Written by: Dr. Amy Myers, MD
Amy Myers, MD is a two-time New York Times best-selling author and an internationally acclaimed functional medicine physician who specializes in empowering those with autoimmune, thyroid, and digestive issues to take back their health and reverse their condition.
I’ll come clean. The title of this article calls out people with autoimmunity, however, I really do believe everyone should avoid genetically modified organisms. GMOs are potentially one of the greatest health concerns of our time. While the issue is gaining more media attention and activists are speaking out, GMOs are more widely used in food products than most consumers realize. Our organs, including our livers, are under stress from toxins and could use support.
An estimated 92% of corn and 94% of soy grown in the U.S. are genetically modified1, despite the fact that there is very little research on the long-term effect these scientifically engineered foods have on us. Of course, even if you do avoid corn and soy, you may still be eating GMO fruits and vegetables without realizing it. What’s worse, of the research available, a majority of the most publicized studies were funded2 by the very companies developing and selling genetically modified seeds.
Studies funded by consumer-oriented organizations, such as The Institute for Responsible Technology3 and The Environmental Working Group,4 have found an alarming number of connections between GMOs and health problems, including intestinal damage, inflammation, higher rates of disease, and even death.
You may wonder what’s so bad about GMOs. Aren’t crop seeds modified to grow more nutritious foods? Or to resist pests and diseases? Actually, it’s a lot more complicated than that. 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-fold5 since the Roundup® ready seeds were introduced in the 1990s. This statistic should worry all of us because the World Health Organization released a report6 stating that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans. In fact, earlier this year a California jury awarded one couple millions of dollars in damages on the grounds that exposure to Roundup® caused their cancers. It was the third case in that state alone.7
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 linked8 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 cells9, damaging the intestines and causing leaky gut, which is a precondition for developing an autoimmune disease.
The growing body of evidence10 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.”
Control your health at its roots
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 chemical 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, are highly resistant to glyphosate11. 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 Certified 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.
I order grass-fed, pasture-raised meat and poultry from Butcher Box.
Use the EWG’s Guide to Avoiding GMOs
The EWG has created a very helpful resource12 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 Your Liver
Your liver is one of the hardest working organs in your body. It filters toxins out of your bloodstream all day long, and it’s also responsible for breaking down these toxins. In today’s toxic environment, your liver can use all the help it can get.
My Liver Support includes N-Acetyl-Cysteine, or NAC for short. It’s a special form of cysteine, an amino acid used by the body to help make glutathione. Glutathione, as you may have heard before, is the body’s most powerful free radical scavenger and is made in your liver! Glutathione also helps recycle other antioxidants and plays a significant role in the detoxification, mitochondrial health, and the elimination of heavy metals and mycotoxins.
I made sure my Liver Support also contains a healthy dose of lipoic acid does not run from a fight. Alpha-lipoic acid is another amazing free radical scavenger that is extremely unique in that it is both fat and water-soluble. This means that it can often go where other antioxidants cannot. It also helps recycle antioxidant vitamins C and E, as well as amplifies the free radical fighting power of CoQ10 and glutathione. All of which are vital in supporting the liver in its fight to protect your body from a constant barrage of toxins, including the ones you eat.
I advocate everyone eat a diet of fresh, organic food. However, even careful label-readers may occasionally be exposed to GMOs. Ensuring your body is functionally optimally with your liver — that all-important detox organ — fully supported is a key to your overall health.