What is GMO, and why does it matter to you?

Organic food might not just be for hipsters.

The movement of organic food was to provide an alternative to GMOs for those who think it makes a difference.

And since October is non-GMO month, I want you to know why it does make a difference to you and your health.

Genetically modified organisms—or GMOs—are an inevitable part of the American diet, unless you personally grow or know every food item you put in your body (or even beauty products you put on it).

GMOs started as an exciting technological advancement to mass produce crops. The result? The ability to feed more people for less money. 

This sounds great in theory, however, as with most things, America’s success-and-efficiency craze went overboard, and at some point, we wound up producing enough food—from plants alone—for Americans to consume 6,000 calories per person per day.

Bottom line: GMOs were created for production efficiency in a capitalist society. In our country, food is approached primarily as a business, not as a source of wellness or nutrition.

There is no scientific data or research to prove that GMOs themselves aren’t safe for human consumption.

However.

The primary use of GMOs in Big Ag has been to incorporate a pesticide-resistant gene into mass-produced crops in the US. The pesticide of choice is Roundup, the active chemical in which is glyphosate.

Glyphosate doesn’t interfere with any human metabolic functions, so the FDA has deemed it “safe for human consumption.” Meaning it can be used during all phases of production as long as the final product, as long as it’s compliant with the EPA’s tolerance limits, which vary from crop to crop. The regulation of the use of roundup on crops for humans is minimal, and for animal feed it’s nearly nonexistent.

So if it’s safe, what’s the problem?

Glyphosate is “safe” for humans, but it’s not safe for bacteria. Actually, it disrupts and destroys bacteria.

Want to know what makes your digestive system work the way it does?

Yep. Bacteria. Actually, trillions of bacterial cells.

When you consume something that’s poisonous for those bacterial cells, they die off. (This is also part of the reason overprescription of antibiotics AND the use of antibiotics in meat production are problematic.) And just like humans, when the good guys die off, the bad guys come in to set up camp and fill the vacuum. 

Bad bacteria=bad digestion.
Gas. Bloating. Diarrhea. Brain fog.

When your bacteria don’t digest the foods they’re supposed to, neither does your body. They produce more gas than the good ones would, and they leave a lot of food undigested–meaning discomfort for you, and a lot of nutrients you need to fuel your brain and other body systems leaving your body as waste without being absorbed.

Not just that, but the bacterial crisis, bloating, and ineffective food digestion in your intestines can literally poke tiny holes in the intestinal walls. This is called leaky gut, and this is what a lot of scientists and medical professionals have traced as a probable root cause of food intolerances, autoimmune diseases, dementia, autism, and even cancer. 

How could intestinal damage wreak SO much havoc on the other systems of your body??

It actually makes a lot of sense. Holes in your gut=free-floating, undigested food particles in the rest of your body. Anything floating around in your body that doesn’t belong there warrants an immune response, which is what keeps you from getting killed by a simple virus. The first line of immune response? Inflammation. Just like when you jam your finger and it gets inflamed, your body sends a LOT of blood and fluids to the site of injury, essentially to outnumber the intruders and restore order.

But if you’ve got a steady flow of intruders through a perforated intestinal wall…that means chronic inflammation.
And long-term inflammation is really, really hard on your body. Again, causing overactive immune responses, autoimmune diseases, painful joints, mental illness, and cancer.

One last important thing I want you to know about all this: there is a direct line of communication between your GI tract and your central nervous system that includes (and if affected by) the bacteria in your intestines. This is called the gut-brain axis, and it’s further proof that the microbiome of bacteria living in your gut are critically important for overall health.

So. Recap:

Basically, science can’t find a reason to claim that the genetically modified foods themselves are dangerous to humans. But if a food is GMO, you can generally assume it’s been altered to increase efficiency of farming—which is for the good of the industry, not the consumer.

When your food is a part of this mass-efficiency farming system, it has often been genetically modified with two profound effects on the food you eat: 1) decreased nutritional value, and 2) an irreversible presence of glyphosate in your food.

Glyphosate may be single-handedly destroying our digestive, immune, and mental health.

And if not single-handedly,

Glyphosate + the chronically stressed American lifestyle = holistic health disaster.

So what can you do?

Well, the real answer is: whatever you feel like is best for you.

Organic food has grown in popularity because theoretically, in order to be labeled “organic,” the food is produced naturally, and cannot be grown with added chemicals or pesticides to, uh, “enhance” its natural growth.

So for you, maybe that means a diet overhaul, or maybe it means baby steps to long-term change. But anything you can do to cut down on your exposure to glyphosate is a win.

Here are a few first steps:

  1. Research
    Start with the Environmental Working Group’s two shopping lists: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15.
    This is helpful to know which of your produce is the most important to buy organic, and which will probably be relatively glyphosate-free even if you don’t.
  2. Buy local.
    Meat is one of the most concentrated sources of glyphosate, because the allowance is so much higher in feed for the animals. (If your food was poisoned with this stuff, you will be too.)
    If you get to know local farmers and butchers, they can usually tell you a lot more about how crops were produced and how animals were raised.
    Plus, you’ll be much kinder to Mother Earth when you buy things grown around the corner instead of plants shipped to you from Mexico and Florida.
  3. Try for the 80/20 rule.
    You won’t be perfect all the time, and for most people, a perfectly clean diet is just not worth the stress of all the research, budget, and social implications that would come with it. Being on-track with 80% of your food choices is a great goal to have for yourself and your family. Give yourself a little wiggle room, and be kind to yourself—after all, the only reason you’ve decided to make these changes is because you’re taking better care of you. So try not to use this as another measurement of ways you’re not doing enough, okay? You’re reading this, so you’re doing great.

There is a great deal of research available on all of this, so feel free to explore what the internet has to offer you. Since I get asked regularly about what difference organic/non-GMO food makes, I wanted to make a quick guide of accessible information for those of you who want to learn. 

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or in my inbox with any questions or reactions.

Happy non-GMO month, everyone!