Why I have added non-GMO to my family’s check list for foods. A cardiologist explains.
I was asked this week to speak about the effects of genetically modified foods on the cardiovascular system for a mixed group of health care providers and the public. Was I shocked to learn that ingestion of foods with genetically modified organisms (GMO) increase the rate of heart attacks, strokes and bypass surgeries in multiple medical studies in humans? No…. because there aren’t such studies. In fact, I couldn’t present a clear scientific argument linking foods with GMO to the development of heart disorders. I am not an alarmist and believe in the scientific process. However, on a personal level I have instituted tighter rules in my home about food purchases. As it says in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Avert the danger that has not yet come. So the checklist goes: Is it Kosher? Yes. Is it vegan? Yes. Is it gluten free? Yes. Is it nut free (my daughter has a severe allergy)? Yes. And now, is it non-GMO? What have I learned that moved me to this decision?
1. GMO foods are not just about inserting new genes into food sources. I learned that the new genetic material is inserted into the cell nucleus mechanically or via a bacteria but it is without the controlling genetic material to turn the new genes on and off. Therefore it is often necessary to include a virus that turns the new genetic material on and there is no material that can turn it off. Furthermore, a third component of the new material is often another gene that is an antibiotic marker that prevents that cell from dying from a certain antibiotic. The cells that take up all 3 parts are exposed to antibiotics in culture and survive for concentration while others cells not doing this die. This triple process is used in over half of the methods of creating foods that contain GMO and I am concerned about the possible impact of new viruses on the health of my family.
2. GMO foods may look like other food sources but they may have less nutrition. Just this year data was presented that there is a striking difference in the nutritional content of corn produced with GMO. Because the inserted genetic material is only on, not off at times, the demand for cell energy (ATP) may rise and deplete the cells of important nutrients. For example, sulfur and potassium concentrations in plants may decrease by half and magnesium concentration by a quarter in foods grown with GMO. As a cardiologist, potassium and magnesium in the diet is important in controlling blood pressure and for arterial health. Sulfur is important in the production of glutathione, the major cellular antioxidant counteracting the stress of using oxygen for energy production. What does it mean to my family to feed them nutritionally deficient vegetables and food items? We need to learn more, but I am concerned.
3. European researchers took rats that live on average 2 years and fed them either chow made with 11% GMO products or GMO free chow for those 2 years. This concentration of GMO products in the feed produces levels comparable to the concentrations found in some drinking tap waters. This is the first long term GMO feeding study in a mammal and would be very hard to do in humans of course. By the 17th month of life, rat fed the GMO chow were 5-6 times more likely to have died. Giant tumors of the mammary system in females and of the liver in males were seen in the GMO fed group. Liver and kidney abnormalities were seen frequently in the GMO fed rats. I know we do not have human data but I am concerned what this data could mean for my wife and children.
4. In March of this year Brazilian researchers studied the effects of Bt, a microbial control agent used widely on plants with GMO that resist Bt. Brazil is the second largest producer of crops modified with GMO. The scientists reported hematoxicity, or changes in cell counts and production of blood cells, in the mice fed the GMO-laced chow. These researchers called for more studies on the effects of GMO altered foods on “non-target” mammals, which would be you and me.
5. I read that Russian researchers in 2006 fed rats chow with added soybeans using GMO or regular chow and looked at fertility. Fewer pups were born at a smaller birth weight to the rats fed the altered soybeans and by the third generation of rats the animals were sterile. The effects of food produced with GMO on sex hormones is an area I am concerned about for my family.
What will we do?
There is a Chinese phrase that “Pure water has no fish” and it will be very hard to have a GMO-free home and lifestyle. The checklist in my home to make it into the pantry or the refrigerator is complex and we will do our best. We will read the Environmental Working Group website (www.ewg.org) for updates and purchase all dirty dozen produce items in the organic version. We follow the Non-GMO Project (www.nongmoproject.org) and support movements for mandatory labeling. I have begun to use an app on my smart phone that assists in shopping GMO free. The rising awareness of concerns over this topic has forced Monsanto and other major producers of GMO produce to hire new marketing consultants as being referred to as Satan apparently is not good for their image. In my home town we just had a major maker of tortilla chips announce sourcing of corn and cottonseed oil from non-GMO producers and other manufacturers will follow suit. I invite you to get involved in this important are of food safety as we have the power to be heard and improve the acceptability of our food supply.