Organic Consumers Association

Report Confirms More Health Benefits of Organic food

Public release date: 3-Mar-2003

Contact: Allison Byrum
American Chemical Society

Allison Byrum

Organically grown foods higher in cancer-fighting chemicals than
conventionally grown foods

Fruits and veggies grown organically show significantly higher levels of
cancer-fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, according to a
new study of corn, strawberries and marionberries. The research suggests
that pesticides and herbicides actually thwart the production of phenolics <
chemicals that act as a plant's natural defense and also happen to be good
for our health. Fertilizers, however, seem to boost the levels of
anti-cancer compounds.

The findings appear in the Feb. 26 print edition of the Journal of
Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American
Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. The article was
initially published Jan. 25 on the journal's Web site.

Flavonoids are phenolic compounds that have potent antioxidant activity.
Many are produced in plants in response to environmental stressors, such as
insects or competing plants.

"If an aphid is nibbling on a leaf, the plant produces phenolics to defend
itself," says Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D., a food scientist at the University of
California, Davis, and lead author of the paper. "Bitter or harsh phenolics
guard the plant against these pests."

The need for these natural safeguards decreases with the use of herbicides
and pesticides in conventional agriculture. This decrease is reflected in
the total amount of antioxidants the plants produce. "This helps explain why
the level of antioxidants is so much higher in organically grown food,"
Mitchell says. "By synthetically protecting the produce from these pests, we
decrease their need to produce antioxidants. It suggests that maybe we are
doing something to our food inadvertently."

Mitchell measured antioxidants found in corn, strawberries and a type of
blackberry called a marionberry. "We started with these three due to plant
availability," Mitchell explains, "but we intend to widen our search to
include tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and a variety of other vegetables. We
expect these results to be transferable to most produce."

The investigation compared the total antioxidants found in foods grown
organically (using no herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers) to foods grown
sustainably (in this study fertilizers but no herbicides or pesticides were
used) and conventionally (using synthetic chemicals to protect the plants
and increase yield).

The results showed a significant increase in antioxidants in organic and
sustainably grown foods versus conventionally grown foods. The levels of
antioxidants in sustainably grown corn were 58.5 percent higher than
conventionally grown corn. Organically and sustainably grown marionberries
had approximately 50 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown
berries. Sustainably and organically grown strawberries showed about 19
percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown strawberries.

Antioxidant levels were highest overall in sustainably grown produce, which
indicates that a combination of organic and conventional practices yields
the highest levels of antioxidants. "This may reflect the balance between
adequate nutrition in the form of fertilizers and external pest pressures
because of the lack of pesticides and herbicides," Mitchell explains.

"Originally, the question was just really intriguing to me," says Mitchell,
whose research grew naturally from a personal interest in organic foods. "I
found that the higher level of antioxidants is enough to have a significant
impact on health and nutrition, and it's definitely changed the way I think
about my food."

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