Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
Are GMOs Harming Us?
By Dr. Tom Messinger, ND, RN
Most people have heard to some extent that it is best not to eat GMO food. Is this hype created by neurotic, paranoid people or is there actually a legitimate concern here?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. GMOs are produced by injecting genes from one organism into another organism. Monsanto is the main producer of GMOs.
Surely, you would think that if GM foods were allowed to be introduced into our food supply and approved for human consumption, there must have been some rigorous safety studies. Well, unfortunately that was not the case.
In 1992, when GM foods were legalized, the FDA released their statement of policy: “The agency is not aware of any information showing foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way”.
Based upon this statement, they said no studies were necessary and no labeling was necessary. Then in 1999, due to litigation, there was a release to the public record of 44,000 previously suppressed internal memos/emails from scientists in the FDA that expressed significant concern over the safety of GMOs and urged the FDA not to legalize GMOs until long-term studies were done. However, in 1991, Monsanto’s own lawyer and later vice president Michael Taylor became head of the FDA and GMOs entered our food supply despite overwhelming concerns from scientists.
At this point in time there are not many human GMO feeding studies. There have been renowned scientists who were conducting studies and have been inexplicably fired or threatened if they were to continue their studies or publish their results.
Another obstacle is that Monsanto does not release its seed for studies. Animal studies have clearly shown a direct relationship between GMO food consumption and infertility, low birth weights, miscarriages, premature deliveries, liver and kidney toxicity, decreased digestive enzymes, increased blood pressure, smaller brains and testicles, mammary tumors, atrophy of the liver, increased blood sugar, anemia, increased infections, damage to intestinal cells, increased immune system responses of IgG and IgE (associated with food allergies), changes in B and T immune cells, behavior changes, and premature death.
Why would GM foods cause issues with our health? One issue is DNA mutation. When a gene is inserted into a crop and cloned, it causes permanent changes in the DNA (the instruction manual) of the crop. We are ingesting a foreign DNA gene sequence that has never before been seen in nature. Our immune system is programmed to react to what it perceives as a foreign invader. Thus it may be reacting to the GM food, creating inflammation in our system. The DNA mutations alter amounts of various compounds in the plant. For example, Bt corn has 43 changes in protein with an increase in a protein called Gamma-zein, which is a well-known allergen. In GM soy, an increase in trypsin inhibitor of seven fold occurs which is also allergenic. GM soy also has increased levels of lignin, which can get converted to Rotenone, a pesticide that’s been associated with Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, there are no studies to further evaluate GM soy and if it has a potential role in Parkinson’s disease.
One form of GM crops is Roundup Ready. Roundup is an herbicide and GM crops are resistant to it so weeds die but Roundup Ready crops survive. Roundup works by binding with minerals in the soil making them unavailable to the plant. Thus, the GM crops are nutrient depleted. We eat the nutrient depleted crops and we eat the animals who are sick from the nutrient depleted feed, which can lead to us having nutrient deficiencies. The GM food is contaminated with Roundup that has been linked to birth defects, decreased and abnormal sperm, and cancer.
GM Corn is engineered to produce its own insecticide called Bt. Bt kills insects by poking a hole in their digestive tract. It was recently shown in a lab study that Bt toxin also pokes holes in human cells. The FDA declared that Bt corn was safe because they said Bt cannot survive stomach acid. However, one of the few human studies showed this to be untrue (surprise!).
In Canada, 93% of pregnant women tested had Bt toxin in their blood and 100% of fetuses had Bt toxin in their blood. Further studies have not been carried out yet, but the implications are that we know the Bt toxin survives stomach acid and potentially could be putting holes in our intestinal lining which would result in intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut syndrome.
Intestinal permeability is a very common finding in my practice. It leads to multiple food sensitivities, auto-immune conditions, muscle and joint pain, and downstream inflammatory effects tied in to many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and neurological issues.
There is another small human study that showed that 3 out of 7 patients had genes for GM Roundup Ready Soy incorporated into their own gut bacteria! Yes, in other words, the gene jumped from the GMO food into our gut bacteria. It is well known that this bacteria has an immense impact on our immune function, decreasing inflammation, and balancing mood. Now consider if GM corn and the genes of Bt can be transferred to our gut bacteria. This has not been studied, but if this occurs (and it certainly is possible), our gut bacteria may be an insecticide producing factory which has the potential to poke holes in our intestinal wall.
You may say I am projecting here and, yes, this is not proven yet, but the bottom line for me is it is not worth taking the chance, as intestinal permeability is tied into most chronic diseases.
I do advise everyone to avoid GM food. Nine nations in the European Union have banned the cultivation on GM corn. GM Crops include corn (88% GMO), soy (94%), canola (90%), cotton (cottonseed oil) (90%), sugar beets (95%), zucchini, yellow squash, papaya, alfalfa.
Other sources include: Dairy products made with rBGH, aspartame (NutraSweet), rennet used to make hard cheeses and animal protein fed GMO feed
One thing that is surprising to many people in the above list is that sugar beets are GMO. If you eat something with sugar that does not say cane sugar or organic sugar, you are eating GMO sugar!
For more information about GMOs, I recommend an outstanding film called “Genetic Roulette”. A wealth of information about GMOs is also on the website http://www.responsibletechnology.org
One can avoid GMOs by avoiding the above foods, or by making sure if you have food with one of the ingredients listed, that it is 100% organic. If organic, it is certified to be free of GMOs.
More products are now labeled Non-GMO Project Verified, which independent tests certifying each product as having less than 0.9% GMO. Foods labeled GMO free are not verified by the non GMO project and cannot necessarily be trusted.
Another confounding issue is the fact that some studies have shown cross-contamination of seed from organic and GMO fields, specifically canola. It is for this reason, that I advise one avoid canola oil completely.
Many people in Portland eat a mostly organic diet, but GMOs are ubiquitous. Just go into one of the health food supermarkets and check out prepared foods at the deli. Are the ingredients organic soy, did they use canola oil? GM ingredients are often disguised on a label since many additives are derived from corn or soy. For further info, check out www.nongmoshoppingguide.com
The current rise in many chronic diseases and increased autism and infertility rates parallels the introduction and increased consumption of GM foods. While we can’t say GM foods are contributing to these issues, we also cannot say they do not.
The prestigious American Academy of Environmental Medicine put out a position statement in 2009 stating “GM food poses a serious health risk”. They cited correlation with reproductive disorders, immune system problems, accelerated aging, dysfunction of both cholesterol and insulin, and organ damage. Since there are a lot of unanswered questions regarding GMOs including significant harmful effects in animals coupled with no long term human studies, I think that most would agree it seems prudent to avoid GMOs.
Dr. Tom Messinger, ND, RN, has a family practice at 1221 SE Madison St. www.portlandnaturalmedicine.org .