Genetically Modified Foods (GM or GMO): What They Are and Why We Care

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Genetically Modified Foods (GM or GMO): What They Are and Why We Care

Genetic modification involves taking a gene from one organism, clipping it out of that organism’s genome (splicing it) and then inserting it into the genome of a different organism.

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not that’s a good idea.

Foods that are most commonly GM (Genetically Modified) include soybeans (94% of the soybeans in the US are GM), corn (88% in the US), cotton, canola (which is made from rapeseed), and alfalfa.  These foods are primarily engineered to be herbicide- and insect-resistant, so that they do not need as much pesticide applied to them as non-GM crops, and are resistant to herbicides.

Here’s the catch: there are no long-term human studies to determine safety of these crops, nor are there currently any being done.  This is because the FDA considers them to be essentially equivalent to their non-GM counterparts.  For that reason, GM foods are not required to be labeled.  Most likely, you consume them daily without realizing it, especially if you eat a lot of processed food products.

Despite the official consensus that GM foods are safe for consumption, though, there is cause for caution.

For the most part, GM foods contain a gene from an organism called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which, when expressed, produces a toxin called glyphosate.  This is the active ingredient in the insecticide called Roundup, which kills insects by poking holes in the gut lining.  According to the EPA, glyphosate is toxic to insects only and has no effect on humans or animals.  However, some data links glyphosate with birth defects, miscarriages, infertility, behavioral disorders, and even autism.

Even more compelling to me as a naturopathic doctor is the fact that since the 1996 introduction of GM corn and soy into the US, inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders have been on the rise.  Admittedly this is only a correlation, and may not be causative.  However, I can verify in my practice that intestinal permeability, or so-called “leaky gut” syndrome, is strangely prevalent.  (I make this diagnosis when according to blood food sensitivity tests, patients develop IgG reactions to more than twenty different foods.)  I can also verify the connection between the gut and overall health.

More cause for concern: glyphosate is a chelator, which means it binds to positively charged elements and compounds (such as trace minerals and nutrients) and doesn’t let go.  Plants treated with glyphosate may therefore be deficient nutrients, and the evidence suggests they are primarily low in manganese, zinc, and iron.  Although there are studies on both sides of the fence on this issue, it stands to reason that if true, animals eating nutrient deficient plants will then develop nutrient deficiencies themselves.  At any rate, it is certainly the case that free-range poultry and grass fed meat are substantially higher in essential fatty acids (EFAs) than their agro industry counterparts, and I wonder now whether these issues are related.

So, the conclusion – although the official position is that GM foods are safe, we don’t know their long-term effects, and there’s evidence that they may be harmful.  I can attest to the fact that a cleaner diet nearly always dramatically improves my patients’ health, although whether this is due to higher quality foods in general or the removal of GM foods specifically, I cannot say.

But in general, my rule is that if the jury’s out on safety, avoid it.  

How you avoid GMO foods: 

  • Choose organic soy and corn products, OR those that specifically say “non-GMO Project Verified” on the package.
  • Avoid canola oil (from rapeseed) and cottonseed oil altogether.  These aren’t healthy for you anyway, so that’s not a big loss.
  • Avoid aspartame (derived from a GMO).  This is also bad for you anyway.

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By | 2016-09-16T15:59:23+00:00 November 29th, 2012|Categories: Articles, Nutrition|Tags: , , , , , , , |7 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Lauren Deville is board-certified to practice medicine in the State of Arizona. She received her NMD from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, AZ, and she holds a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from the University of Arizona, with minors in Spanish and Creative Writing. She also writes fiction under a pen name in her spare time. Visit her author website at www.authorcagray.com.

7 Comments

  1. […] causation between GMO foods and the array of exploding GI problems in the last few decades, to me the correlative evidence is compelling enough that I think it’s worthwhile to avoid them, and counsel my patients to do the same. (I’m […]

  2. […] causation between GMO foods and the array of exploding GI problems in the last few decades, to me the correlative evidence is compelling enough that I think it’s worthwhile to avoid them, and counsel my patients to do the same. (I’m […]

  3. […] GMOs. The jury’s out on the potential health hazards of genetically modified organisms, but I think it’s a good idea to avoid them whenever possible. Here’s why. […]

  4. […] absolutely clear what sorts of ramifications genetic modification may have on health, but because there is plenty of evidence to suggest there might be a problem, I choose to play it safe and avoid GMO soy. […]

  5. […] oil, and soybean oil in general whenever possible. Aside from the trans-fat issue, corn and soy are almost universally genetically modified in the US […]

  6. […] unless they say otherwise.  However, recently the Hawaiian papaya joined the list.  I wrote an entire article on the hazards of GMO foods here. GMO foods are banned to varying degrees in the EU, the UK, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, […]

  7. […] commercial phosphatidylcholine comes from lecithin, which is usually a byproduct of soybean oil (GMO unless otherwise stated), although it can come from sunflower oil as well. Lecithin does contain […]

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