Category Archives: diet and health

Gut bugs

The Economist covers “the microbiome”, that is, the collection of bugs that live in our intestines and outnumber the cells of our bodies by a 10 to 1 margin:

The Human Microbiome: Me, Myself, Us

Basically it boils down to this: you mess with the gut bugs, and the gut bugs will mess with you.

One interesting bit of trivia (which actually isn’t all that trivial): human breast milk is loaded with carbohydrates called glycans. However, the human body itself is 100% incapable of digesting glycans. We just can’t do it, at all. But the gut bugs can. And what’s really very cool is that the byproduct of bacterial processing of these glycans, as well as a lot of other complex carbohydrates, are small fatty acids, which happen to be ideal for the human digestive tract.

Suggested further reading on this subject on the Fat Head blog, which is where I found that link to the Economist article. There’s been a lot of discussion there lately about resistant starches, which ties in to gut bugs because you need gut bugs to digest resistant starches, and doing so ends up being extremely beneficial. See also the Free the Animal blog, the author of which is a strong proponent of resistant starches and the associated probiotics.  I’ve been meaning to read up on that myself, actually.  Over a year ago I went on a diet regimen that allowed me to lose about 60 pounds in maybe half a year, but I was tired and anxious all the time, and eventually the little lapses accumulated into big lapses and I ended up gaining it all back, plus now having digestive tract difficulties that are a notch or two worse than what I had before.  Clearly there was something amiss in the regimen I used, and I’m about 99% sure it relates to the microfauna not getting what they needed.  I suspect resistant starches may be the solution.

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More on GMO

[1/13/2014 – edited, mostly for clarity]

Looking at what I posted yesterday, I decided I wanted to add some clarification to what must seem like an irrationally alarmist post.

Truthfully, it’s not the autism angle that bothers me all that much.  Granted, I agree that an increase in the prevalence of autism is a legitimate concern, but it’s not one that affects me personally.

What does bother me is the issue with gut bacteria.  Specifically, the possibility that consumption of GMO food products could result in lingering, pernicious effects, even after a person stops consuming those foods.

How does that work?

Basically, there are two kinds of GMO crops.  One kind is resistant to pesticide, and so can be sprayed with pesticide which kills all the pests but doesn’t kill the crop itself.  With the other kind, the plant itself produces pesticide.  For instance, it may produce a chemical which eats away at the digestive tracts of insects, resulting in their deaths.

It’s the latter sort of crop which is of particular concern.  First, there is some evidence which suggests that the toxin which these crops produce is not as harmless to humans as was hoped.  That alone would be a compelling reason to avoid these foods, since increased gut permeability is not a condition which is conducive to good health—quite the opposite, in fact.

Simply ceasing to consume these foods might not result in an end to the problem, though.  When gut bacteria are factored into the equation, things become more alarming.  Not only do GMO foods seem to throw the natural balance of a person’s gut flora out of whack, but this seems to have deleterious effects on the person’s health as well, due to the disruption of the normal digestive process.  Thus, even after discontinuing consumption of the GMO products, it could take a while for the natural balance of gut bacteria to restore itself, assuming it could restore itself at all.

Worst of all, though, is the suggestion that the bacteria themselves may be changing at the genetic level.  It has long been known that bacteria have the ability to assimilate novel genetic material into their own genomes.  The concern is that some gut bacteria are assimilating the engineered genetic material from the modified food, specifically the parts which are responsible for creating the toxin.  This could then lead to gut bacteria which produce the same toxin that the GMO crop produced when it was alive.  Thus, a person afflicted with this condition could end up with a constant, fresh supply of toxin in his intestines, produced by his own gut bacteria, even after he stopped ingesting the GMO foods—and perhaps long after.  Assuming damaging effects of these toxins on the human digestive tract, having a fresh supply of them being produced on hand, continuously, could end up being a pretty serious problem.  Essentially, the person would be poisoned by his own gut bacteria.  Lethally?  Well, I suppose that depends on how long a chain of causality you are willing to entertain.  Eventually we all die anyway… ;)  I’m not trying to suggest that such a thing would result in certain and immediate death to a person, but I’m absolutely willing to say that I would NOT want to be the one who has to live with it.

To quote from the original article:

The only human GMO feeding study ever published does show interactions with our intestinal flora. The implications of this research are quite serious. British scientists found that part of the DNA inserted into GMO crops can actually transfer into the DNA of our gut bacteria.[19] Specifically, part of the [trademark] gene normally found in [company]’s soybeans had taken up residence within the intestinal flora of three out of seven subjects tested. The transfer did not occur in the lab. It had apparently taken place after consuming GM soy in some previous meal(s). And these subjects lived in the UK, where the intake of GM soy is a small fraction of what is eaten in the US.

And:

A more dangerous scenario would be if the Bt-gene produced in [company]’s corn were to transfer to our gut bacteria. If so, it might convert our intestinal flora into living pesticide factories. With the inside of our intestines continuously exposed, Bt-toxin might erode the integrity of our GI tract, leading to widespread gut permeability and dysfunction.

And, finally:

[A] 2011 Canadian study conducted at Sherbrooke Hospital discovered that 93% of the pregnant women they tested had Bt-toxin from [company]’s corn in their blood. And so did 80% of their unborn fetuses.[26]

The toxin is likely to wash out of our blood fairly quickly. If that is the case, how can we explain why more than 9 out of 10 women had it circulating? It must be that the intake of Bt-toxin must be very frequent. But Canadians don’t eat that many corn chips and tortillas. They do eat lots of corn derivatives like corn syrup, but these highly processed foods no longer have the Bt-toxin present.

The authors of the study speculate that the source of the Bt-toxin in the blood must have been the meat and dairy of animals fed Bt corn. This assumes that the Bt-toxin protein remains intact through the animals’ entire digestive process and then again through the humans’ digestive process after they eat the meat or dairy.

A more plausible explanation may be that Bt-toxin genes transfer from corn chips or tortillas into our gut bacteria. The active genes then produce the poison on a continuous basis inside the intestinal tract, which then gets into our blood. And for pregnant mothers, the toxin then travels through the placenta into their fetuses.

(Company name and product name removed, however they are in the original text, if you’re interested.)

And, there you have it.  Do we have proof that this phenomenon is occurring?  No.  However, as someone who has eaten too many corn chips and tortillas in my life, reading that was just about enough to send a chill down my spine.  The reasoning is sound enough to suggest that the phenomena described above could very well be happening.  (Hopefully it hasn’t happened to me already.)

Finally, and peripherally, I admit the use of the word “Apocalypse” in the title yesterday was a bit much.  But I liked the sound of it, didn’t have time to think of an alternative which sounded just as good.  In retrospect, maybe “Plague” or “Pestilence” might have been better. ;)

GMO apocalypse

I found this to be quite alarming:

Are Genetically Engineered Foods Promoting Autism?

I just read the text, didn’t check out the videos (yet).  The text alone was bad enough, though.  I went into that expecting some moderately interesting item relating GMO foods and autism, but the extent of the article goes way beyond that, and is extremely alarming.  At the very least, it’s something to consider in terms of one’s own diet, since I am skeptical whether the political might of giant agribusiness corps can be effectively challenged, even with a huge public outcry.