It has been awhile since I last looked into the material coming from Ecowatch. This seems as good a place to start as any. So away we go.
A peer-reviewed article released Tuesday in the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine and conducted by the Institute for Responsible Technology revealed that the health of all of the participants improved after switching to a non-GMO diet or simply reducing the amount of GMO foods they ate.
First off, sources.
The International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine’s website does not say all that much at first glance. It seems like a legitimate journal to my eye. Though that is not saying much.
I know that many so-called scientific journals will publish almost anything if the price is right, so as such, I will for now remain neutral in opinion. If you have further information, I welcome it in the comment section.
As for the study’s conductor, the Institute for Responsible Technology, their bias is blatantly obvious at first glance. The most notable part of the site is this article from July of this year, the organization (and the anti-GMO movement in general’s) get out of jail free card.
The allegation is that Monsanto has a paid Army of trolls who’s only job is to berate and otherwise harass scientists and ordinary people conversing about the dangers of GMO’s anywhere in the public sphere. It’s a bit like the phrase “FAKE NEWS!” to political ideologues. Even legitimate opposition does not have to be weighed. Because they (we!) are all being paid to suck the Monsanto dick.
Having picked apart a few questionable articles on this topic (out of curiosity initially!), this bothers me. I don’t overly care if individuals come here and copy paste some message identifying me as a Paid Troll. Be a full-blown ideologue all you want. I can’t be bothered to get my hands dirty in those pointless interactions anymore.
What IS bothersome, however, is how the paid lobbying from BOTH sides is muddying the water for the entire debate. Very likely whole point.
Big Biotech pours money into helping their wares (even if not the most efficient methodology!) keep their market share. Big Organic pours money into growing their share of the marketplace. At BEST, it is a case of many feeling that the ends justify the means.
What is left, is a tangled mess. You have two sides offering various flavors of The Truth for those inclined to absorb information with little critical analysis. But for those in the middle that often just want some semblance of unbiased nuance, it’s often difficult to come by. Short of learning how to comprehend complicated scientific documents.
Capitalism as the main driver to these areas is not helpful to anyone in neither the short or the long term. Indeed, no, that is not likely to change anytime soon. However, its always good to know where you stand.
Yeah . . . bye. Show me you used your brain, and I’ll use mine on your retort.
Anyhow, back to the article.
The results, from more than 3,250 people, mostly in the U.S., closely matched reports by physicians around the nation who have seen similar results when their patients change to largely non-GMO and organic diets.
Participants reported improvements in 28 conditions; digestive problems was the most often cited at 85.2 percent. The vast majority said their conditions were significantly improved, nearly gone or completely recovered.
Health problems that improved include:
1. Digestive: 85.2%
2. Fatigue, low energy: 60.4%
3. Overweight or obesity: 54.6%
4. Clouding of consciousness, “brain fog”: 51.7%
5. Food allergies or sensitivities: 50.2%
6. Mood problems, such as anxiety or depression: 51.1%
7. Memory, concentration: 48.1%
8. Joint pain: 47.5%
9. Seasonal allergies: 46.6%
10. Gluten sensitivities: 42.2%
11. Insomnia: 33.2%
12. Other skin conditions (not eczema): 30.9%
13. Hormonal problems: 30.4%
14. Musculoskeletal pain: 25.2%
15. Autoimmune disease: 21.4%
16. Eczema: 20.8%
17. Cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure: 19.8%
This confirms the reports from hundreds of healthcare practitioners and thousands of individuals. When people from all walks of life eat less GMO foods, a significant percentage get better quickly.
Alright. This seems a good basis from which to start from.
Here is one source that seems to have a fairly balanced assessment of the pros and cons of an organic diet. It’s worth a read.
One common thread with this particular line of inquiry is the number of articles outlining consumer confusion in regards what constitutes healthy food in this day and age. I completely understand, being that I can generally recognize misinformation and propaganda (and otherwise bullshit), but still can get lost where this topic is concerned.
Organic, non GMO and all natural are now big business
But (as I outlined earlier) I suspect it is all purposeful. Though there is mass consumer confusion, there is no shortage of sources of information that have all the answers you are looking for. It took some creative queries just to get past it all and actually find something for me to work with.
Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, study finds
A team led by Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, and Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS, an instructor in the school’s Division of General Medical Disciplines and a physician-investigator at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, did the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.
The popularity of organic products, which are generally grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers or routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones, is skyrocketing in the United States. Between 1997 and 2011, U.S. sales of organic foods increased from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion, and many consumers are willing to pay a premium for these products. Organic foods are often twice as expensive as their conventionally grown counterparts.
Although there is a common perception — perhaps based on price alone — that organic foods are better for you than non-organic ones, it remains an open question as to the health benefits. In fact, the Stanford study stemmed from Bravata’s patients asking her again and again about the benefits of organic products. She didn’t know how to advise them.
It reminds me a bit of the gluten-free craze. People assume a product is better just due to its price point and lack of a given ingredient, even though that is often times not the case. When it comes to food marketing, nothing surprises me anymore. Hence the common sense rule of thumb that we should all follow . . . READ THE LABEL!
I have even heard Dr. OZ admit to being fooled (live on his show!) due to not using this simple rule. He wondered why he couldn’t sleep very well for a few nights. He later figured out that he was drinking a vitamin water beverage which (unknowingly to him) contained caffeine.
That should tell you everything you need to know about the man.
For their study, the researchers sifted through thousands of papers and identified 237 of the most relevant to analyze. Those included 17 studies (six of which were randomized clinical trials) of populations consuming organic and conventional diets, and 223 studies that compared either the nutrient levels or the bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various products (fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk, poultry, and eggs) grown organically and conventionally. There were no long-term studies of health outcomes of people consuming organic versus conventionally produced food; the duration of the studies involving human subjects ranged from two days to two years.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods. No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce (and the researchers note that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this has little clinical significance). There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
The researchers were also unable to identify specific fruits and vegetables for which organic appeared the consistently healthier choice, despite running what Bravata called “tons of analyses.”
“Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious,” said Smith-Spangler, who is also an instructor of medicine at the School of Medicine. “We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.”
Having a medical school instructor say that is quite telling of the state of information with regard to this topic.
Another interesting finding:
The review yielded scant evidence that conventional foods posed greater health risks than organic products. While researchers found that organic produce had a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional fruits and vegetables, organic foods are not necessarily 100 percent free of pesticides. What’s more, as the researchers noted, the pesticide levels of all foods generally fell within the allowable safety limits. Two studies of children consuming organic and conventional diets did find lower levels of pesticide residues in the urine of children on organic diets, though the significance of these findings on child health is unclear. Additionally, organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the clinical significance of this is also unclear.
Despite these findings, they are clear about their intentions. The goal is less about dissuading people from purchasing organics than it is about educating the public. Along with a dash of common sense.
“Our goal was to shed light on what the evidence is,” said Smith-Spangler. “This is information that people can use to make their own decisions based on their level of concern about pesticides, their budget and other considerations.”
She also said that people should aim for healthier diets overall. She emphasized the importance of eating of fruits and vegetables, “however they are grown,” noting that most Americans don’t consume the recommended amount.
While that covered organics, it didn’t cover GMO’s.
So are GM foods safe?
I know you want to know — and I sympathize. GM ingredients and additives are used in so many of the foods we eat.
To begin with, there are 1500 published studies indicating that GM foods are safe. But I’m not going to rest a case on them. There are some animal studies that might raise red flags, but I won’t cite those, either.
Because here’s reality: While most scientists believe GM foods are probably safe, science will never prove it 100 percent unequivocally.
The answer is much more complicated than “yes or no,” “pro- or anti-.”
We need to get beyond that, to stop throwing studies at each other.
Nothing can be proved to be absolutely unequivocally safe. Pick anything, and somebody has died from it.
So let’s explore the grown-up questions and gray areas, and think about what trade-offs we’re willing to make, in a scientifically informed and literate way.
- What aspects of GM technology could be really good for the world? Why?
- Which aspects should we be cautious about? Why?
- What do we know to be true (or is probably true), and what is speculation? What’s the evidence?
- How much is our discomfort with the unfamiliar driving the fears?
- Are we correctly assessing risk and reward?
- What’s an acceptable level of risk to get the benefits?
As a scientist, I would love people to embrace science, evidence, and the joy of discovery. Scientists grapple with some very difficult and complex questions. And most of them just want to make the world a better place.
What to do next
Short of going back to school for a Ph.D. in biology, what can you do right now?
1. Elevate your thinking game.
Almost no scientific question is about good versus evil. Even spacetime bends occasionally. Recognize that issues are complex.
2. Be a critical consumer, learner, and listener.
Contrary to what the mainstream media might lead you to believe, the biggest threats posed by GMO crops on the market today are not to your individual health, and they’re not even specific to GMOs.
Picking a side — and assuming the other side is unreasonable — makes real communication impossible. Scientific findings presented as the “final word” are probably being misinterpreted; be wary of anyone who tells you something is “100 percent true” about GMOs.
Even as sciencey folks ourselves, we’re not going to give you The Big Definitive Answer either. Because there isn’t one.
3. Address specific issues. Don’t mix them up.
With GMOs and other food safety and regulatory issues, it’s important to think critically about our concerns.
- Are you against pesticides? Great! But that’s different from being against GMOs, and to focus on GMOs here is to ask the wrong questions.
- Want GM foods to be labeled as such? Great! But the importance of food labeling goes way beyond GMOs.
- Worried about large companies controlling our food? I get that. Be against Big Food, not GMOs.
Both conventional farming and GMOs use herbicides and pesticides, narrow the genetics pool, and increase the risk of catastrophic loss of crops. Conflating these issues means change will never happen.
4. Focus on the big picture and real-life priorities.
The fourth-largest cause of death in the United States is accidents. Wearing your seat belt will lower your risk of early death much more than worrying about GMOs. (And quit texting and driving. You know who you are.)
Other leading causes of death are largely due to the toxic combination of sedentary lifestyles, stress, and poor nutrition. Never mind GM vegetables — people aren’t eating vegetables, period.
That excerpt was written by Helen Killias, a scientist working for Precision Nutrition, a nutritional coaching company based in Toronto. While not the study or scientific paper that one would expect (or at least that I would normally cite), I have to agree with Helen with this.
Genetic modifications and Genetically Modified Organisms are not all Frankensteins and bad news. Somewhere within the simultaneous smoke screens created by vested interests in Big Biotech AND Big Organic (not to mention the mainstream food companies playing both fields) lies the truth. Though finding that truth in this debate can be a challenge for the best of us, it might not even be inherently necessary.
Knowing that much of this topic is often shrouded in grey (as often contrasted by the black and white representations of the fringes) is arguably half the battle. As is knowing that consuming a GMO food (or many, as is likely the case) is not the end of the world, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, by being so paranoid of GMO’s, are you missing other potential threats?
Though this does not involve GMO’s, an example that comes to mind is A&W’s switch to hormone-free meat sources. Many people (including people I know) applauded the decision, even saying they would give them more business.
a.) People can eat where ever they want
b.) It IS a good thing on the part of A&W
I am not swayed much by this change, however. After all, fast food containing hormones and fast food containing no hormones is still fast food. I suspect the hormone aspect is negligible in comparison to the other nutritional factors at play.
Another example that I realized myself a couple years back, were problems with rice alternatives to GMO corn containing baby foods (arsenic). I wrote a piece criticizing another Ecowatch article for essentially scaremongering mothers. Though I didn’t mention it in the baby food piece, it came to mind last year when writing this one about China rejecting tons of Alfalfa due to literally TRACES of a GMO variety being found within it.
To quote me:
Rice is known to often times have MEASURABLE amounts of arsenic. To the point where it is recommended to severely limit the intake of rice and processed rice foods for children. Because very little (particularly for processed foods) can put them at (or above) the recommended limit.
Though I am not 100% sure how the arsenic content of rice and rice based foods compares to the amount of genetically modified genes that constitutes 0.1% of an alfalfa shipment, im almost certain that were talking more then traces. Just by the measurements.
An entire shipping container, verses a bowl of cereal, a few rice cakes or a quart of rice milk.
As always, context is everything.