GMO is short for “genetically modified organism,” and GMOs are showing up in our food supply in the form of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and even in meats and fish. While food producers argue that GMOs are harmless and can help us produce more food to feed a hungry world, their long-term impact on public health and our environment is worrisome.
GMOs and Allergies
The tricky thing about GMOs is that to develop them, scientists often insert genes from one plant into another to make them more pest resistant, easier to grow or to produce a higher volume of food. But if the DNA they insert comes from a common allergen — like a nut, or soy, or wheat — it might inadvertently create a plant variety that triggers an allergic reaction in sensitive people.
Another problem is that since GMOs have combinations of DNA that are not found in nature, there is a risk of creating an allergy if the body doesn’t recognize the GMO corn you are eating as the natural corn you are used to.
The other problem is that GMOs may affect our gut flora in unknown ways. The balance of healthy bacteria in our gut is important to our digestion, our hormonal balance, and our immune system.
In addition to damaging our gut flora, many people have a “leaky gut” where partially undigested proteins from foods actually enter the bloodstream. (Some wellness experts believe GMO foods can actually cause leaky gut syndrome.) Blood-borne food particles are known allergy triggers. This is especially concerning since a leaky gut can allow GMO proteins directly into the bloodstream. We just don’t have enough data to really understand how this might affect our long-term health.
The Relationship of GMOs, Pesticides, and Herbicides
Some plants are genetically modified so that they can survive a heavier application of pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup) during cultivation. While this can cut costs for growers, it also means GMOs can be loaded with more toxins from such chemicals than other conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Many herbicides and pesticides are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, both of which we need to avoid. If you can’t go completely organic, at least avoiding certain heavily sprayed GMOs can reduce your load of ingested herbicides and pesticides.
Environmental Impact of GMOs
Some GMOs have qualities that make them resistant to antibiotics. Unfortunately, this could contribute to the problem of worldwide antibiotic resistance that puts all of us at a disadvantage in the future when we’re faced with new infections.
GMOs can harm other plants and are often designed to hurt insects. This can disrupt the ecological balance where they are grown. It is also difficult to segregate GMO plants from wild plants or non-GMO varieties. There is no way to truly prevent cross-contamination that could affect the gene pool of nearby plants.
GMOs also encourage mono-agriculture – where one type of plant dominates the land and the market. This hurts the preservation of heirloom plants and plant diversity.
The Non-GMO Shopping Guide
Luckily, if you want to learn more about GMOs and their effect of health, and how you can avoid them at the supermarket, there is a great website packed with resources called The Non-GMO Shopping Guide. You can learn to read the codes on produce stickers, understand which types of foods are more likely to have GMOs, and when and how to choose organic and non-GMO labeled foods.
If we are what we eat, then we should know exactly what is going into our bodies. Right now, GMO foods are really an unknown quantity in how they affect our long-term health and our environment. Learning more and choosing non-GMO foods whenever possible can be a wise step in protecting your health.
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.