How Food Can Turn Our Children's Bodies Against Them
Though our nation may be one of the wealthiest in the world, our children are still not safe from epidemics such as Type II diabetes, obesity, and food allergies. Since 1998, there has been a 265% increase in hospitalizations related to food allergies among children under 18, according to a 2008 CDC report. With an 18% increase in food allergies between 1997 and 2007, an unbelievable 3 million children now have food allergies. Unfortunately, these trends are not merely related to a general population increase. It is the very food we feed our families that is turning their immune systems against them.
A “Typical” Breakfast Leads to A Child's Hospitalization
Robyn O'Brien, a former food industry analyst and mother of four, admits she had not given a lot of thought to what was in the food they ate. Like many busy moms, she raised her kids on a typical American breakfast of Eggo waffles, blue yogurt, and scrambled eggs. “And then one morning,” she says quietly, “over breakfast, life changed.” Her youngest child suffered an acute, allergic reaction and O'Brien rushed her to the hospital. When the doctors announced that her daughter had food allergies, O'Brien channeled her energy towards raising awareness about these health issues. She now has her own website, gives speeches, and interviews with Fox News and the New York Times. Thankfully, O'Brien's daughter has thrived, but O'Brien's confidence in America's supermarkets has not.
The First Question O'Brien Asked: “What is a food allergy?”
O'Brien invested her self-described Type-A personality into understanding how food affects human physiology. She was astonished to learn that 70% of the immune system is located in the digestive tract. This means that a lot of what determines our health depends on how our food is digested and absorbed. Food not digested or absorbed properly affects the entire body. A food allergy is triggered when the body somehow perceives a food protein as a foreign invader – the immune system then attacks. The most common allergens can be harmless substances such as peanuts, eggs, wheat or milk. But why the sudden rise in food allergies? O'Brien recalls that very few people had food allergies when she was a child. “Is there something foreign in our foods that wasn't there when we were kids?,” she asked herself.
Something Foreign in the Food?
In fact, there is. Processed foods, which account for a large portion of the standard American diet, contribute to allergies in a number of ways. Most processed foods contain food colorings, preservatives and genetically engineered proteins that were never present in Grandmother's baked lasagna. If the saying “you are what you eat” holds any weight, then it is unsurprising that these frankenfoods are waging war in our digestive tract. Processed foods can lead to obesity (they have an intentionally large caloric content) and Type II diabetes (processed foods are notoriously sopped in high fructose corn syrup, a sugar derivative), and food allergies (foreign proteins can trigger an autoimmune reaction), among other complications.
The Rise of GM Crops: Where Have all the Mom and Pop Farmers Gone?
Since the mid-1990s, new food proteins were engineered into our food supply. This was done to maximize profits for the commercial food industry. Each new protein makes more money for the labs that develop them and companies that patent and produce them. Agriculture took an even greater step in the direction of biotechnology, leaving many Mom and Pop farms scrambling to make ends meet. Farms that did not purchase the newest technologically advanced seeds, pesticides and harvesting equipment struggled to keep afloat in a market increasingly interested in profits rather than healthful food. As a market analyst, O'Brien admits the scenario made perfect sense to her. However, as a mother, she was incensed to learn that agricultural scientists, or agriscientists, did not conduct a single human trial to check for potential side effects. Agriculture is the backbone of a healthy society. While technology is certainly the wave of the future, shouldn't our citizen's health be a national priority?
Currently Commercialized GM Crops in the U.S.:
As of May 2010, the Institute for Responsible Technology reported the following percentages (in parenthesis) of these standard crops were genetically modified:
Soy (91%) Cotton (71%) Canola (88%) Corn (85%) Sugar Beets (90%) Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%) Alfalfa (at Supreme Court), Zucchini and Yellow Squash (small amount) Tobacco (Quest® brand)
Other Sources of GMO:
· Dairy products from cows injected with the GM hormone rbGH
· Food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet®) and rennet used to make hard cheeses
· Meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed
· Honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen
· Contamination or pollination caused by GM seeds or pollen
3 Case Studies: Milk, Corn and Soy
1. Milk: It Doesn't Always Do A Body Good
According to CNN and the Wall Street Journal, milk is the most common of all food allergens. This seems unsurprising when examined alongside the dairy industry's chemical make-over 15 years ago. In 1994, scientists created a new synthetic growth hormone, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to help cows produce more milk. Unfortunately, it also made the cows sick. Besides growing at a monstrous rate and falling under the weight of their own udders, dairy cows also developed ovarian cysts, skin disorders, and udder infections. But the cows produced much more milk. So, despite the obvious pain and illness caused by these hormones, the dairy industry continued (and continues) with this practice. To get a few more years out of the chronically ill cow's life, industrial dairy farmers decided to feed the cows a steady diet of antibiotics, too.
“How many sippy cups have I filled with this milk?!”
This procedure isn't only dangerous for cows - it's also extremely detrimental for humans. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, rBGH milk significantly increases consumers risk of developing breast, colon and prostate cancer. Exposure to the low-grade antibiotics found in milk is also linked to the development of allergies, autoimmune disorders and super bugs (bacteria that are impervious to even the strongest of antibiotics). Despite these dangers, Monsanto Co., the manufacturer of rBGH, has strong-armed U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into permitting the sale of unlabeled rBGH milk. The corporation has also tried to bribe investigative reporters from a Fox News station in Florida who researched the issue of rBGH milk. When the reporters did not accept the money, they were fired by Fox. As Robyn O'Brien uncovered more and more stories about the toxicity of industrial milk, she decided to purge her kitchen, wondering in alarm, “how many sippy cups have I filled with this milk?!”
2. GM Corn No Longer Classified as a Vegetable, but a Pesticide
Industrial plants are now engineered to sustain increasing increments of weed killer. The weed killer is needed because of a recent rise in plant parasites. Many scientists believe the plant parasite boom relates to a monoculture style of farming, where one kind of plant crop is grown on vast plots of land, land often severely depleted of soil nutrients. As concerns rose over pesticide sprays in the 1990s, agriscientists developed genetically modified plants which imbedded pesticide-like chemicals in their very DNA. One such example is the corn product, StarLink™ .
StarLink™ is a genetically engineered variety of yellow corn which releases the protein Cry9C, a toxic substance for various insect pests. During the 1990s, its registering corporation, Aventis Agroscience, Inc., received approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to produce the corn as livestock feed. Presumably, this poisoned food product was supposed to calm our fears over chemical pesticides released into the air. It doesn't feel very reassuring to find out it was regulated by the EPA as a pesticide. Though Aventis Agroscience, Inc. promised to use the corn product exclusively for animal feed, traces of it were soon found in taco shells. Since it was never conclusively determined whether or not StarLink™ was harmful for humans, regulatory authorities removed it from the market.
Foreign markets refused (and continue to refuse) to accept GM corn and other food products from the U.S. Though StarLink™ got the boot by the EPA, plenty other frankenfoods feed our animals and stock our market shelves.
3. GM Soy Affects Reproduction, Growth
In a study published in July 2010, Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov investigated if Monsanto's genetically modified soy lead to problems in growth or reproduction. Backed by Surov's Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Association for Gene Security, the study found that three generations of hamsters fed for 2 years on a GM diet showed devastating results. By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to reproduce. They also grew more slowly, had a high infant mortality rate, and strangely developed patches of hair inside their mouths.
The Institute of Responsible Technology reports that cooked GM soy contains as much as 7 times the amount of a known soy allergen, and that soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in the UK, soon after GM soy was introduced.
A Concerned Mother asks, “What are the Effects?”
O'Brien was astounded by the food industry's complete and utter lack of consideration for consumers. Having already witnessed some shocking results in her own children, O'Brien asked, “what other effects are we seeing now in the American public?”
O'Brien noticed a huge increase in cancer rates in the United States. In fact, a consultation with a variety of cancer NGOs confirmed that the U.S. has some of the highest rates of cancer in the world. What has caused this cancer epidemic? Dr. Stanley Ewen, consultant histopathologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, says GM foods could be the culprit. He points to the fact that GM foods serve as a “growth factor” in the stomach and colon, encouraging the rapid proliferation of polyps. Apparently, the faster and bigger the polyps grow, the more likely it is they will be malignant. This risk is not limited to direct human consumption, either. Dr. Ewen's studies show that eating livestock which has eaten GM foods can also lead to increased cancer risk. Dr. Ewen urges a ban on GM crops until their safety is sufficiently tested.
Though scientists agree dairy products exacerbate asthma because they encourage the development of mucus, it is now believed that an allergic reaction to dairy itself can cause asthma. Dr. Frank Osky, the Chief of Pediatrics at the John Hopkins School of Medicine, believes that 50% of all school children may be allergic to milk, though many of them remain undiagnosed. Dairy allergies are now considered one of the leading causes of asthma in America.
Dr. Rapp, Pediatric Allergist and champion of Environmental Medicine, devotes her life to treating children with behavioral issues like ADD/ADHD. She believes that most hyperactive, aggressive or easily distracted children have some undetected food allergy affecting their biochemistry. Many of her patients see drastic results after slight diet modification.
There is a high prevalence of food allergies among autistic children. Some scientists predict that autistic children lack an enzyme which helps digest the proteins in milk (casein) or in bread-like products (gluten). It could be these very foods which prevent children from developing normally. Many parents report staggering success when removing these foods from their children's diets.
Chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis, and many more, are linked to food allergies and GM crops.
Other Developed Nations Reject GM Foods: “Unsafe for Citizens”
Canada, Japan and 23 other European countries now ban GM foods. If these technologically advanced foods were really superior to what humans have been eating for the past 200,000 years, wouldn't the whole developed world be jumping at the chance to import or produce them themselves?
Tax Payer Dollars Support GM Crops: Who Supports our Skyrocketing Health Bill?
As rates of food allergies, cancer and other chronic illnesses skyrocket, the amount of money needed to manage these diseases skyrockets, too. According to a 2009 World Health Organization (WHO) report, the U.S. spends 16% of it's Gross National Product (GNP) on healthcare costs, more than any other nation on the planet. Even countries with government-funded healthcare systems are still paying less than the United States. This doesn't only affect our pocketbooks, but our role as a player in the international marketplace.
3 Steps: Take a Stand for Your Families Health
In her closing remarks in her video conference, O'Brien conceded that though she is no foodie, addressing the industrial food system is vital for our nation's well-being, in fact “there is nothing more patriotic that we could be doing.” Here are a few small and reasonable changes that we can all make to keep our families healthy and safe:
1. Support local farmers
Small-scale and organic farmers are often targeted by the United States Farm Bill, the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. They are charged fees to prove their crops are grown without chemicals or GM seeds, more fees to label their crop a certain way, and denied subsidies - it's tough to make ends meet. By supporting local farmer's markets and purchasing with the seasons we can help build a healthier community.
2. Demand Changes from Large Corporations
Kraft, Coca Cola, and Walmart all have international branches. How have they dealt with the rejection of GM foods in their stores? By not selling them. These large corporations have listened to consumer demand and formulated their products differently to not include GM ingredients. Even Whole Foods sells products that contain GM ingredients in it's non-organic products. We must demand that large corporations protect our families and communities. Avoid purchasing items from stores or companies that don't care how their product may be effecting your family's health.
3. Learn the 15 Signs and Symptoms of Food Allergies
1. Tiredness, drowsiness, no energy.
2. Frequent headache or migraines.
3. Stomach bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, flatulence.
4. GI disorders including, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis & IBS
5. Mouth Ulcers.
6. Chronic cough, bronchitis, asthma, colds and 'flu'.
7. Eczema, psoriasis, and chronic skin problems.
8. Aching joints, backache.
9. Gradual weight change.
10. Tinea or Yeast (Candida) infections.
11. Clumsiness, lack of coordination.
12. Miscarriage, infertility.
13. Hemorrhoids and Ear pain.
14. Cravings, addictions.
15. ADHD/ADD, behavioral problems
New Beginnings at Digestive Health Ann Arbor
Biologist David Schubert of the Salk Institute alerts us that “children are the most likely to be adversely affected by toxins and other dietary problems” related to GM foods. The lack of clinical human trials means our nation's children are in fact “the experimental animals.” Monitoring your child's health is imperative. Though facing a food allergy or a related condition can be daunting, we must heed the body's messages and remember that there is hope. After slight modification to our diets and lifestyles, and taking appropriate supplements as needed, our bodies can heal. If you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of a compromised digestive system, make an appointment with one of the experts at Digestive Health Ann Arbor.
Please call 734-222-8210 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we provide professional and compassionate care guiding people towards a comprehensive and holistic strategy of healing. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life. Please visit our website at www.digestivehealth-annarbor.com.
To read or see more about Robyn O'Brien, check out the following links:
On Fox News:
In the New York Times:
Her personal webpage, with a link to her video conference: