Sunday, March 30, 2014

'Organic food does not cut women's cancer risk' - study

The usual finding

Eating pesticide-free organic food does nothing to reduce a woman's risk of developing cancer, according to a study.

Researchers instead found that there was a small increased risk of breast cancer seen in consumers who opted for organic produce.

They asked 600,000 women aged 50 or over whether they ate organic food and monitored their health for nine years.

In total, around 50,000 of the women developed one of 16 of the most common cancers during the study period.

A comparison between 180 women who never ate organic food and 45,000 who "usually" or "always" chose organic found no difference in overall cancer risk.

In fact, they saw a small increased risk of breast cancer in organic consumers. But this result could be due to other factors or pure chance, the scientists said.

A reduction in the risk of the blood cancer non-Hodgkin lymphoma was also linked to eating organic, but again scientists said this may not be a genuine association.

Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist at Oxford University, said: "In this large study of middle-aged women in the UK we found no evidence that a woman's overall cancer risk was decreased if she generally ate organic food.

"More research is needed to follow-up our findings of a possible reduction in risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma."

There have been widely-reported concerns that pesticides commonly used in food production might increase cancer risk, but so far the evidence has been inconclusive.

Conventionally-grown fruit and vegetables contain very small pesticide residues.

The new findings were published in the British Journal of Cancer, which is owned by Cancer Research UK.

Dr Claire Knight, the charity's health information manager, said: "This study adds to the evidence that eating organically grown food doesn't lower your overall cancer risk.

"But if you're anxious about pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables, it's a good idea to wash them before eating.

"Scientists have estimated that over 9 per cent of cancer cases in the UK may be linked to dietary factors, of which almost 5 per cent are linked to not eating enough fruit and vegetables.

"So eating a well-balanced diet which is high in fruit and vegetables - whether conventionally grown or not - can help reduce your cancer risk."

The latest findings are certain to upset supporters of organic food, who include a number of celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who have claimed there is a “cocktail effect” of pesticides.

The study’s findings were questioned by Peter Melchett, director of policy at the Soil Association, which campaigns “for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use”.

He said: “We find it strange that a 21 per cent decrease in non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer, among women who reported usually or always eating organic food, is being so readily dismissed by Cancer Research UK.

“They seem to have a poor understanding of what pesticides are found in and how pesticides get into food.

“Many modern pesticides are ‘systemic’ which means they are in every part of the plant and can’t be washed away whatever consumers do when they prepare food.”

Mr Melchett said the most-commonly found pesticide in British food, according to government testing, is Monsanto’s in bread because it is sprayed on wheat just before harvest.

“Dr Claire Knight says that if people are anxious about pesticides they should wash food before eating it: we’d be interested to know how she expects consumers to wash loaves of bread,” he said.

The Soil Association claims four out of five households in the UK buy organic foods, for a variety of reasons.

Mr Melchett went on: “These range from the benefits organic brings to wildlife – no system of farming is more bee-friendly – to the fact that organic standards prohibit GM crops and ingredients, harmful hydrogenated fats and controversial artificial food colours and additives.

“People also buy organic to reduce their exposure to pesticides – 320 of which can be routinely used in non-organic farming.”

Mr Melchett also questioned the researchers’ methodology, including what he claimed was the failure to monitor the women’s weight and physical activity regularly during the study.

He added: “It’s widely accepted that studying the relationship between diet and cancer is very challenging, given that processes that lead to development of cancer can operate over a lifetime and are hard to separate.”


Good news! Scientists say it's HEALTHY to be overweight - but only if you are over 65

An Australian study shows that older people with a higher body mass index live for longer.

Scientists at Deakin University, in Melbourne, found people over the age of 65 who fell into the overweight category of BMI were least likely to die.

They found that the lowest risk of death was among those with a BMI of about 27.5, which is considered overweight according to the World Health Organisation.

They also found that mortality rates were much higher among those with a BMI between 22 and 23 – this is within the normal range.

‘It is time to reassess the healthy weight guidelines for older people,’ lead author Professor Caryl Nowson said.

‘Our results showed that those over the age of 65 with a BMI of between 23 and 33 lived longer, indicating that the ideal body weight for older people is significantly higher than the recommended 18.5 to 25 “normal” healthy weight range.’

The research team reviewed studies published between 1990 and 2013 that reported on BMI and risk of death in people aged 65 years and over.

Collectively these studies followed around 200,000 people over an average of 12 years.

The results showed that people with a ‘normal’ BMI of 21 to 22 were 12 per cent more likely to die.

They also revealed that people with a BMI of 20 to 20.9 were 19 per cent more likely to die and people with a BMI of 33 to 33.9, which is classed as obese, were eight per cent more likely to die.

Professor Nowson suggests that most older people need to get off the weight loss bandwagon.  She said: ‘These findings indicate that, by current standards, being overweight is not associated with an increased risk of dying.

‘Rather, it is those sitting at the lower end of the normal range that need to be monitored, as older people with BMIs less than 23 are at increased risk of dying.’

Advice on ideal body weight should take into account factors other than BMI, Professor Nowson said.

‘Factors such as chronic diseases and the ability to move around need to be considered as there is no real issue with being in the overweight range unless it is preventing people from moving around freely,’ she added.

‘Rather than focussing on weight loss, older people should put their efforts into having a balanced diet, eating when hungry and keeping active.

‘Putting too much emphasis on dietary restrictions also increases the risk malnutrition in this age group. Malnutrition in older people is not well recognised as this can occur even when BMI is in the overweight range.’

The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


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