Charles Benbrook: New study showing organic diets cut cancer risk is a big deal. Let’s treat it that way.
More than 1.7 million Americans will be newly diagnosed with cancer in 2018, and 35 percent of these cases will prove fatal.
Polarized response is a sign of the times<p>True believers in organic food and farming systems see proof and vindication in this paper, while defenders of the pesticide-status quo are generally dismissing it, citing one or more weaknesses from a long list of widely acknowledged shortcomings in this sort of study.</p><p>Does the study prove organic food will reduce cancer rates by 25 percent? No, of course not. Epidemiology studies cannot prove cause and effect. Could the study have been improved? Yes, of course, as can any study. </p><p>But for people wondering whether to take this study's encouraging results seriously, the question that really matters is did the weaknesses of the study likely inflate the health benefits of organic food? </p><p>Weakness #1: Self-reported diets. Study participants used a validated, online form to submit detailed dietary intake data across 16 major food groups. </p><p>Yes, multiple studies report that people do not always accurately recall, or report, what they actually ate. But deviations from actual intakes across the near-70,000 people in this study were likely comparable across all participants, regardless of how frequently they reported consuming a particular type of organic food. </p><p>So, were self-reported dietary intakes a source of inaccuracy -- yes. Were they a source of major bias in results -- not likely. </p><p>Weakness #2: Self-reported organic food intake frequency across the 16 food groups. There were three responses taken into account in calculating an aggregate "organic food score" for each study participant across each of the 16 food categories: (1) Two points when a participant reported buying organic brands "most of the time", (2) One point when organic brands were "occasionally" consumed, and (3) no points for all other responses ("never" or "I don't know").</p><p>Recall that the reduction in the number of cancer cases over a four-year period post-enrollment in this study is based on comparing the quartile (i.e. 25 percent of participants) at the high-end of the distribution of organic food scores (i.e., the people who eat the most organic food), compared to the 25 percent that consumed essentially none. </p><p>A close look at the data by quartile suggests clearly that the "low-intake of organic" group reliably contained people eating essentially no organic food, while the high-intake group included all, or nearly all of the people regularly consuming organic brands across at least a few categories of the 16 foods studied. </p><p>So, regardless of some degree of over- and under-reporting of organic food intake, the comparison of new cancer cases in the high versus low-intake group amounts to a comparison of people eating some, to a lot, versus no organic food.</p><p>Weakness #3: Failure to fully take into account all confounding variables. There has never been, and will never be, an epidemiological study that meets this threshold. So, unless one is willing to dismiss the entire field of epidemiology and all insights gained from well-designed studies, dealing with confounding factors is part of the process. Major source of bias? Not likely.</p><p>The French team carried out a variety of sensitivity analyses, introducing several confounding factors into their model individually, and then in various combinations. </p><p>After adjusting as fully as possible for confounding factors, they reported their main result in the studied cohort of 70,000 French citizens -- a 25 percent reduction in the risk of being diagnosed with a new case of cancer within four years after study enrollment in the high-organic food intake group, compared to the low (and essentially no) organic food intake group. </p><p>Might the percent reduction have changed if another four years of cancer incidence data had been available? Yes, it almost certainly would. Might the differences have narrowed if people were followed until death? Again, probably yes. Might it have widened? Maybe, but not likely, because 25 percent is a large share and many other factors are known to trigger or accelerate cancer.</p><p>But are there solid reasons to expect the above weaknesses and limitations are largely responsible for the strong statistical results in this study (i.e., consistently triggered bias in one direction)? None that I know of, or have yet heard from this study's already vocal critics. </p><p>Suppose the French team had been provided unlimited funding and a magic wand, and were able to overcome all of the above limitations and weaknesses. And upon rerunning their main model, the actual reduction in overall cancer rates in the high-organic food intake group fell to <em>only</em> 5 percent. </p><p>Just imagine the excitement that would accompany such a finding, until of course those who just don't believe pesticides are hazardous, or that organic food is safer, start anew the predictable litany of criticisms, questions, and worse.</p><p>In closing, thanks to the 70,000 citizens who took the time to enter all the data requested by the research team. And thanks to the French team for a quality piece of work that had to take a great effort to carry out. </p><p>I hope you will continue your work in this area, with adequate funding and perhaps even a slightly magic wand.</p><p><em>Charles Benbrook is a Visiting Scholar in the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Newcastle in the U.K.</em></p><p><em>Benbrook has served as an expert witness in several major pesticide and food-labeling related cases in which government regulatory policy has played a central role. </em><em>Visit his <a href="https://hygeia-analytics.com/" target="_blank">website</a> or contact him at </em><em>firstname.lastname@example.org</em></p>
Brent Wisner and Leah Segedie joined the Good Day L.A. crew to talk about breakfast cereal, Round Up weed killer and glyphosate: Should certain cereals be "off limits" in your household? How much of the controversy is hype and how much is fact?
When you think about the causes of overweight and obesity, conditions that now affect the majority of Americans, two factors likely come to mind immediately: dreadful dietary habits and lack of exercise. This is what I call the "orthodox wisdom" that we hear all the time.
Beyond eating and exercise<p> I don't mean to minimize poor diet and physical inactivity; these remain leading causes of overweight and obesity. But we in the scientific community are increasingly finding that exposure to chemicals in our diet and environment may be an under-recognized risk factor. </p><p> In the last decade, other researchers and I have identified dozens of chemicals that can increase susceptibility to becoming obese in animals, and trigger <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27760374" target="_blank">cultured cells</a> to become <a href="https://www.crcpress.com/Handbook-of-Obesity----Volume-1-Epidemiology-Etiology-and-Physiopathology/Bray-Bouchard/p/book/9781842145562" target="_blank">fat cells</a>. </p><p> The narrative about our obesity epidemic, which is now a severe public health crisis, continues to be stuck in the conversation about our modern lifestyles—too much food (especially the wrong kind) and not enough exercise. When doctors address patients who are overweight, they resort to the same old questions: "How much are you eating? How often do you exercise?" </p><p> Doctors rarely ask about what their patients may be exposed to (even unwittingly) in daily life—in their food, households, workplaces, and even in medicine cabinets. Indeed, many are hostile to the idea that chemical exposures may have effects on health. </p><p> However, there are many chemicals that you are exposed to on a daily basis (many of which will surprise you) that are connected to your body weight. Losing weight is no longer only about putting down the doughnuts and hopping on a treadmill. </p><p> Obesogens contribute to obesity by disrupting the normal development and balance of fat metabolism—how your body creates and stores fat. Obesogens can reprogram stem cells in the body to develop into more fat cells. Obesogen exposure also changes how your body responds to dietary choices and handles calories. </p><p> So even though you have bought into the latest trends—Paleo, low-carb, gluten-free, high-intensity interval training—you can still struggle mightily with weight because of what is in your environment (broadly defined). </p>
A heritable health hazard<p>One of the most pernicious ramifications of obesogens is that their effects can be passed on to future generations. That's right: The <a href="http://blumberg-lab.bio.uci.edu/reprints/janesick-2016b.pdf" target="_blank">effects of obesogen exposure can be <em>heritable</em>.</a></p><p>The havoc that obesogens wreak on our bodies can be passed down to our biological children, grandchildren and beyond. This is why understanding the science of obesogens and knowing how to avoid them is particularly important for women who intend to become pregnant, are already pregnant, or who have young children. </p><p>The developmental years are a sensitive period in one's life, during which the body can be more vulnerable to, and affected by chemical exposures. </p><p>Our children, grandchildren and beyond deserve to have the best possible chance to live long, healthy and lean lives without being saddled with a predisposition to the burden of obesity and its related consequences. </p><p>Reducing obesogen exposure in your life is an excellent start.</p><em>Bruce Blumberg has been conducting pioneering research in endocrinology and developmental biology for more than 30 years. He is professor in the Departments of Developmental and Cell Biology, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Biomedical Engineering at UC Irvine. He is the author of <a href="https://theobesogeneffect.com/" target="_blank">The Obesogen Effect: Why We Eat Less and Exercise More but Still Struggle to Lose Weight.</a></em>
Researchers find people's exposure to PFAS and certain flame retardants could be significantly reduced by opting for healthier building materials and furniture.
Fish exposed to harmful contaminants can pass on health issues such as reproductive problems to future generations that had no direct exposure.
An expanding wood pellet market in the Southeast has fallen short of climate and job goals—instead bringing air pollution, noise and reduced biodiversity in majority Black communities.