What Everyone Should Know About Genetically Modified (GM) Foods and Their Health

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file0001959406482Changing one’s eating habits can be a daunting task, and one that is not often undertaken unless there is a good reason, such as a health crisis. But in today’s world it is becoming a necessity. When people come to see me it is not unusual for me to hear, “Well, I have always eaten this way and I never had a problem before.” or “I grew up on these foods and I turned out okay, so why should I change the way my child eats?” . . . But, our foods are not the same. Things have changed in the last 30 years and have become even worse in the last 10 to 15 years. I have been advocating eating GMO-free for a while now. However, after recently hearing Jeffry Smith, one of the leading experts on GMOs, speak several times, I want to stress to everyone the importance of eliminating all GMOs from your diet. When it comes to food, eating GMO-free should be everyone’s number one objective.

If you are not already consciously eliminating genetically modified (GM) foods from your diet, you are most likely eating GM food on a regular basis and these foods can cause multiple health issues. We will look at the source of GM foods, how they can damage your health, how to find non-GMO products, and how GMOs and gluten sensitivity are related.

What Are the GM Foods?

It may not seem like there are many GM products on the market. After all, there are currently only nine items on the list. This includes:

  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Canola oil (made from rapeseed)
  • Sugar from sugar beets
  • Alfalfa
  • Hawaiian or Chinese papaya
  • Little zucchini
  • Little crookneck squash

However, it is estimated that GM ingredients derived from these foods are found in close to 70% of our processed foods today. And, the list above is only what has been approved by the FDA so far. A few other foods are currently being reviewed for approval, including genetically modified farm-raised salmon!

What Makes a GMO?

A GMO is created when the genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign gene can come from a bacteria, virus, insect, animal, or human. This process is known as both Genetic Engineering (GE) and Genetic Modification (GM).

According to Smith, there are two main categories of GM foods:

  • Roundup-ready Seeds – These seeds are engineered for herbicide tolerance so that weed-killer can be sprayed directly onto the crop as it grows without killing it.  As a result, the use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. The main ingredient these herbicides is glyphosate, which is also a broad-spectrum antibiotic.
  • Bt-toxin Seeds – These GM seeds are injected with the Bt-toxin (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is a gene found in soil bacteria. As a result the crop produces pesticides inside the plant – every cell of the plant contains this Bt-toxin. This saves the farmer from spraying additional pesticides. Instead the insect is deterred or killed when it eats the plant. The bacteria is designed to break open the stomach of the insect and the bug dies when the macromolecules from its gut enters its blood stream. Corn and cotton are examples of a Bt-toxin crop.

It is also important to note that the process of genetic engineering causes a huge disruption in the functioning of a plant’s original DNA. The process changes the expression of one or more genes in the plant. For example, according to Smith, creating Bt corn also switches on a specific gene in the corn which can potentially cause anaphylactic shock in some people.

How Glyphosate Affects Your Body

GM foods have been in the marketplace since GE soybeans, corn, and cotton became commercially available in 1996. GM foods were pushed through the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process without the numerous safety studies typically required to prove a product’s safety. (That is a story for another time.) As result there were few animal studies available to the public before the introduction of GM products into the marketplace.

Since being introduced, more animal studies have been completed (and published), which indicate serious health risks with GM foods, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and gastrointestinal problems. Even more telling is the reaction that farm animals are having to theses GM foods. Corn, for example, is a staple in the diets of grain fed cows and chickens. Farmers are seeing these same symptoms in their animals and in the offspring of these animals.

According to Smith, glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, has the potential to cause four main health problems in humans: digestive disorders, autoimmune issues, endocrine disruption, and mineral imbalances.

Digestive disorders is the biggest concern with GM foods. Glyphosate, as noted earlier is a broad-spectrum antibiotic. When ingested, it kills beneficial gut bacteria but does not kill E.coli, salmonella or botulism bacteria. It is already known to create gut imbalance in poultry and cows and is being blamed for the epidemic of botulism found in store-bought meats. (Botulism is usually held in check by good gut bacteria.) Overuse of antibiotics also increases the chance of drug resistance and “super bugs.”

In humans, beneficial gut bacteria is critical for a healthy immune system. Glyphosate also affects the enzymes we need to digest our food. Decreased digestive enzymes further contributes to the growth of harmful gut bacteria. When the gut is out of balance, it can create “leaky gut” issues and digestive problems. Some common signs include stomach aches, headaches, constipation and/or diarrhea.

Good bacteria is also needed to absorb certain key nutrients, such as Vitamin K2 and the B-vitamins, and maintain good levels of butyrate, which is the fuel for the intestinal lining to build new cells. (Our intestinal lining regenerates every three to seven days!)

Autoimmune issues often stem from an imbalanced gut. If you are not digesting and/or absorbing nutrients, your body gets run down. Eventually, something needs to give. However, in each of us, what that something is will be different depending on various factors such as family genetics and other stressors in our lives.

In some, it creates food allergies. In others, an autoimmune disease and even autism occurs. Examples include gastrointestinal issues such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic diarrhea, colitis and Crohn’s disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, cachexia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and ALS, among others.

An endocrine disruptor is defined as anything that mimics or interferes with your hormones and “disrupts” your endocrine system. Common examples in our everyday lives include the BPA and phthalates found in plastics. Glyphosate is considered an endocrine disruptor as well.

More specifically, according to Smith, it disrupts the aromatase in the body which is the basis for estrogen and testosterone balance. It has been found that female animals that eat GM foods had more testosterone and male animals had more estrogen. Certain animal studies showed that the effects were even more prevalent in later generations, affecting reproduction and offspring health (source).

GM foods can also create mineral imbalances which affects how your body absorbs vitamins and minerals. Glyphosate is considered a broad spectrum chelator, meaning the glyphosate will bind to minerals when it enters the body. This makes minerals and certain vitamins unavailable for digestion and assimilation, ultimately causing nutrient deficiencies. Minerals and vitamins especially affected include calcium cobalt, Vitamin B12, manganese, and magnesium.

It is also important to note that in addition to GM crops, glyphosate-containing pesticides are used on non-GMO crops as well. For example, it is commonly sprayed on grains before harvesting (including wheat, rye, barley and lentils), citrus fruits, and sweet potatoes. Roundup is also still widely available for residential use. It too contains glyphosate.

Why Are Bt-Toxins Bad?

If the Bt-toxin is inherent in the GM plant and made to kill an insect that tries to eat it, what will it do to our bodies when we eat it? The original scientific theory was that the acidic digestive juices in our stomachs would neutralize the Bt-toxin. Now they are finding that the toxin continues to fight off organisms in our digestive system, creating imbalances in our gut flora (good versus bad bacteria).

In 2012, the Journal of Applied Toxicology published a study where the Bt-toxin was applied to a human cell in a lab. It actually poked small holes in the cell, causing it to leak. In 2011, Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec took blood from a number of women and found the Bt-toxin in the blood of 93% of the 30 pregnant women and 67% of the 39 non-pregnant women. They also found the Bt-toxin in the umbilical cord blood in 80% of the babies born (source). Clearly, the Bt-toxin survives stomach acid. And, if it crosses the placental barrier into a baby, does that mean it also crosses the blood-brain barrier into our brains?

According to Smith, the Bt-toxin also appears to be an allergen, over time causing a person to become sensitive to other foods (including gluten) and environmental substances.

Removing GMOs From Your Diet

If you start to consider all the ways that GMO foods are used in the food industry, the list becomes quite extensive. Corn, soy, sugar, and canola oil alone can be found in all sorts of processed and packaged foods, even those found in the “healthy” sections of the grocery store.

For example, depending on the source, it is said that 85% to 90% of all corn in the United States is genetically modified. (Until recently, sweet corn was considered safe, but that changed in 2012. (source) Therefore, if you are purchasing a food product that contains corn, it is most likely from GM corn. (More on GMO-free products in a minute.) The same with soy (93%) and canola oil (90%) (source). And, unless a package specifically states that the sugar is “cane sugar,” you need to assume the sugar is made from GM beets. GM foods are much less expensive for the manufacturer to obtain.

You need to read your labels very carefully and consider the variety of ways these GM ingredients can be used in processed foods. In some cases, the ingredients are obvious. In others, the GM ingredients may be a little more obscure. Examples include:

  • Corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil used in salad dressings, margarines, mayonnaise, and other condiments
  • Corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil used to cook potato chips, cheese puffs, popcorn, etc.
  • Corn starch, soy or corn flour, and GM oils used in baked goods
  • High fructose corn syrup used as sweetener in many prepackaged foods
  • Soy milk and soy protein powders used in shake powders and baby formulas
  • Soy lecithin in chocolate
  • Honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen
  • Soy used to make Vitamin E and corn used to make Vitamin C

For a more comprehensive list of invisible GM ingredients and how to shop healthy, look through the resources at ResponsibleTechnology.org. Click here to see all the ways that GM corn can be hidden in food ingredients and additives.

One of the largest overlooked foods is meats and dairy. The typical meats and dairy found in the grocery store are from large farms where the cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and even farm-raised fish are fed largely grain-based diets, diets that consist of GM feed. When you eat the meats and drink the milk from these animals, you are getting it from animals who’s health is much less than optimum and you are potentially exposing yourself to the same GM organisms. GMO-tainted milk is then used to make cream, cheese, infant formula, and a wide variety of other processed foods.

Chickens are typically fed corn as part of their staple food as well. When fed GM corn, it affects both the chicken meat and the eggs that they lay. To avoid GMOs in meat, dairy, and eggs, you should buy “organic” and “wild caught” and look for “100% grass-fed” animals. (Many labels now say “grass-fed” but the animals are still fed grains as well unless it says 100%.)

Eating out at restaurants is another thing to consider. If you are eating fast foods, you pretty much know you are eating GMO-tainted foods, especially in the vegetable oils, meat, and dairy that they use. My typical rule of thumb is not to eat meat when we eat out (unless we know the source). Your best bet is to eat in a restaurant that cooks from scratch so that you can ask about specific ingredients and substitute. Or, stick to salads with olive oil and vinegar as the dressing. (It may not be organic but at least is will not be GMO.)

When purchasing food and natural supplements, the key is to stick with organic as much as possible. Certified organic foods and supplements cannot intentionally contain GMOs. However, there is also a third part verification and labeling system in place in North America, known as the Non-GMO Project, which tests foods and other products from a wide variety of manufacturers. If the product is GMO-free, it will include the verified seal “NON-GMO Project.” You can find over 10,000 non-GMO verified products on their website. (There is also an iPhone app available.)

Another suggestion is to find a local farmer (and local restaurant) that you trust for produce, meat, dairy and eggs. The local farm does not necessarily need to be organic but it does need at least to be using organic-like principles, such as no GM seeds/crops, no pesticides (or minimal), etc. Better yet, grow your own fruits and vegetables (with non-GMO and/or heirloom seeds) and raise your own chickens.

If the food you buy is not organic or from a trusted source, there is a good chance the produce has been sprayed with a toxic chemical such as glyphosate or the animal has been fed GMO-tainted foods.

Other GMO-based Products to Consider

It may not be enough to just look at the foods you eat, especially for those that are more sensitive. GM ingredients can be found in a number of other non-food products as well. These include:

  • Body products – GM ingredients can be used in cosmetics, soaps, body lotions, shampoos, and bubble bath, just to name a few. What you put on your body can get absorbed into your skin and can end up in your blood steam. (This is especially important in products using nanotechnology where molecules are purposely made to absorb better.)
  • Cleaning products – You may not have considered cleaning products. However, detergents and dish soap can include GM ingredients. You put the clothes you wash on your body and your hands in the dish soap.
  • Pharmaceutical drugs – Drugs are often made with man-made ingredients. Some of them can be genetically modified. This year the FDA even approved the first GM flu vaccine which is expected on the market in 2014 (source).

The laws for labeling body and household products are not as stringent as food and supplements. Manufacturers are not required to list all the ingredients. As a result, even organic body and household products may still contain GM ingredients. The best option is to look for “NON-GMO Project” labels (as explained above).

Protecting Yourself From GMOs

It will be difficult to be GMO-free 100% of the time. Ultimately, you need to be proactive with your choices and your health.

Since one of the key health concerns of GM foods is the damage it does to your good bacteria, it is critical to take a variety of probiotics on a regular basis. If you have been eating GM foods for a while, you might want to be a more proactive to get your gut flora back into balance. However, all of us will be exposed to GMOs at one time or another and should take probiotics on a regular basis. For example, corn is very easily cross-pollinated. Even if you eat organic corn, there is a high possibility that some of it is tainted with GM corn.

Another great staple to include in your diet is fermented drinks and foods. Traditionally fermented drinks and foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, beet kvaas, and kimchi naturally include good bacteria’s, and often many more strains than you can find in a probiotic supplement. Eating fermented food daily (or even with every meal) will continue to replenish your good bacteria. (See Healing Foods to learn how to make your own fermented foods and drinks.)

You should also consider taking digestive enzymes, especially when you are eating away from home where you cannot control the quality of the food.

How Does This Relate to Gluten?

Smith speaks with a number of health practitioners who now prescribe GMO-free diets for gastrointestinal disorders. Many have cleared up health issues such as IBD/IBS, Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, constipation, bloating/gas, and gut pain. Some in as few as three to six week. Allergies and asthma also show improvements on a GMO-free diet, especially when combined with other diet improvements.

However, this does not work for everyone. Many practitioners are also finding that the rise in gluten sensitivity has a direct relationship to the increase of GMO in the marketplace. GM foods compromise our digestive systems. For those of you who are already gluten-free but are not seeing the full health benefits or want a more complete recovery, it is important to remove the GM foods from your diet as well.

Eating GMO-free is really a must for everyone’s long-term health.

Note: You can find additional GMO articles and other helpful tools on the Resources page of this website, under “Genetically Modified Foods (GMO or GE Foods).” Plus use this article to learn how to shop GMO-free.

This article was written by Sharon K. Harmon, PhD, founder of Life Design for Health. As a “Health Designer” and an advocate for EMF safety she has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health by looking at the body from a unique perspective. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website, including a healing foods and pantry list and recipes that are gluten-free, dairy-free and GMO-free.

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