Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are potentially one of the greatest health concerns of our time. Although the issue of their safety has received a lot more attention lately, due to the House of Representatives’ controversial vote to block any mandatory labeling of them, the issue has flown largely under the radar.
In fact, an estimated 92% of corn and 94% of soy grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, despite the fact that there is very little research on the long-term effect these scientifically engineered foods have on us. What’s worse, of the research available, a majority of the most publicized studies were funded by the very companies developing and selling GM seeds.
Studies funded by consumer-oriented organizations, such as The Institute for Responsible Technology and The Environmental Working Group have found an alarming number of connections between GMOs and health problems, including intestinal damage, inflammation, higher rates of disease, and even death.
Based on the evidence they and other trusted scientific organizations have gathered, I strongly recommend avoiding genetically modified foods. In this article we’ll look at three reasons why genetically modified foods are a poor choice, particularly if you have an autoimmune or inflammatory condition, and I’ll share some practical tips for avoiding them.
1. GMOs Contain More Pesticides than Non-GMOs
GMO crops were specifically developed to allow farmers to use more herbicides without killing the crops themselves. This is problematic because continuous exposure to toxins, including pesticides, is one of the key environmental triggers for developing an autoimmune disease, and maintaining a high toxic-burden can cause your existing autoimmune condition to progress.
Monsanto’s infamous GMO seeds were developed to be “Roundup ready”, meaning they can withstand the active herbicide in Roundup, glyphosate. As a result, glyphosate use has increased 16-fold since the Roundup ready seeds were introduced in the 90s, a statistic that should worry all of us because the World Health Organization recently released a reportstating that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans.
Another problem caused by the widespread use of glyphosate in our crops is that it has led to a sharp increase in glyphosate-resistant weeds. These “superweeds” require even greater herbicide use, and are often combated using older, more dangerous herbicides, such as 2, 4-D, a chemical that has been linked with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption, and reproductive problems.
2. Genetically Modified Foods Cause Leaky Gut
Many GM crops, including corn, were engineered to produce their own insecticide, called Bt-toxin, by combining the plant’s DNA with DNA from bacteria. Bt-toxin kills insects by destroying the lining of their digestive tracts. The poison is not specific to insects and also pokes holes in human cells, damaging the intestines and causing leaky gut, which we know is a precondition for developing an autoimmune disease. The growing body of evidence that GMOs are dangerous prompted the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) to publicly warn that “it is biologically plausible for Genetically Modified Foods to cause adverse health effects in humans.”
Beyond Bt-toxin, GM plants are also engineered to enhance plants’ natural “plant protectors,” including prolamins, agglutinins, digestive enzyme inhibitors, and saponins. These chemicals contribute to leaky gut, gut dysbiosis, and inflammation, all of which negatively impact those of us with an autoimmune disease or inflammatory condition.
3. GMOs Disrupt Your Gut Balance
Glyphosate, the herbicide used on GM crops, is also a potent antibiotic that can attack the bacteria in your gut. Unfortunately, the good bacteria in your gut, the kind that help with digestion and keeping the bad bacteria in check, are more likely to be susceptible to glyphosate, while the bad bacteria, including strains that cause salmonella and botulism, arehighly resistant to glyphosate. This means that eating GMO foods can decrease your healthy bacteria and increase the bad bacteria, putting you at risk for Candida overgrowth, leaky gut, and inflammation, which can contribute to autoimmune disease.
How to Avoid GMOs
It might seem that genetically modified foods are ubiquitous in our modern food system, but if you arm yourself with the right knowledge, then you can make smart shopping decisions to avoid GMOs.
Choose organic whenever possible
Organic foods are by definition non-GMO, so buying organic fruits, veggies, and packaged foods will ensure that you avoid GMOs. Plus, organic foods are free of dangerous pesticides, herbicides, and other toxins used on conventionally farmed foods. Look for labels that say “100% Organic” or “USDA Organic.” Assume that anything labeled “Made With Organic” contains some organic ingredients, and the rest may be GMO.
For organic, GMO-free pantry items I like to order from Thrive Market, an online marketplace that offers wholesome products at wholesale prices. Their membership-based model lets you buy healthy products at 25 – 50% below retail prices. You can shop by “values” including certified organic, GMO-free, gluten-free, paleo, etc. Use this link and you’ll get your first month free!
Switch to grass-fed meat
Unless marked otherwise, most livestock is fed genetically modified, pesticide-laden corn, soy, and alfalfa, instead of traditional grass. This is extremely important because the diet of the animals you eat affects you as well, and if they ate a diet of GMO feed, it will end up in your body. Also, because livestock are now given growth hormones and antibiotics to get them as fat as possible as quickly as possible, they’re ingesting high quantities of genetically modified feed over their short lifespans.
For this reason, I recommend buying only grass-fed (not just grass-finished), pasture-raised, organic meats. I like to order my meat from U.S. Wellness meats. It’s all organic, grass-fed, and free-range, and they have a wide variety of beef, bison, lamb, chicken, pork, and more.
Use The EWG’s Guide to Avoiding GMOs
The EWG has created a very helpful resource outlining which foods are most commonly GM, and which foods are a safer bet. Buy them all organic if you can, but if that’s not feasible, at the very least buy organic when it comes to the most commonly GM foods.
Support the mandatory labeling of GMOs
Currently, GM foods are not required to be labeled. Several states have passed legislation that would mandate labeling of GM food, but the federal Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act would prohibit any state regulation on GMO labeling, effectively nullifying any progress made thus far at the state and local level.
The DARK act passed the House of Representatives this summer, and it will be up for a voteany day now in the Senate. The EWG and many other organizations are working very hard to ensure that this bill is not passed in the senate. Help support this effort by signing the EWG’s petition, or making a donation!