Fruits and vegetables that are not treated with pesticides or herbicides may contain higher concentrations of cancer-fighting compounds, new research shows.
In a sample of three types of produce, investigators from the University of California, Davis discovered that those grown without the pest-fighting chemicals had up to 60% more of the cancer-fighting compounds known as flavonoids than conventionally grown produce.
Further research is needed to determine if the differences in flavonoid content persist from the field to supermarket shelves.
If that proves to be the case, food not treated with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers--in this study, organic produce--may offer more anti-cancer benefits than traditionally grown produce. That would mean there's an added benefit to buying organic.
Flavonoids, which are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as in tea and red wine, are thought to boost health in part by combating oxidation, a process in which cell-damaging substances called free radicals accumulate. Oxidative damage can be caused by outside factors, such as cigarette smoking, or by factors on the cellular level. Oxidation is also suspected of increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and several other diseases.
In the study, the researchers compared flavonoid content in marionberries (a type of blackberry), strawberries and corn. Produce samples had been grown without any pesticides, herbicides or fertilizer; with fertilizer only; or according to conventional standards, which use all three substances. Organic produce is raised without the use of most pesticides and fertilizers.
They found that flavonoid levels were 59 percent higher in corn that had been grown with fertilizer only than in corn raised with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer. Marionberries and strawberries grown with or without fertilizers contained around 50 percent and 19 percent more flavonoids, respectively, than those that were conventionally grown.
Plants use flavonoids to protect themselves against outside stresses, such as insects, other creatures and ultraviolet radiation. For instance, when an insect starts eating a plant, the plant's flavonoid levels increase; when pesticides protect plants from these and others stresses, plants have less need to boost flavonoid levels.
The current study did not measure which types of flavonoids are present in which crops.
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