vegetarian before but feel much healthier as a vegan.) Anyway, I love when the daily email leads to an article to read rather than a video. It is so much faster to get information from reading rather than sitting through a three-minute video! Why go to all the trouble to make those videos when reading is so much faster, not to mention silent? Thank you!

  4. usually there’s a text version of the videos, so you can simply read that if you wish.
    I often listen to the videos while doing other things, plus I enjoy seeing the graphs and charts. I think it’s a matter of personal preference. I am so glad that there are videos, and, I just discovered, audio podcasts as well, for those of us who don’t have time to sit and read. ;-)

  5. Just a shout out to a fellow EMMC Residency attendee….I am class of ’88. Read your posts daily, read your book, “How not to Die”, and do my best to follow your dietary advice.

  6. I am a supporter of organic farming because, in the long run, it is better for the environment, which affects the health of our whole planet. Paying a little more for organically grown food helps support the expansion of organic farming and helps to eliminate unhealthy and destructive farming practices. I became interested in eating organically grown food back in the 1970’s after reading Rachel Carson’s work. For a short while I was one of the first California Certified Organic Farmers with just a small vegetable plot and several fruit trees in a rural area, selling at Farmers’ Market. Now I am a school principal working to educate families about the health benefits of eating well and about the environmental benefits of taking good care of our planet.

  7. There is something very wrong with the system.
    Why should food be labelled as organic, it should just be labelled food.

    The other food should be called non-organic and should have an ingredient list showing the herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, gmo’s…

    Monsanto caused all kinds of legal/financial grief to a Saskatchewan farmer whose crops were contaminated with Monsanto’s seed.

  8. Thank you for your question. The term ‘natural’ is very non specific used by many industries to make us think a product is good for us. I think with regards to food that natural mostly refers to as close to nature as possible i.e. the whole food unprocessed.

  9. It got me when you said that organic products make a person healthier which makes them feel better. I guess I have to tell this to a friend of mine so that he will try using natural health products. He has been feeling really low at the moment even if he is physically active. I guess he could use this information to bring back the healthier him.

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