Are Organic Foods Healthier?

Jun 21, 2010 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In two of my previous blogs on organic foods I reviewed the published studies that have shown that organically-grown food has more vitamins, minerals and health-promoting 'phytonutrients', as well as far fewer pesticides than commercially grown foods. So, if one chooses what foods to eat, at least partly on the level of nutrients they provide, as well as their potential for toxicity (or lack thereof), then organic foods would already be a good choice. But, is there evidence that these foods really help us to be healthier?

A recent study in the medical journal Pediatrics reported that children who have higher levels of organophosphate pesticides in their urine had higher rates of attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder higher rates of attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder (ADHD). For one of the pesticides, those children who had high levels of it had almost twice the rate of ADHD as those without any of that pesticide in their urine. The studies in Seattle that I reviewed in my earlier blogs showed that children who ate organic foods had virtually undetectable levels of organophosphate pesticides in their urine. So, maybe ADHD is not a deficiency of Ritalin, but an overload of commonly found food-borne pesticides!

However, until they do a study that compares children eating organic foods with those that eat commercial foods to find out if the organic kids have less of a problem with ADHD, we will not know for sure -- but it seems possible from my perspective.

With the previously reviewed information we know that organic foods have higher levels of the healthy "phytonutrients" in foods. These compounds typically have very high anti-oxidant activity, which is very important for maintaining health and preventing illness. In fact, oxidative damage is thought to be the major cause of the physical changes that we call "aging." So, having higher levels of antioxidants in our foods would be considered a wonderful potential health benefit. In fact, a few studies have already been done that also show that consumers of organic foods have higher levels of these healthy compounds in their bodies.

There are also implied health benefits for organic foods when it comes to cancer prevention. One study measured the ability of vegetables to suppress the cancer-causing genetic damage of various environmental toxins, including benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) which is the main cancer-causing chemical in cigarette smoke and auto exhaust. They found that the organic vegetables were much more active than their conventional counterparts in suppressing the toxicity of this nasty chemical . In another laboratory study, organic strawberries were able to block the rapid growth of colon and breast cancer cells. For both of these cancer cell lines, the extracts of the organic berries were much more potent at reducing cancer cell proliferation than the conventional strawberries.

Only one article to date has been published that actually studied whether an organic diet made a difference in health outcomes with humans. These researchers measured whether or not diets with varying amounts of organic foods made any difference in the rate of allergies for infants. They found that children who consumed organic diets had fewer problems with eczema. When they looked more closely at the types of organic foods, they found that children consuming organic dairy had a 36 percent reduction in their risk of having this allergic skin disorder. With the rates of eczema and other allergic disorders rising, this is a very important finding.

So, while the studies are limited, they are positive in showing that organic foods provide both implied, as well as, actual health benefits. These benefits alone may save the consumer far more money than is spent on the cost of buying organic foods.