I recently explored this issue and reviewed the literature and I will share with you what I found. Warning: You might get very angry at business as usual in America.
First of all, companies like Monsanto have such a strong hold on America that GMO research is not even allowed here. What happened to America the free? Some people think seedless watermelon and hybridized tomatoes are GMOs but they are not. Unlike breeding same species of plants for desirable traits, the process of agricultural genetic modification happens in a laboratory and uses DNA from one species to splice genetic material into an entirely different species (Encyclpaedia Brittanica, 2013). An example of this is the common practice in GMO food manufacturing of splicing the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into cells of corn, cotton and potatoes (organic foods are not GMOs). Agricultural companies use this genetic engineering technique in order to increase profits through a higher crop yield with fewer losses to pests because the Bt toxin works by bursting open the stomachs of insects and killing them. How does Bt toxin affect humans? Not entirely differently. It seems to promote a condition called intestinal permeability, or "Leaky Gut", which creates gaps in the intestinal lining and seems to be related to a long list of chronic health conditions including allergies, anxiety, depression, ADHD, Autism, MS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Candidiasis, IBS, Eczema/skin rashes, fibromyalgia, and obesity (Bested et al., 2013).
I recently watched a video on the Institute for Responsible Technology website (2013) by GMO expert Jeffrey Smith and Clinical Nutritionist Tom Malterre in which they discuss the link between GMOs and the increasing prevalence of gluten intolerance. The problems begin in the gut. According to Smith and Malterre, Bt toxin promotes leaky gut. Leaky gut happens when the intestinal lining weakens due to emotional stress/trauma, improper diet (high sugar/low nutrient), eating gluten-containing foods, chronic alcohol use, dangerous bacteria or fungal invaders, some medications, prolonged use of antibiotics, hormonal birth control, or environmental toxins (Brenchley & Douek, 2012; Benton et al., 2013; Bested et al., 2013; Eaton, 2004; Perlmutter, 2013). The intestinal permeability of leaky gut allows undigested food particles to leave the intestines and enter the bloodstream where they are recognized by the body as intruders, causing an inflammatory reaction of the immune system which can create a food sensitivity or Type B allergy. Symptoms of food sensitivity range from fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, achiness, addictive cravings for the offending food, migraine headaches, moodiness, decreased concentration, hyperactivity, teariness, anger outbursts, etc. (Ross, 2002). It is important to note that Bt has been used as a biological pesticide sprayed on organic crops. This is a very different application of the substance, with far fewer effects than reported with the genetic modification with Bt. According to the Bt Fact Sheet on the Sierra Club Canada website (n.d.):
"B.t. bacteria should not be confused with genetically engineered B.t. crops such as B.t. corn. These crops are designed to give off the B.t. toxin from every single cell of the plant. They therefore emit a relatively large amount of B.t. into the environment, which has been shown to kill non-target species such as butterflies. B.t. bacteria, on the other hand, do not pose a significant threat to non-targets when sprayed directly onto crops or into catch basins." (NOBODY wants to kill butterflies!)
Smith and Malterre also state GMOs are responsible for suppressed digestion and an increase in the immune system load. They report that Bt has been found in the bloodstream of 93% of pregnant North American women and 80% of babies. They state that there are many health benefits of a GMO-free diet, even weight loss. This is not surprising considering we need our fat cells to store toxins and keep them from overwhelming our vital organs. If we have too many toxins, our body will not let go of that fat storing the toxins. You know what also has a lot of fat? The human brain.
Neurologist and nutritionist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain (2013), warns that although only a small percentage of the population has the autoimmune condition celiac disease, about 30% of the population is gluten sensitive, and 100% of the population can't properly digest gluten which leads to "leaky gut" and "leaky brain". This likely happens through the gut-brain axis, which communicates bidirectionally so that problems in the brain (anxiety, depression, etc.) are always present with problems in the gut (bacterial/fungal imbalance of microflora which causes leaky gut) and vice versa (Cryan & Dinan, 2012; Forsythe et al., 2012; Gomez-Pinilla, 2008). Therefore, cognitive impairments such as depression, anxiety and brain fog seem to cause microflora imbalance and microflora imbalance seem to cause depression, anxiety, and brain fog. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Researchers don't yet know, but the importance is what we know about the relationship and therefore ways we can intervene: through nutritional approaches.
According to Perlmutter (2013), leaky brain is the breakdown of the blood brain barrier which results in toxins entering the brain that don't belong, such as pesticides, heavy metals, food dyes, and other unnatural substances creating problems with mood, memory, concentration, executive functioning (hyperactivity, impulse control, focus) and early Alzheimer's. I find it interesting that GMOs were introduced into supermarkets in 1995, now dominate our food supply, and prevalence of developmental disabilities from 1997-2008 has increased by 17.1%. This includes a 33.0% increase in ADHD, and a whopping 289.5% increase in Autism (Center for Disease Control [CDC], 2013). As a mental health clinician who has worked with special education students in the public school system for over 9 years, I can tell you that the prevalence of Autism and ADHD continues to increase and is significantly impacting tax payer dollars. In the controversial Autism and vaccine debate, could it be that both parties are right? Perhaps it isn't necessarily the vaccine that causes Autism, but perhaps the unnatural preservatives used in the vaccine mistakenly entering into the leaky brain of a susceptible child, whose intestinal flora was populated by a mother with her own leaky gut issues? Perhaps the problem is further complicated by feeding the child GMO infant formula and foods? Research has shown an increased prevalence of intestinal permeability with individuals with autism (36.7%) and first degree relatives of individuals with autism (21.2%), as compared with healthy controls (4.8%) (Bested et al., 2013).
Being the optimist and action-oriented person that I am, I propose we focus on the silver lining and the possible solutions. It seems that everywhere we turn our government-regulated food, water, and pharmaceutical supply (influenced by large corporations who tend to prioritize profits over people) serves up something disastrous for our mental and/or physical health. We can't always control flouride or birth control pills in the drinking water supply, pesticides blowing in from the farm upwind, or e coli in our spinach. However, we can control some things. We place our vote with the food we choose to buy. In 2008, Monsanto was forced out of the rBHT business (the chemical given to cows to increase milk production, at the expense of pus and growth hormone in the milk, which was linked to increased rates of cancer in humans) due to a large enough number of people refusing to buy rBHT milk. This caused it to be taken off the shelves of major grocery stores. We can choose to invest our money into our health and buy organic, non-GMO food (nearly all non-organic soy and corn in the US is genetically modified, and non-organically raised animals are fed GMO corn and soy), spend time in nature, and exercise daily. People initially think organic food is much more expensive, but it is actually significantly cheaper in the long-run if one can avoid chronic disease, shortened working years and/or disability, lower quality of life, and expensive medical treatments. If you support universal healthcare, let's come together and prevent the need for expensive healthcare. If you don't support universal healthcare, let's come together and prevent the need for expensive healthcare.
Being that stress is also a major contributor to the condition of leaky gut that correlates with so many mental and physical health problems, it is important to manage stress. This can be done through therapy, meditative practices, group or family support, spiritual connection, exercise, and even nutrition. Research shows eating a "Western diet" (high fat processed dairy, carbohydrates, meats, minimal fresh produce) produces stress, cognitive challenges, and mood issues. Also, depression and stress often cause an individual to increase consumption of high fat, unhealthy foods (Popa & Ladea, 2012) to create a vicious cycle, and another chicken or egg phenomena. According to the latest research (Bested et al., 2013; Perlmutter, 2013; Popa & Ladea, 2013) both managing stress through meditative practices, and eating stress-busting non-GMO foods such as the staples in the Mediterranean diet is the best approach. An ideal stress-busting, good mental health diet according to researchers consists of:
- organic free range grass-fed proteins (ingesting stressed, grain-fed, crowded, inhumanely treated animals causes you to also ingest their stress hormones);
- healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds;
- probiotics and probiotic foods (plain yogurt, coconut kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut) and
- daily vegetables including organic dark leafy greens
Benton, D., & Donohoe, R. T. (1999). The effects of nutrients on mood. Public Health Nutrition, 2(3A), 403-409. PMID: 10610080.
Bested, A., Logan, A. C., & Selhub, E. M. (2013). Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: from Metchnikoff to modern advances: Part II - contemporary contextual research. Gut Pathogens 5(3), 1-14. doi: 10.1186/1757-4749-5-3
Bested, A., Logan, A. C., & Selhub, E. M. (2013). Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: From Metchnikoff to modern advances: part III - convergence toward clinical trials. Gut Pathogens 5(4), 1-13. doi: 10.1186/1757-4749-5-4
Brenchley, J. M., & Douek, D. C. (2012, April). Microbial translocation across the GI tract. Annual Review of Immunology 30, 149-173. doi:10.1146/annurev-immunol-020711-075001
B.t. Bacillus thuringiensis Fact Sheet. (n.d.) Retrieved from Sierra Club Canada website: http://www.sierraclub.ca/national/programs/health-environment/pesticides/bt-fact-sheet.shtml
Cryan, J. F., & Dinan, T. G. (2012). Mind-altering microorganisms: The impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behavior. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 13(10), 701-712. doi:10.1038/nrn3346.
Forsythe, P., Kunze, W. A., & Bienenstock, J. (2012). On communication between gut microbes and the brain. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, 28(6), 557-562. doi: 10.1097/MOG.0b013e3283572ffa.
Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: The effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568-578. doi:10.1038/nrn2421.
genetically modified organism (2013). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/897705/genetically-modified-organism-GMO
Eaton, K. K. G. (2004). Comparison of lactulose breath hydrogen measurements with gut fermentation profiles in patients with fungal-type dysbiosis. Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine 14(2), 171-180. doi:10.1080/13590840410001735036
Jeffrey Smith and Tom Malterre Discuss GMOs and Gluten. (2013). Retrieved from Institute for Responsible Technology website: http://responsibletechnology.org/glutenvideo
Perlmutter, D. (2013, Sept 24). The surprising truth about wheat, carbs, and sugar [Podcast]. Retrieved from http://oneradionetwork.com/health/david-perlmutter-md-the-surprising-truth-about-wheat-carbs-and-sugar-your-brains-silent-killers-september-24-2013/
Popa, T. A., & Ladea, M. (2012). Nutrition and Depression at the forefront of progress. Journal of Medicine and Life, 5(4), 414-419. PMCID: PMC3539842.
Ross, J. (2002). The mood cure: The 4-step program to rebalance your emotional chemistry and rediscover your natural sense of well-being. New York, NY: Penguin Group.