California-based pediatrician Michelle Perro, MD has spent the past 20 years treating children with complex health problems – and has earned a reputation for some remarkable successes. Together with medical anthropologist Vincanne Adams, PhD, she has written a book, What’s Making Our Children Sick? How Industrial Food Is Causing an Epidemic of Chronic Illness, and What Parents (and Doctors) Can Do About It. The book identifies industrially produced food – including genetically modified (GM) foods and their associated pesticides – as a major culprit in the current health crisis. It also recommends measures we can all take to restore our health and well-being. Dr. Perro is the Executive Director of GMOScience.org.
Q: Why did you write this book? Over the past two decades I’ve observed a rapid decline in children’s health. Coupled with my becoming involved with work against spraying pesticides in California in 2006 and receiving a crash course introduction to genetically modified (GM) foods at that time, I recognized that what I was seeing in my patients correlated with the parallel introduction of GM food and increased pesticide usage in our food supply. Our children had become a science experiment and the results were not looking favorable for them.
Q: Are there any stand-out cases that were especially important or educational for you? One of my cases involved a severely autistic five-year old boy and his parents, from the Central Valley of California, a food-growing region that is heavily sprayed with pesticides. The dad had only 20% of his kidney function remaining, which is a very ominous situation that often leads to the need for dialysis. Several family members who are also neighbors residing in the same area were already receiving dialysis. The dad’s nephrologist (kidney doctor) thought it was some ‘genetic’ disease. I treated the child with supplements, herbs, and homeopathic remedies and he got markedly better over two years. However, the cornerstone of treatment was that the entire family switched to organic food. This was difficult for them because they lived in a heavily-sprayed area and shopped mostly in stores that didn’t stock organic food. Switching to organic food was also a stretch on their budget, but they stopped eating out and dad took his home-cooked, organic meals to work. The dad also decreased his intake of takeout and processed foods, but the majority of his dietary change was switching to an organic diet.
Over the next eight months, the dad’s kidney function returned to 80% normal. He was not my patient, in the sense that no other treatment was offered to him other than changing to an organic diet (which by definition is non-GMO).
When he went for his follow-up appointment with his nephrologist, she was shocked by the return to near-normal kidney function. When he explained how he did it, she stated that it was “impossible”. I was so profoundly affected by this patient and his family, as well as his physician’s response, that I felt compelled to tell their story in our book.
Q: You’ve read a lot of research studies on the health effects of GMOs and pesticides. What links do you see, if any, between what’s occurring in your patients and what’s evident in the studies? I’ve felt frustration over the past two decades over the lack of research on the effects of GM foods and their associated pesticides on human health. I’ve had to extrapolate data from rats, chickens and pigs to treat patients!
But several animal studies caused light bulbs to switch on in my head. The first was in 1999, when I viewed the histopathology slides of the work of Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a European scientist. His research examined rats fed GM potatoes compared to those fed non-GM potatoes. (For more information on these studies, please see the book, GMO Myths and Truths, which holds a prominent place on my bookshelf.) When I saw the intestinal disruption of the villi in the rats (fingerlike projections in the gut lining responsible for nutrient absorption), it brought to mind the explosion of intestinal permeability that I was seeing in my child patients. This is not to say that we can extrapolate the findings of one study on one GM food to all GM foods: each GM crop is different and needs to be studied separately. But Pusztai’s study helped me get started on the scientific journey of learning more about the effects of these new foods on health.
The second ‘aha’ moment was viewing the gross pathology found in the study on pigs carried out by Dr. Judy Carman and Howard Vlieger.The stomachs of pigs fed GM soy and corn, their typical diet, were compared to those fed non-GM soy and corn. The visual difference of the extensive inflammation in the GM-fed pigs compared to the normal stomachs of the non-GM fed pigs was shocking and supported my suspicion that many of the gut disorders I refer to above were being caused by GM foods and/or their associated pesticides.
I’ve questioned over the years whether the problems suffered by my patients are caused by the genetic modification process, the pesticides that the GM crops express or are grown with, or a combination of these factors. One of very few studies to address this question – Arpad Pusztai’s study on GM potatoes – found that the GM potatoes were unexpectedly toxic, but the non-GM potatoes spiked with the insecticide that the GM potatoes were engineered to express were not. This shows that something about the GM process made the potatoes toxic and that with this particular GM food, the problem was not with the insecticide engineered into them.
However, detailed testing of this type, which can identify which of several different components of a GM food is responsible for a certain effect, is not generally done with GM crops before they are commercialized. So we are still very much in the dark regarding the precise cause of those effects from a GM diet that have been found in animal studies.
Two further independent studies that helped improve and alter my practice were based on work led by Prof Gilles-Eric Seralini and some followup research led by Dr. Michael Antoniou, on rats fed GM corn. Prof Seralini’s team concluded that there were toxic effects to the liver and kidney of rats fed GM corn and an ultra-low dose of the glyphosate-based herbicide (Roundup) that it was engineered to be grown with, when tested separately and together. This research suggests that toxic effects were caused by both the genetic modification process and the Roundup herbicide.
Recent followup studies led by Dr. Antoniou used cutting-edge “molecular profiling” (transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics) analytical techniques to examine tissues taken from the rats in the Séralini experiment. These studies showed that an ultra-low dose of Roundup fed over a long-term two-year period caused kidney and especially liver damage, resulting in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). NAFLD now affects 1 in 4 American adults and is also becoming a problem for children.
Q: What shocked or surprised you most in your ‘journey of discovery’ on these topics? I was shocked first by the fact that these findings were unreported and unknown among health practitioners. Second, I was shocked by the vehemence of the attacks on scientists whose work questions the safety or efficacy of GM foods and their associated pesticides (some of the scientists who led the studies I mention above are cases in point). Such attacks are not only ethically wrong, but discourage others from questioning the effects of industrial food on health. Third, I was shocked that many of these findings were known to the regulatory agencies that were designed to protect the public from the untoward effects of new products on health. But these agencies succumbed to the pressure by big agribusiness and failed to do their job. And last but not least, I was shocked to find that there are no human studies on the effects of GM food on health. Additionally, there are no human studies on the health effects of combinations of toxins. Understand that if there is a leaky gut, not only do foods cross before they are completely broken down, but other microbial toxins and environmental toxicants can also cross into the bloodstream. The effect of this chemical and GMO soup on health has not been addressed.
Q: What are your recommendations for anyone who thinks that something in their diet might be causing or exacerbating their health problems? The global advice I give to my patients is to try to eat an organic diet based on whole foods, avoiding processed food as much as possible, with the realization that on some days there will be suboptimal eating. We don’t strive for perfection, but to do the best we can. Then they can see the health benefits for themselves, from within a few days to a few weeks. It’s helpful if they can find an integrative practitioner or holistic nutritionist to advise them on how to eat, taking into account our modern food supply.
Families often raise the issue of cost since organic food is more expensive than non-organic food. (Remember, food grown with agrochemicals in the US is subsidized; organic food is not.) However, once they make the switch and start cooking at home and eating out less, most families report that they are under budget.
Q: What would you say to people who say that GMOs and pesticide residues present in food have been shown to be safe and are approved by regulators, and that you are misleading the public and health practitioners? I advise them to do their own research. Unfortunately, agribusiness runs several prominent websites that are slick, polished, and convincing. I give my families other sites to look at, as well as the actual research papers, for those that are so inclined. The intention of GMOScience.org is to offer digestible bites of information from unbiased sources on the effects of GM food and pesticides, with a specific focus on health. This stuff can be confusing! However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I ask families to try their own home experiment, change their diets and see how they feel!
Reprinted from GMOscience.org More info & citations there
- Organic Produce