GMOs & Health – The Scientific Basis For Serious Concern & Immediate Action

GMOs and Health: The Scientific Basis for Serious Concern and Immediate Action
Nathan Daley, MD, MPH

You might ask, “why all the fuss about agricultural genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?” After all, regulatory agencies have approved these technologies for widespread application and consumption, so they must be safe, right?  Well, the truth is that there is no agency and no industry that  works to protect our health.  At best, the EPA, USDA, and FDA attempt to respond to our disease after the cause is widespread.  At that point only risk reduction, rather than risk avoidance, can be achieved.  This has been the case historically with radium paint, tobacco, particulate air pollution, water pollution, asbestos, lead, food-borne illnesses, and DDT.  A number of the various 80,000 chemicals in production will likely be added to this list in the future while the majority of them that actually do contribute to disease (often in combination and in complex ways) will never be scientifically associated with disease.  This is because science is far from perfect, scientific methodology is always biased and often manipulated, and scientific interpretation by stakeholders and decision makers is alarmingly inept (I’m not being political or condescending, these are well known and easily observed facts).

The situation with agricultural GMOs is unique compared to other technologies. While genetic engineering of food crops has been ongoing for 15 years, it is currently experiencing a major boom with the potential for widespread worldwide application.  Yet, few people understand how a GMO food could really be so much different than a non-GMO food in regard to health and disease effects.  GMO foods look like non-GMO foods and so we don’t experience the same hesitation and aversion to consuming them like we would, say, a clearly labeled bottle of virus and pesticide in tomato juice.  Therefore, the quality of public education, consumer awareness, and informed public discussion about this technology has the potential to alter the future of GMO agriculture for better or worse.

In this article, I’ll first briefly mention the relative paucity of risk assessment studies on GMOs and the unbelievable weaknesses of the industry studies that have been done.  Then, drawing from numerous independent studies, I will explore the routes by which agricultural GMOs may cause adverse health effects.

GMOs Have Never Been “Proven” Safe

Let me be clear; despite the following negative review of industry science, this article is not a hatchet job against the agricultural GMO industry but, rather, a vehicle for consolidated scientific information on the safety or risks of GMO foods intended to allow readers to make informed choices about this technology.  It is just that, well, the science coming from the industry tends to raise serious concerns and suggests that the agricultural GMO industry has little concern for protecting public and ecosystem health.  Before we dive into the independent non-industry studies which suggest potential harm from GMO crops and foods, we must first look at the studies which supposedly demonstrate the safety of GMO crops and foods.  A critique of these studies remained impossible for some time as the data was kept private, until French researchers obtained a court order for their release.  This team of researchers, lead by Joel Spiroux de Vendomois, then analyzed the raw data from studies on three varieties of GMO corn owned by Monsanto.  Yet, it immediately became apparent that this data was not extremely helpful as the study methodology was profoundly insufficient.  In a 2010 paper published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences[1], the researchers summarize several major flaws in the study.  I’ll list just a few of them here:

  1. For each of the three varieties of GMO corn tested, only a single study was done.  However, a central tenet of sound science is that the results are reproducible and replicated by other studies, preferably those done by different researchers.
  2. Only the rat was used as a toxicological model.  Rats are useful models for the human detoxification systems, but poor models for human reproductive and embryological systems.  Remember, rat studies “proved” that thalidomide was safe for pregnant women to use… but the rabbit studies done AFTER thousands of babies were harmed “proved” that it caused birth defects!  Scientific proof is only as good as the scientific studies, which are always limited and narrowly focused.
  3. The studies lasted only 3 months and were done on young adult rats.  Yet, captive rats live about 24 months.  No studies looking at late life outcomes from this brief exposure or studies which used lifelong exposure to GMOs were performed.  This is clearly a problem unless human consumers are only supposed to eat GMO foods for no longer than 9 years between the ages of 10 and 20.  Yet, GMO food technology has been released (without labeling) with the intention of lifelong consumption.
  4. No reproductive or developmental studies were done.  Yet GMO foods do not carry a label declaring that their safety during pregnancy has not been evaluated.  Instead, they are unlabeled and meant to be consumed by both genders, at all ages and developmental stages, including during pregnancy and infancy.
  5. Adverse outcomes were only considered if they occurred in both genders!  Clearly genders are different.  For instance, women are much more likely to get breast cancer than men, and one must have a prostate to get prostate cancer.  In the industry studies, increases in prostate cancer in male rats and increases in mammary tumors in female rats would apparently have been omitted since they differed between genders.  This explains exactly what happened to their findings that male rats eating GMO corn had an 11% increase in heart size while female rats eating GMO corn had a 40% increase in serum triglycerides[2].   It is not clear what to make of these findings, but they should not have been omitted and, instead, should have been used to encourage more numerous and longer duration (lifespan) studies before the worldwide release of GMO corn.
  6. Adverse outcomes which are consider “normal” in old rats were omitted in this young rat population.  For instance, the researchers did not consider “chronic progressive nephropathy”, a kidney disease common in older rats, to be a problem even though it was occurring in young, 5 month old, rats eating the GMO corn.

Now, I can attest that modern toxicology students training at respectable universities are taught to do much better work than this. We can only speculate about the reasons such limited study methodologies were chosen.  Nonetheless, these are the studies which the FDA determined to be sufficient for the approval of the three GMO corn varieties represented.  As if the major flaws in the study methodologies were not enough to warrant a different decision, the French team of researchers found a number of concerning associations upon re-analyzing the raw data[3].  They summarize:

Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and hematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn.

This is not the only group of researchers to demonstrate an association between GMO consumption and adverse health outcomes.  Despite the industries resistance to providing GMO varieties to outside researchers for independent studies, there are still dozens of studies available to the public for review.  I’ll synthesize the findings of several of these studies below in considering the possible mechanisms by which agricultural GMOs may cause problems.  In general, the health effects of agricultural GMOs are mediated through at least three routes; 1. Directly though ingestion, 2. Indirectly through GMO associated pesticide exposure and ingestion, and 3. Indirectly through environmental and ecosystem effects.

Effects of GMO ingestion:

Ingesting GMOs can affect both the microbiome and human cells.  The microbiome is the microorganism population which lives on and in the human body.  Most of it exists in or on the mouth, nose, stomach, intestines, and skin.  The gut microbiome has received considerable attention due to its apparently profound effect on the immune system, not to mention its effect on food digestion.  The gut microbiome is involved in determining the risk of autoimmune diseases, allergic diseases, cardiovascular disease, and some infectious diseases like osteomyelitis.  The microbiome can get out of balance (called dysbiosis) and produce severe diseases such as Clostridium difficile overgrowth and more mild disorders like small bowel bacterial overgrowth and irritable bowel syndrome.  The bottom line is that a balanced microbiome is critical for health and we are just now beginning to appreciate how serious the consequences of dysbiosis may be.

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We Now Know HOW Antibiotics Kill off Good Bacteria in the Gut

Leading To A Common And Often Fatal Health Problem


Julie Fidler
January 25, 2016

A single course of antibiotics can cause Clostridium difficile, or C. diff – a bacterium that can lead to a condition known as Clostridium difficile colitis – to flourish in the gut, according to researchers at North Carolina State University.

The discovery was made during experiments with mice. The scientists say the antibiotics were found to kill off bacteria responsible for altering bile acid.

C. Diff is a dormant spore bacteria that must germinate and become growing bacteria to colonize the gut. Certain antibiotics lead to a higher risk of C. diff, especially in hospital patients. For the study, Casey Theriot, an assistant professor of infectious disease at NC State, sought to find out just how C. diff spores interacted with natural bacterial environment (microbiota) of the gut.

“We know that within a healthy gut environment, the growth of C. diff is inhibited,” Theriot says. “But we wanted to learn more about the mechanisms behind that inhibitory effect.” [1]

Primary bile acids are created in the liver from cholesterol and help the body to digest food and absorb fat. Bile also controls the metabolism of lipoproteins, drugs, glucose, and energy. These acids travel through the intestinal tract to the large intestine where they are converted into secondary bile acids by other bacteria.

Scientists identified 26 primary and secondary bile acids in mice and recorded their levels before and after treatment with an antibiotic.

The team added C. diff spores to concentrations of the acids and discovered that primary bile acids allow spores to germinate, regardless of antibiotic treatment, including the broad-spectrum antibiotics cefoperazone, clindamycin, and vancomycin. [2]

When the spores passed into the mice’s large intestine, where normal gut bacteria create secondary bile acids, the researchers found that those secondary bile acids stopped C. diff from growing. After antibiotic treatment – which killed those bacteria and the secondary bile acids – the C. diff was able to quickly grow.

“These findings are a first step in understanding how the gut microbiota regulates bile acids throughout the intestine,” says Theriot. “Hopefully they will aid the development of future therapies for C. difficile infection and other metabolically relevant disorders such as obesity and diabetes.” [3]

In a February 2015 press release, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that C. diff caused nearly half a million infections in the United States in a single year. About 29,000 people died within 30 days of diagnosis, and about 15,000 thousand deaths were believed to have been directly caused by C. diff infections.

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[Review] Recommended Book -The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Sarah Balantyne, Ph.D


“Pharmaceutical treatment has, thus far, failed to inhibit the tsunami of endemic diseases spreading around the world, and no new tools are in sight. Dramatic alterations, in direction of paleolithic-like lifestyle and food habits, seem to be the only alternatives with the potential to control the present escalating crisis.”
– Stig Bengmark, MD, Ph.D

By: Zy Marquiez
December 20, 2015

For me, this book has been a life changer. As someone who has had chronic Ulcerative Colitis for almost twenty years & am barely in my thirties, hospitalized countless times, this book is a godsend. This is due to the many benefits my health as accrued from implementing much of the advice within this book.

As a side note, the evolution of my health progression with UC went something like this: clean fluoride-free water > removal of toxins [aspartame, nitrates, soy, msg.] from dietary choices > removal of all fast foods > removal of processed foods > switching to organic/non-gmo nutrient-dense foods > gluten-free / paleo approach.

That’s just what helped me. We are all different, so different people will benefit at varying degrees. Am just sharing what helped me in order for it to possibly help others.

Now let’s dive in, shall we?

The Paleo Approach – Reverse Autoimmune Disease And Heal Your Body by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD is an absolute tour de force into regaining your health, with a top-down approach that is as extensive as it is deep in scope.

Although a great length of the book almost has a textbook feel, it is that very precision that shows how exact and thorough Ballantyne’s approach is. She details every aspect of the Paleo Diet discipline [if we may call it that] in a manner that is not just easy to follow, but simple to comprehend.

Ballantyne commences with many of the causes for autoimmune diseases as well as what contributes to those type of health complications/diseases. Thence she couples that along with lifestyle changes that could be contributing to the cause of your dis-ease.

Personally, this is the type of book that should be mandatory reading for everyone in High School, let alone college. The previous statement does not mean that this is the only approach, however.   There are many [dietary] approaches that can and have helped people. A few of these different approaches helped me at varying degrees, the paleo approach being the last anchor that has solidified my health.

Knowledge is imperative in our day an age. That is why nutrition and diet should be an integral component in everyone’s lives. Am saying this to outline the fact that the public school indoctrination system does nothing remotely substantial to address the lack of health knowledge in basic schooling. Then again they do the same with finance & logic, all three of which would help individuals greatly in attaining health, financial versatility and a range of analysis that is sorely needed in the world we live in.

Getting back on track, Ballantyne makes it a point in stating and restating the fact that diet alone cannot help an individual if that individual is still making poor lifestyle choices. While this might seem ‘common sense’ to some, it isn’t. Countless people believe that if they just change their diet, while not addressing other vital [and just as detrimental] issues, all will be okay. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Stress, for instance, causes deleterious issues to those that do not address this common problem.   Ballantyne addresses the stress topic rather poignantly, outlining many solid approaches that have helped many, myself included.

Ballantyne also dovetails into the importance of sleep, which is such an underrated component to health [and thus healing!], as well as not remaining physically stagnant. Moving, doing exercises, heck WALKING outside, all have great benefits. Don’t forget getting ample amounts of sun, for a variety of reasons.

Other issues that are addressed rather trenchantly within this book are the issue of gluten sensitivity [this one affected me greatly] in relation to autoimmune disease and how it affects the intestines, as well as the issue of gut dysbiosis, what it is and how it is caused.

Inflammation is another essential and yet abstruse topic that is focused upon. Ballantyne addresses this issue from myriad directions while also coupling it with stress, sleep and lifestyle choices.

Parasites, as well as persistent infections such as C.Diff are touched upon, as well as the role of probiotics in gut health.

The detrimental side effects of some medications are tackled and talked about in relation to optimal health.

Finally, lest not forget the role of healthy fats, antioxidants, nutrient-dense food, and much, much more.

Ballantyne anchors her book with a thorough nutrient table that’s an excellent reference for anyone, especially those following the ‘Paleo Approach’.

All in all, if you are someone, or know someone with an auto-immune disease, or simply want to live a healthier life, then this book should be at the top of your priority/research list.

The rest revolves around taking the first step, and staying on track.

The choice is yours.


Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
– Hippocrates