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Health Not Improved By Organic Foods

May 25, 2010

According to a new research review, consumers who often buy organic foods because they believe it improves their health could actually be wasting their money as there is no strong evidence showing that organically produced foods bring nutrition-related health benefits.

Well-designed studies that conclude organic foods may have health benefits beyond their mainstream products are few and far between, according to the review, carried out by researchers with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health in the UK.

They found that the studies which showed health benefits to organic eating only focused on short-term benefits — mainly antioxidant activity in the body — rather than long-term health outcomes. And most studies done on antioxidants failed to find differences between organic and conventional foods.

The review adds to findings reported last year from the same research team.

In that review, researchers dug through 162 articles published in scientific literature over the last half century and found no evidence that organic and conventional foods differ significantly in their nutritional content.

In their current review, they were only able to uncover 12 published studies that met their criteria for evaluating the health effects of organic foods. Four of the 12 studies were published in the last two years.

“A surprising and important finding of this review is the extremely limited nature of the evidence base on this subject, both in terms of the number and quality of studies,” wrote Dr. Alan D. Dangour and his colleagues.

Of the 12 studies researchers found, 6 were short-term clinical trials that looked at whether specific organic foods changed markers of antioxidant activity in participants’ blood.

Those trials showed no strong evidence that organic eating boosted antioxidant activity, but the studies were also very limited in respect to scale. The largest study included 43 men, and lasted no more than a few weeks.

In the other 6 studies, one found an association between organic foods and a lower risk of eczema in nearly 2,800 Dutch children age 2 or younger. Researchers in that study found that children who consumed organic dairy products only, showed the lower risk of the allergic skin condition than those who used conventional dairy products.

The study, did, however, have several limitations, including its reliance on parents who reported the incidence of eczema. And the basic design of the study does not allow for any conclusions about whether children’s consumption of organic dairy was the reason for the lower risk.

Organic foods are not just consumed for potential nutritional health benefits.

Organic foods are made without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics or hormones which could possibly reap benefits for people’s health and the environment.

In the current review, the researchers did not look for studies on the possible health benefits of reduced exposure to those substances.

The review is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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