Something is going on. In the Nineties, it was fairly easy to help a chronically ill person get better. Have them stop dairy and rheumatoid arthritis would go into remission. Lose a few pounds and their blood pressure would normalize. Now days it seems like chronic illnesses are more common, they are happening to younger and younger people and they are much more difficult to get to go away. Why?
It’s not genetic. Sure it is partly genetic in that your genes participate in how you respond to your environment. But the recent increase in chronic diseases is not due to changes in your genes. Genes don’t change that quickly. Epigenetic regulation of your genes may be involved, as the epigenetics can change quickly in response to environmental changes. But that’s just the point. It all hinges on environmental change.
So what has changed in our environment that is creating all this chronic disease? Researchers have been trying to find the answer to this question for years. Is it the increased exposure to electromagnetic fields in the proliferation of cell towers, radio and TV stations, wireless networks, cell phones and such? EMFs do have health effects, in my opinion, but they probably only contribute a small factor to the overall equation of environment and health.
Could it be pesticides and herbicides? Rachael Carson showed as early as the Sixties that we can run but cannot hide from these things and their use and concentration in the environment has only increased steadily since then. I think these compounds are definitely a factor in our decreasing fertility, increasing miscarriage rate and increasing problems with ovarian cysts, perimenopausal symptoms, prostate, breast and ovarian cancers. But I’m not sure they are that related to the increase in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in our society.
So what could it be? I’m going to make a case for GMO foods and the use of the specific herbicide Roundup®.
Almost everyone I’ve ever worked with who is experiencing a disease that is due to increased inflammation or autoimmunity has digestive imbalances. The imbalances may be at the root of the inflammation or may be participating in the self-perpetuating loops that are going in their bodies. The most common digestive imbalance associated with increased bodily inflammation is leaky gut, also referred to as increased intestinal permeability.
Down in your intestines, there is a membrane that separates your stool from your blood stream. Its job is to invite in all that your body needs from your foods, like water, proteins, vitamins and minerals, and keep out all that your body doesn’t want in the blood stream, like partially digested food, bacterial waste products and such. If you could spread that membrane out flat, it would cover a tennis court. And it is one cell thick. Anything that disrupts the integrity of that membrane allows the contents of your intestines direct access to the luxuriant bed of capillaries that are waiting to carry away all that gets absorbed.
Leaky gut is a problem for your body and, at the same time, a fairly common occurrence. So your body has three back-up systems to help that membrane out. First, you get a new membrane every three days, so that if it gets mechanically abraded, it heals quickly. Second, all the blood from your intestines goes to the liver first before it goes out to your body. That is called the “portal circulation.” It is then the liver’s job to inspect everything that just came in. If it is a food, the liver will prepare it so the body can use it. If it is a toxin, the liver will prepare it so the body can get rid of it.
So, what does your liver experience if that membrane is too permeable? Right. It gets swamped with toxins and gets overloaded. Leaky gut is one of the most common causes of liver-overload which causes symptoms such as PMS and hypoglycemia, as well as immune dysregulation. If the toxic load gets too high, the liver cannot clear all of them in one pass of blood and some get out into the circulation, causing brain fog, disrupted sleep, aches and pains in the muscles and joints, fatigue and such.
The third back-up system is that over 60% of your whole body’s immune system is in the gut. The white blood cells line up along that membrane ready to catch any bacteria or foreign proteins that leak across. If that membrane is too permeable, then your immune system is on all the time. Your immune system is supposed to be like the fire department. It is on alert, but those trucks are parked in the garage the majority of the day. What if they were out roaming around 24/7? Yes, they would burn a lot of gas, the firemen would get tired and not be able to respond appropriately when needed and they would probably be doing some things they don’t need to be doing.
Your white blood cells talk to each other with chemical called “cytokines.” They are to the white blood cells like neurotransmitters are to your nerve cells. When you have the flu, it is not the virus itself that makes you exhausted, feverish and achy, those are the effects of cytokines. If you have leaky gut, chances are good that you have elevated levels of cytokines in your system. That explains why you may feel fluish at times, or feel like you are coming down with something then it never manifests. If your immune system is on all the time, you are in a pro-inflammatory state. You can turn inflammation on easily but cannot then turn it off very well. You get over-use syndromes like carpal tunnel and tennis elbow easily, injuries may take longer to heal, you get stiff and sore more easily and such.
So what does all this have to do with GMOs? Well, it turns out that GMOs and Roundup® are causes of leaky gut. There are two main mechanisms for this, as I understand it so far.
Roundup® kills weeds. It does so through several mechanisms, the dominant one being interfering with the shikimate pathway. “The shikimate pathway (shikimic acid pathway) is a seven step metabolic route used by bacteria, fungi, algae, parasites and plants for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids (phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan). This pathway is not found in animals, hence the products of this pathway represent essential amino acids that must be obtained from the animal's diet. However, this pathway is found with microbes that live within animals in the gut microbiome.” (Wikipedia)
This means that, while Roundup® doesn’t kill mammalian cells, it kills your friendly bacteria. In fact, Roundup® has been patented as an antibiotic as well as an herbicide. Any residues of Roundup® in your food will disrupt your friendly bacteria, which causes leaky gut and autoimmunity problems through other mechanisms besides leaky gut. Since weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup®, it is being used in higher and higher doses. Also, even though wheat is not yet genetically modified to be Roundup®-ready, Roundup® is often now sprayed on wheat prior to harvest so that it is more uniformly dried out. If you are not eating organically, you are ingesting Roundup® in biologically significant doses.
In addition to being genetically modified to be Roundup®-ready, corn has a second genetic modification stacked into it. GMO corn, soy and cotton (ingested as cottonseed oil) contain a gene that makes the plant make Bt toxin within its tissues. Bt toxin is named for the bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, that makes it naturally. Bt toxin kills caterpillars by three mechanisms. Some it kills by poking holes in the caterpillar’s intestines (sound familiar?), some it kills by stopping their digestion and they starve and some it kills by allowing bacteria through the intestines and they die from infection. Bt toxin has long been thought to be safe for humans but recent research shows that it kills human red blood cells and kidney cells. And, while Bt toxin by itself does not seem to cause leaky gut in humans directly, it can bind with up to six different proteins found in the human intestine and the Bt-protein complex then causes leaky gut.
Also, there is some concern that Agrobacterium tumetaciens, found naturally in the soil and human intestine and used by the biotech industry to insert genes into plants, can move the Bt gene from the corn that you eat and put it into your own friendly bacteria. If that happens, then your own microbiome becomes a pesticide factory.
There is a large body of science that claims that GMOs are safe for humans. Many are starting to question the veracity of that body of science as much of it comes from the biotech industry itself, obviously a conflict of interest. Also, many of the studies were not carried out long enough to see the real effects of GMOs. The bottom line, as far as I am concerned, is that a number of physicians, myself included, have observed that our patients with gluten sensitivity, chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases improve more quickly and to a greater degree when they eliminate GMO foods from their diets. Until the real truth of GMOs is better understood, if you are experiencing any long-term health problem at all, I would recommend eliminating GMO foods from your diet.
There are several resources to help you do that. The best way to avoid GMOs is to consult the NonGMOShoppingGuide.com or download the free iPhone app ShopNoGMO. Look for products with either the “Non-GMO Project Verified” or the “Certified Organic” seal. Avoid ingredients derived from the foods most likely to be genetically modified. These include soy, corn, cottonseed, canola, sugar, papaya from Hawaii or China, zucchini, and yellow squash.
To your good health.