Monthly Archives: May 2013

Five GMO Facts That May Surprise You

Last Saturday I was honored to participate in the March Against Monsanto, a global march protesting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). I confess I’ve started and stopped this article multiple times since then. My desire to share truths about GMOs is so strong I had to resist writing a book on the subject. This post shares information designed to introduce you to the dangers of GMOs and to provide additional educational resources. I was surprised Saturday by how many people knew little about GMOs but were anxious to learn as much as they could. The following facts will hopefully inspire you to learn more and to make avoiding GMOs a priority:

  1. GMOs are banned or tightly restricted in over 60 other countries due to safety concerns, yet are not even labeled in the US. Countries includingAnti-GMO LogoJapan, Australia and all countries in the European Union have either banned genetically modified organisms or strictly limit their use. Don’t you think it’s odd other countries are concerned enough to ban or restrict GMOs, yet the US has done nothing? All of those countries also require genetically modified foods to be labeled. End result? Food manufacturers who bombard the market with foods containing GMOs in the US don’t use genetically modified ingredients in countries where their use is restricted.
  2. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, 75 to 80 percent of processed food in the US contains genetically modified ingredients. Many people eat GMOs in every bite of food throughout the day yet are completely unaware they are consuming genetic code that was forced into a combination which nature never intended.
  3. When plants are genetically modified, they have DNA snips from other species inserted into their genetic strand. This means genetic code from bacteria, fish, insects, goats and other organisms are commonly inserted into plant genes. Combining genetic code which nature never intended to be joined together requires the use of radiation and strong chemicals. The biotech companies often insist this genetic manipulation is the same thing as creating hybrid crops. The scientific process and manipulation used is in no way similar.The inserted gene snips typically contain genetic code intended to cause one specific change; however, genetic sequencing is so complex that the gene snips contain genetic code that could create large numbers of unknown and unanticipated effects. We are already beginning to see the effects of this in rising rates of chronic disease, food allergies, digestive disorders, etc. 
  4. Foods containing GMOs are not tested for safety. The companies who produce the seeds are required to do their own “safety” testing on the seeds, but no long term testing has been done on how the foods grown from genetically modified seeds affect human health. Two recent studies showed genetically modified organisms negatively affect health in serious ways. (See References for links to those studies.) Most of the biotech companies selling genetically modified seeds require purchasers to sign an agreement stating they will not use the seeds for scientific study. This ensures NO outside agencies can conduct external safety studies. Not allowing the seeds to be subjected to scientific study would appear to be criminal, but is completely legal under current US laws.
  5. In the years preceding the introduction of genetically modified seeds into our food system, FDA scientists tasked with studying the seeds repeatedly warned the genetic manipulation could create unpredictable, irreversible side effects including increased levels of food allergies, toxic overload, nutritional depletion and new diseases. We have seen every one of their warnings come true, yet their insistence that long-term safety studies were needed was ignored. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, “The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) doesn’t think [GMOs are safe]. The Academy reported that ‘Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,’ including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.” Between 1997 and 2007, the incidence of food allergies in the US rose 25%, while the incidence of allergic reaction to food requiring hospitalization rose 256%. It is important to note the most rapidly rising allergens – soy and corn – are also the most prevalent GMO crops. Newer studies are proving the connection between GMOs and food allergies, but much more study is needed.

What You Can Do

Here are my top four recommendations for how to combat genetically modified foods:

  1. Educate yourself: Use the links shown below to learn as much as you can about GMOs and then dedicate yourself to educating others
  2. Stop buying them. Your dollars are votes. If you refuse to purchase products containing GMOs, companies will be forced to stop selling them. Use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide as a reference. Avoiding GMOs should include buying organic meat and  produce and strictly buying grass-fed beef. (Most animals raised for slaughter in the US are also fed GMO crops. One cannot avoid GMOs while eating non-organic, mainstream meat.)
  3. Let your legislators know their GMO voting record will influence your decision to vote for them.
  4. When you see a notification about a petition to demand labeling or restrict usage, sign in. Online petitions are successful in growing numbers.

GMO Resources

I recommend the following resources for additional education:

References:

GMO Dangers, Institute for Responsible Technology

GMO Crops: Top Ten Facts and Figures

Intestinal and Peripheral Immune Response to MON810 Ingestion in Weaning and Old Mice

Food Allergies Among US Children: Trends

Everything You Have to Know About Dangerous Genetically Modified Foods

Ten Facts About GM Foods, Greenpeace

Scientist Speaks Out on the Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods

GMO Facts

Will Genetically Modified Foods Make You Sick?

GMO Myths and Truths

The Effect of GMOs on Food Allergy

Is a BRCA1 Gene Mutation Worthy of Physical Mutilation?

A famous actress, mother and philanthropist’s recent announcement that she had a double mastectomy as a preventive measure against breast cancer has everyone wondering what her true risks were and whether her decision was warranted or extreme. Please let me say I very much respect her decision and her desire to protect herself out of love for her children. Any decision related to cancer and other health matters is highly personal. There are no “right” or “wrong” decisions. I applaud her for taking control of her health and making the decision which was right for her. I also strongly encourage other women to do thorough research before making a similar decision.Woman performing a breast exam

Her decision was reportedly based on her family history of breast cancer (her mother died at age 57 after battling the disease for a decade) and the fact she was tested for and told she has a mutation in the BRCA1 gene.

What are BRCA1 and 2 Gene Mutations?

In their normal state, the BRCA1 and 2 genes help stop abnormal cell growth. They provide a natural form of protection against breast cancer. When these genes are mutated – typically by environmental toxins and other lifestyle factors, not solely heredity – they stop providing the protection they were designed to. If left unchecked, this may lead to an increased risk of breast cancer. If is important to note that only 2% of breast cancers result from a BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation, and that less than 0.25% of the population has such mutations. While researching this article, I spoke with and read quotes from multiple MDs and surgeons who are frustrated that many women are getting elective double mastectomies who do not have the BRCA1 or 2 gene defect.

Why Preventive Mastectomies Often Fail

Unfortunately, the following factors may make the decision to have a preventive mastectomy an extreme measure offering little or no protection:

  • Only 2% of breast cancers involve BRCA1 or 2 genes; and approximately only 0.25% of the general population has the mutation.
  • Women who had preventive mastectomies often get breast cancer in spite of having little or no breast tissue. Tumors form where breast tissue was previously.
  • Women who have preventive mastectomies often believe they are “safe” and therefore fail to make simple lifestyle changes that greatly reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Genes are activated and inactivated by environmental and lifestyle factors. Having the gene may statistically increase the likelihood of cancer developing, but it is not guaranteed and the likelihood can be diminished.
  • One study found the risk primarily increased when women with a BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation had their breasts exposed to radiation – such as that from a mammogram. This is significant because women with known BRCA1 or 2 gene mutations are often advised to get a mammogram every three to six months. Although this recommendation is intended to help, the excess exposure to radiation can be very harmful.
  • An article published in 2011 in The Journal of the American Medical Association reported the link between the BRCA genes and breast cancer was grossly overstated. The study found that preventive surgery, at best, may only add 3-6 years of life. This low gain in life expectancy exists because preventive surgery does not provide 100% protection from breast cancer, offers no protection from other cancers, and provides no protection against other causes of death.

What Are Other Options?

The cancer industry in the US treats cancer as an “inevitable” disease that cannot be prevented instead of encouraging people to live in a way that reduces the likelihood of cancer developing. The following tips for preventing and reducing the likelihood of developing breast cancer are based on scientific data and research:

  • Cancer Prevention TipsHave thermograms done to check for breast abnormalities and tumors instead of mammograms. Thermograms are an alternative form of scan with significantly lower risks and radiation exposure. Thermograms are also known to provide higher levels of detection.
  • Eat your veggies. Several studies proved cruciferous vegetables contain a phytochemical which actually turns off mutated BRCA genes. This study found as little as one serving per day of cruciferous vegetables greatly reduced cancer risks. Indole-3-Carbinol (IC3) in broccoli has also been shown to reduce the activity of the BRCA genes.
  • Get out in the sun. Multiple studies have identified a connection between breast cancer and low Vitamin D levels. A study done in 2009 determined 30% of breast cancers could be prevented if men and women would maintain adequate Vitamin D levels. (On a side note, a more recent study which concluded Vitamin D was of no benefit cannot be trusted because the study used a flawed protocol. The study did not use a high enough dosage of Vitamin D to make any difference in health outcomes.) One cancer study estimated that as many as 600,000 cases of breast cancer each year could be prevented if adequate Vitamin D levels were maintained. Vitamin D plays a powerful role in genetic expression and is also known to cause the death of cancer cells. Its value in treating and preventing breast cancer should not be underestimated. (It has been proven beneficial in preventing over 16 different cancers. Are your levels adequate?)
  • Maintain normal weight and insulin levels. It is commonly recognized that obesity and insulin resistance (resulting in excess amounts of insulin in the bloodstream) are connected to breast cancer. Eating a diet low in high-glycemic carbohydrates can help with weight maintenance and may help improve insulin resistance. Regular exercise is also known to reduce the likelihood of developing cancer.
  • The American Institute of Cancer Research estimates that about 40% of breast cancer cases in the US – or approximately 70,000 cases per year – could be prevented using simple lifestyle changes such as making better food choices, exercising more, and choosing a diet high in natural foods. Some experts think these numbers are actually a low estimate and that significantly more cases of breast cancer could be prevented by improved lifestyle habits.
  • Consume adequate amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids and limit intake of Omega-6 fatty acids. Multiple studies have shown a connection between Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies and breast cancer. These studies also found higher rates of breast cancer among women who had excess levels of Omega-6 fatty acids compared to their Omega-3 levels. Good food sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include wild salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, sardines, olive oil, hemp seeds and eggs. Taking an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement is also a valid option. I prefer Krill Oil due to its purity and because its fatty acid content provides other benefits.

As I stated previously, decisions related to health are very personal. I encourage you to do extensive research before making extreme choices.

References:

BRCA Genes In Breast Cancer Chemoprevention, Eliot Rosen, National Institutes of Health

High Penetrance Breast and/or Ovarian Cancer Susceptibility Genes, National Cancer Institute, 3/4/2013

BRCA1 and BRCA2 as molecular targets for phytochemicals, British Journal of Cancer

Research Interests, Donaldo Romangolo, Bio 5 Institute, University of Arizona

Comparison of Effect Sizes Associated With Biomarkers Reported in Highly Cited Individual Articles and in Subsequent Meta-analyses, John P. A. Ioannidis, MD, DSc; Journal of the American Medical Association, 2011;305(21):2200-2210. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.713

Vitamin D for cancer prevention: global perspective; Garland, C.F., et al. 2009

Vitamin D and prevention of breast cancer: pooled analysis; Garland, C.F., et al. 2007

Estrogen and Insulin Crosstalk: Breast Cancer Risk Implications. The Nurse Practitioner. 2003

Evaluation of the synergistic effect of insulin resistance and insulin-like growth factors on the risk of breast carcinoma. Cancer. 2004

Opposing effects of dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids on mammary carcinogenesis: The Singapore Chinese Health Study. USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, 2003

Regulation of tumor angiogenesis by dietary fatty acids and eicosanoids. Division of Nutrition and Endrocrinology, American Health Foundation. 2000

Graphics: All graphics in this post courtesy of Tips Times

Modern Epidemic: Metabolic Syndrome

“Metabolic Syndrome” refers to a group of symptoms that are increasing at an alarming rate in the U.S. and other developed countries. Metabolic Syndrome is often referred to as an “epidemic” because the number of people affected by it is increasing so rapidly. Why does this matter? Because Metabolic Syndrome is a set of conditions created by lifestyle and dietary habits. Metabolic Syndrome is Metabolic Syndrome: Apple with Stethoscope and Measuring Tapeknown to increase the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hormonal imbalances, depression, stroke and more.

Although experts disagree on the specific causes of Metabolic Syndrome, they all agree that obesity, a high carbohydrate diet, and a diet low in fruits and vegetables are contributing factors. Other factors which may increase your risk include heredity, hormonal imbalances, lack of exercise, smoking and possibly toxic exposure from food, air and water.

The problem with Metabolic Syndrome is that no single definition of what it is and no specified set of diagnostic criteria have been defined. Many practitioners in the mainstream medical community do not believe Metabolic Syndrome exists and do not believe early identification can help improve health outcomes. There is also controversy about whether the symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome truly represent a “syndrome” or are merely a group of related symptoms which each has its own risk factors. The concern is that we have created a “disease” which truly doesn’t exist.

The bottom line is that whether you group the symptoms together and label them or not, they each represent a very real risk to health and longevity. In my practice, I work with many people who have multiple symptoms associated with Metabolic Syndrome. Addressing the issues quickly restores health. It also often results in improved self esteem and a restored positive outlook. I find that people who address Metabolic Syndrome typically experience better overall health on a long term basis.

Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

The most common symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome include:

  • Weight gain in the stomach and abdomen, often in spite of exercise and decreased food intake
  • Fatigue
  • Increased triglycerides and cholesterol
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Fasting blood glucose levels greater than 100 mg/dL
  • Acne
  • Higher than normal blood levels of insulin (Please see The Top 3 Blood Tests Everyone Should Request for more info)
  • Mild to moderate kidney damage resulting in excess protein in the urine
  • Increased systemic inflammation which may cause joint pain, water retention and other symptoms
  • Increased liver enzymes due to insufficient detoxification and/or a condition called “fatty liver”
  • Excess growth of Candida (yeast) in the body
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) in women
  • Low Testosterone in men
  • Abnormal development in children
  • Mental and psychological issues, ranging from mild to extreme

If you have three or more of those symptoms, please schedule an appointment with your practitioner. Ask him or her to order blood work including a complete metabolic panel, complete blood count, insulin level, A1C and complete thyroid panel. (If your doctor is unsure how to interpret these tests related to Metabolic Syndrome risk factors, please feel free to contact me to schedule a half-hour blood work interpretation consultation.)

Reversing Metabolic Syndrome

The good news is that Metabolic Syndrome can often be reversed using simple lifestyle changes. Supplements may also be used in some cases. The purpose of the recommended changes is to improve insulin sensitivity and restore balance to the endocrine system. Potential changes may include:

  • Improving an exercise regimen and combining it with weight training
  • Decreasing the type and quantity of carbohydrates eaten on a daily basis
  • Increasing the amount of healthy fat consumed on a daily basis
  • Identifying and addressing mineral deficiencies
  • Improving digestion to ensure foods are adequately digested and absorbed
  • Other recommendations based on the person’s specific health needs

Reversing Metabolic Syndrome is very possible, but requires the direction of a qualified practitioner. If you suspect you have Metabolic Syndrome and would like to start the process of reversing it, please contact me to schedule a consultation. 

Photo courtesy of Keith Ramsey