By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
If there’s ever a topic that makes my blood boil, it’s GMOs.
GMO, of course, is short for genetically modified organisms. They’ve exploded in recent years, as regulatory agencies have allowed more and more of them into our foods and grocery stores.
So far, most GMO foods have had their genetic material manipulated to make them more able to withstand herbicides—the most common one being Roundup. The changes allow the plants to be sprayed more often and not die, while the weeds around them do.
I’ve been talking about the dangers of GMOs for a while, including exposure to this dangerous pesticide. But a recent report from the Detox Project and Food Democracy Now! highlights just how prevalent the problem has become.
It’s scary stuff—and if you think it doesn’t affect you, you’re in for a surprise…
The Dangers of Glyphosate and Roundup
You’ve probably heard of the herbicide Roundup. It’s sold at most hardware and gardening stores and you may even keep some in your garage or toolshed, to kill weeds around your house (though I hope not).
It’s also sprayed in mass quantities on crops grown at non-organic farms.
The primary ingredient in Roundup is an extremely toxic chemical called glyphosate. Research has shown that glyphosate may disrupt sex hormones, causing fertility problems and miscarriages. It’s also been linked with potential heart and neurological problems.
One study, in particular, found that a daily dose of glyphosate could change the brain of a rat in just six days. Specifically, it altered how a number of neurotransmitters work, including serotonin—which affects mood, appetite, sleep, and memory. The more glyphosate the rats were exposed to, the worse the effects were.
Another study found that glyphosate can also alter the microbiomes of plants and, potentially, those of animals and people, too.
Researchers noted that even ultra-low doses of glyphosate can accumulate and raise the possibility of negative health effects over time. Relative to the microbiome, they wrote, “Shifts in microbial compositions due to selective pressure by glyphosate may have contributed to the proliferation of plant and animal pathogens…we hypothesize that the selection pressure for glyphosate-resistance in bacteria could lead to shifts in microbiome composition and increases in antibiotic resistance…”
In other words, altering plant DNA to withstand more glyphosate use—and then actually using more of it—could cause the natural balance between good and bad bacteria to slip, strengthening the bad bugs to a point where we can’t control them.
Sounds scary, right? Well, here’s something even more frightening.
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate a “probable human carcinogen.” Monsanto (Roundup’s manufacturer) and most U.S. government agencies, however, claim there’s no evidence of any harmful effects.
Food Labels May Understate Glyphosate Risk
All of this is particularly concerning because the United States is the world’s top grower of GMO crops, mostly sugar beets, soy, canola, and corn. Considering those are ingredients in almost every single processed food on the market—and most Americans eat processed foods fairly regularly—you can imagine the hefty helping of GMOs and glyphosate on most dinner plates.
The obvious answer to this would be to avoid GMO foods. But as this report points out, even foods marketed as non-GMO may still contain glyphosate.
Case in point: Cheerios.
On their website, Cheerios states that they don’t use GMO oats to make their cereal. Still, it was found to have 1,125.3 parts per billion (ppb) of glyphosate. In second place for this dubious honor is Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips—labeled non-GMO—which registered at 812.53 ppb.
To put this in perspective, glyphosate or glyphosate residues of only 0.05 ppb can cause damage to at least 4,000 different genes, while 10 ppb can impact your kidneys and liver. Now think about how many mothers give their babies Cheerios as a snack, or pour it for their kids before school.
I don’t know about you, but I see an enormous problem there!
But Wait…Glyphosate Also Affects the Entire Food Chain
Glyphosate’s impact doesn’t end with the foods made from it.
A significant percentage of GMO crops (up to 70 percent of soy and 40 percent of corn) also go into animal feed. This means the cattle, poultry, and even fish that eat this glyphosate-laced feed eventually end up adding to our glyphosate load.
Another case in point: Not too long ago, reports came out that glyphosate was discovered in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream because the cows ate crops sprayed with Roundup.
Then there’s our water supply. Public drinking water is also contaminated with glyphosate, thanks to agricultural runoff. It’s even in our air.
I’m not going to lie—glyphosate has become so pervasive that it’s largely unavoidable at this point. That means we all have to do the next best thing, which is take steps to limit exposure as best we can.
How to Limit Your Glyphosate Exposure
This report really underscores the dire need to make eating organic food a priority, to the extent that you can afford it. Not just for produce, but for dairy, meat, and eggs, too.
Beef and pork, in particular, should be grass fed and grass finished. That means the animals have eaten only grass throughout their lives and weren’t “plumped up” before slaughter with grains or other GMO feed.
With produce, choose organic at the store or buy directly from a local organic farm that you trust. Some fruits and veggies tend to have more pesticide residue than others, so make sure you get familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. These lists identify which foods are best to buy organic and which are safe to buy conventional (in case you can’t afford to go 100 percent organic).
I also advise against consuming highly processed foods as much as possible. These are junk food items that contain corn, canola oil, sugar, and other ingredients that are most likely GMO.
As far as healthier prepackaged foods go—pastas and sauces, for example—strive for sources that are both non-GMO and organic. As the Cheerios scenario illustrates, just looking for a non-GMO label may not be enough. By definition, “organic” means no GMOs and no synthetic pesticides, so there’s a better chance you’ll get clean food.
Finally, filter your drinking water using reverse osmosis filtration, and use an air purifier in your home.
I strongly believe that doing these things offers you the best chance to stay as safe as possible from the many threats of GMOs and glyphosate.
*Editor’s note: In this article, as well as other articles at HeartMD, we use the word, “pesticide,” as general term to describe all non-organic chemical applications to crops to prevent pests, weeds and insects; we intend it to encompass more specific substances like herbicides (like glyphosphate) and insecticides. Thanks, to our readers for continuing to let us know when clarification is needed!
- Cheerios and GMOs: FAQs. Accessed December 6, 2017.
- Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project. Glyphosate: Unsafe on Any Plate. Accessed December 4, 2017.
- Martinez MA, et al. Neurotransmitter changes in rat brain regions following glyphosate exposure. Environ Res. 2017 Nov;161:212–9.
- Van Bruggen AHC, et al. Environmental and health effects of the herbicide glyphosate. Sci Total Environ. 2017 Nov 5;616-617:255–68.
© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.