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The lining of your stomach and intestines (your “gut”) is made up of specialized cells joined together by tight junctions. The purpose of the tight junctions is to keep the stuff on the inside of your gut inside, except as allowed by those specialized cells. This means that, in a properly functioning gut, only food that has been completely broken down can enter the blood stream. This is very important! When particles pass from the inside of the gut into the blood stream, they are screened by the immune system into “friend” and “foreigner.” Properly broken down, properly transported particles are “friends,” to which the immune system says, “ah yes! I know just what that is!” and lets it be on its merry way to nourish you.
In a Leaky Gut (also known as “increased GI permeability”), the tight junctions are damaged. Particles can slip through into the blood stream before the GI says they are ready. To the immune system, these particles are “foreigner.” The immune system goes into defense mode, calling its armies to action. Once alerted to the foreign substance, the immune system is quick to activate when encounters that particle again. This causes inflammation and allergic responses–which can in turn cause more dysfunction of the tight junctions, and a more leaky gut.
It is now well accepted that inflammation is the root of many chronic diseases plaguing ourselves and our families. A leaky gut is one way such inflammation can begin or be worsened. Allergies, Asthma, Autism and ADHD are rising dramatically in our society; clinical experience clearly demonstrates a connection between leaky gut and these problems as well, with children experiencing incredible improvements after the health of the GI is restored. Food allergies, particularly, can be a downward spiral as patients become sensitive to any food they eat often enough to upset the immune system. Auto Immune conditions may be worsened by leaky guts which stimulate the immune system to too much activity. Nervous system disorders may be aggravated by gastrointestinal inflammation and a leaky gut, as 90% of our neurotransmitters are made in the GI. The list goes on.
What the Two Have to Do with One Another
One of the most common genetic modifications is the addition of a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that produces a toxin which, essentially, causes insects stomachs to explode by making the gut hyperpermeable. By inserting the gene into the plant’s DNA, the plant makes its own Bt toxin–causing it to be fatal to insects that dare to take a bite. (The Bt toxin is also isolated and used as a pesticide spray.) It was initially determined that Bt toxin is not harmful to humans, but more recent evidence says otherwise, suggesting that the Bt toxin adversely affects human membrane integrity as well. (1) (That test was on the kidneys; reference 1a below shows Bt binding to the small intestine of mice.) This would be consistent with the rise of food allergies and inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases since the introduction of Bt-containing crops into the food supply.
There is more: Bacteria love to swap DNA. They love love love to share their genetic code and grab pieces of other bacterial DNA. This is how bacteria can stay so strong, adapt to so many environments, and become antibiotic resistant so easily. We now know that the bacteria in our gut can and do swap DNA with the bacterial gene inserted into our food supply; this was shown by a UK study finding “RoundUp Ready” gut bacteria in the intestines of individuals who ate RoundUp Ready soybeans (2). The funding for the study disappeared before they could determine if the genes for Bt had also been transferred. However, a Canadian study found Bt toxin in the blood of a high percentage of women and their fetuses (3). The researchers hypothesize that the women ate the Bt toxin in the milk and meat of animals who ate Bt-producing corn, but another theory is that the women’s own flora made the Bt toxin in their own guts. More research is needed to determine the level of Bt toxin in our milk and meat products, as well as the possibility of endogenous production; regardless of the source, Bt toxin is not something I want to have running around in my body, and certainly not in the body of my children, born or unborn!
But Organic Farmers use Bt.
Bt has been used as a pesticide spray on organic farms for decades. However, there is a difference between spraying a crop with something–which degrades in the sun and washes off with rain or rinse water–and incorporating it into the DNA of the plant. Furthermore, Bt is not without its public health complaints from individuals living in areas where it is sprayed.
Even if Bt doesn’t cause leaky gut…
…avoiding GMO foods is still a wise health move. Why? Something is increasing the permeability of our populations gastrointestinal systems. This is not a secret; any astute doctor can attest to patterns in their patient populations consistent with this. (As an ND, I not only see those patterns–but I see significant resolution when the health of the GI is restored.) Remember the friend/foreigner encounter that the immune system has with particles that make it across the gut lining? GMO foods are recognized as foreigners because they contain DNA sequences that do not exist in nature, as a result of the gene splicing process. Your body simply cannot appropriately assimilate them; the only option, then, is inflammation.
What You Can Do
1. Mesnage R, Clair E, Gress S, Then C, Szekacs A, Seralini GE. Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidal toxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide. Article first published online: 15 FEB 2012 DOI: 10.1002/jat.2712
Also see: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jat.2712/abstract
1a. RI Vazquez Padron et al (1999) Intragastric and intraperitoneal administration of Cry1Ac protoxin from Bacillus thuringiensis induces systemic and mucosal antibody responses in mice. Life Sciences, 64, 1897-1912
2. Netherwood, T. (2004) “Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract”. Nature Biotechnology, 22, 204-209.
3. Aris A, Leblanc S. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reprod Toxicol (2011), doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2011.02.004 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21338670