GMO Soy and Breast Cancer

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In response to concerns raised about the toxicity of Monsanto's roundup pesticide, which ends up in GMO foods (See Is Monsanto's Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?), Monsanto's scientists countered that these in vitro experiments used physiological irrelevant concentrations, meaning dripping roundup on cells in a petri dish at levels far above what would be realistically found in the human body.

Sure, it's probably not a good idea to mix up your alcohol with your roundup and chug the stuff, or try to commit suicide by drinking or injecting it. And there are rare cases of Parkinson's reported after getting directly sprayed with it, or working for years in a pesticide production plant, but that's not your typical consumer exposure.

As shown in my video GMO Soy and Breast Cancer, some of the researchers responded to the accusation claiming they used the kinds of concentrations that are used out in the fields. Therefore every little droplet we spray worldwide is above the threshold concentration they found to cause adverse effects. Monsanto's folks responded saying, "Yes, that's the concentration we spray, but that's not the concentration that human cells are bathing in. Once it gets into drinking water or food, it's highly diluted." And, they're quick to point out, if we look at people with the greatest exposure--pesticide workers--the vast majority of studies show no link between the use of Roundup and cancer or non-cancer diseases. There are a few suggestive findings suggesting a link with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. One study of pesticide applicators suggested an association with multiple myeloma, and one study of the children of pesticide applicators found a tentative association with ADHD, but again these are folks experiencing a much greater exposure level than the general population that may just get a few parts per million in their food. But there had never been any studies done on the tiny levels found circulating in people's bodies, until now.

In a study out of Thailand, the maximum residue levels were set at parts per million (the concentrations found within human bodies is measured in parts per billion). The study found glyphosate can activate estrogen receptors at a few parts per trillion, increasing the growth of estrogen receptor positive human breast cancer cells in a petri dish. These results indicate "that truly relevant concentrations of the pesticide found on GMO soybeans possesses estrogenic activity."

But consumption of soy is associated with lower breast cancer risk (See BRCA Breast Cancer Genes and Soy), and improved breast cancer survival (See Breast Cancer Survival and Soy).

That may be because most GMO soy in the U.S. is fed to chickens, pigs, and cows as livestock feed, whereas most of the major soy food manufacturers use non-GMO soy. Or it could be because the benefits of eating any kind of soy may far outweigh the risks, but why accept any risk at all when we can choose organic soy products, which by law exclude GMOs.

The bottom-line is that there is no direct human data suggesting harm from eating GMOs, though in fairness such studies haven't been done, which is exactly the point that critics counter. This is why we need mandatory labeling on GMO products so that public health researchers can track whether GMOs are having any adverse effects.

It is important to put the GMO issue in perspective though. As I've shown (See Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease), there are dietary and lifestyle changes we can make that could eliminate most heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and cancer. Millions of lives could be saved. A healthy enough diet can even reverse our number one killer, heart disease. So, I'm sympathetic to the biotech industry's exasperation about GMO concerns when we still have people dropping dead from everything else they're eating. As one review concluded "consumption of genetically modified food entails risk of undesirable effects... similar to the consumption of traditional food." In other words, buying the non-GMO Twinkie isn't doing our body much of a favor.

For more on the public health implications of genetically engineered crops in our food supply, check out the these videos:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image: Nesbitt_Photo / Flickr

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Is Monsanto’s Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?

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GMO soy has been found to be contaminated with pesticide residues (see Are GMOs Safe? The Case of Roundup Ready Soy), but are these levels anything to worry about? I explore this question in my video Is Monsanto's Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?.

Researchers out of Norway described the amount of pesticide residues found in GMO soy as high compared to the maximum allowable residue levels. The legal limit for glyphosate in foods had been set at 0.1-0.2 mg/kg; so these exceed the legal limits by an average of about 2000%, whereas organic and conventional non-GMO soy both had none.

So what did Monsanto do? Did the industry ditch the whole GMO thing, go back to using less pesticides so that residue levels wouldn't be so high? Or, they could just change the definition of high. What if they could get authorities to raise the maximum residue level from 0.1 or 0.2 up to 20? Then the residue levels won't look so high anymore. And this is exactly what they did. The acceptance level of glyphosate in food and animal feed has been increased by authorities in countries that use Roundup-Ready GM crops. In Brazil, they went up to ten, and the U.S. and Europe now accept up to 20. In all of these cases, the maximum residue level values appear to have been adjusted, not based on new evidence indicating glyphosate toxicity was less than previously understood, but pragmatically in response to actual observed increases in the content of residues in GMO soybeans--otherwise it wouldn't be legal to sell the stuff.

What evidence do we have, though, that these kinds of residues are harmful? For 12 years we've heard that Roundup interferes with embryonic development, but that study was about sea urchin embryos. For 14 years we heard that Roundup may disrupt hormones, but that's in mouse testicles.

Blogs will dish about concerning new studies implicating Roundup in male fertility, but if we look at the study, it's about rat testicles. Some blogs cite studies with disturbing titles like "prepubertal exposure alters testosterone levels and testicular shape," but they're talking about puberty in rats, though that doesn't make as catchy a blog title.

Why not use human tissue? Women are having babies every day--why not just experiment on human placentas, which would otherwise just get thrown away? In 2005, researchers did just that. And despite all the negative effects in rodents, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup didn't seem to have much of a toxic effect on human cells even at high doses, or have much effect on a hormone regulating enzyme, leading Monsanto-funded reviewers to conclude that regardless of what hazards might be alleged based on animal studies, "glyphosate is not anticipated to produce adverse developmental and reproductive effects in humans."

But pure glyphosate isn't sprayed on crops, Roundup is, which contains a variety of adjuvants and surfactants meant to help the glyphosate penetrate into tissues. And indeed when the study was repeated with what's actually sprayed on GMO crops, there were toxic and hormonal effects even at doses smaller than the 1 or 2% concentration that's used out on the fields.

Similar results were found for other major pesticides. It took until 2014, but eight out of nine pesticide formulations tested were up to one thousand times more toxic than their so-called active ingredients, so when we just test the isolated chemicals, we may not get the whole story. Roundup was found to be 100 times more toxic than glyphosate itself. Moreover, Roundup turned out to be among the most toxic pesticides they tested. It's commonly believed that Roundup is among the safest, though, an idea spread by Monsanto, the manufacturer. However, this inconsistency between scientific fact and industrial claim may be attributed to the huge economic interests involved.

What is glyphosate? Check out: Are GMOs Safe? The Case of BT Corn.

It's the dose that makes the poison, though. Do we have evidence that the levels of Roundup chemicals not only found on crops, but also in our bodies after eating those crops actually have adverse effects? That's the subject of the video: GMO Soy and Breast Cancer.

Commercial interests can have a corrupting effect on the science of nutrition and hold sway over institutions that are supposed to operate in the public interest. See for example:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine

Image Credit: Mike Mozart / Flickr

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GMO Soybeans Compared to Conventionally Grown and Organic Soy

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As I discussed in the video, Are GMOs Safe? The Case of BT Corn, genes from GMO crops were found in pregnant women. There is debate on the direct threat of the inserted genes, but the real danger may come from pesticides associated with genetically modified foods. As stated in an article published in Science and Engineering Ethics, "genetically engineered seed biotechnology typically has not been used to increase crop yields, nutrition, or drought tolerance but instead for profitable pesticide-resistant products... 80% of GMO crops are bioengineered only for pesticide resistance. Not surprising, given that the top five biotech companies are chemical companies that manufacture pesticides."

This allows farmers to spray herbicides directly onto the crops, raising a theoretical possibility that the levels of herbicide residues on food we buy at the supermarket may have increased. Or at least it was theoretical... until now.

Monsanto's roundup-ready soybeans are the number one GM crop, genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide, Roundup--also sold by Monsanto. This allows farmers to spray fields with the Roundup herbicide glyphosate, which then kills the weeds while leaving the soy standing.

Monsanto maintains that roundup ready soybeans are compositionally equivalent to that of conventional soy, a concept that is used to argue that GMO foods are therefore as safe as non-GMO. Monsanto did not report the level of pesticide residues, however. In fact, some of the comparison tests were done on Roundup-ready soybeans that hadn't been sprayed at all, which is the whole point of having Roundup-ready plants. In contrast to real-life samples from the market, transgenic crops intended for scientific studies are often produced without the application of herbicides or at doses lower than those typically used by farmers. It wasn't until a study published in 2014 when the full composition of ready-to-market soybeans was analyzed.

You can see the analysis in my video, Are GMOs Safe? The Case of Roundup Ready Soy. There was a significant amount of glyphosate found in the GMO beans, along with a glyphosate breakdown product called AMPA. There was no glyphosate or AMPA found in organic soy. What about conventional non-GMO soy where glyphosate is just sprayed on the soil to kill weeds between crop cycles? Also none. So GMO soybeans are really not equivalent, they appear to have substantially more pesticide residues. The debate then shifts from the safety of Roundup ready soybeans, to the safety of Roundup itself.

I discuss whether or not the glyphosate residues on GMO soy are something to be concerned about in my video Is Monsanto's Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?

More on GMO soy can be found in my video GMO Soy and Breast Cancer.

What can happen when food industries self-regulate? See, for example:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Chiot's Run / Flickr

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Is Insecticidal GMO Corn Safe?

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Recently the prominent science journal Nature editorialized that we are now swimming in information about genetically modified crops, but that much of the information is wrong--on both sides of the debate. "But a lot of this incorrect information is sophisticated, backed by legitimate-sounding research and written with certitude," adding that with GMOs, "a good gauge of a statement's fallacy is the conviction with which it is delivered."

To many in the scientific community, GMO concerns are dismissed as one big conspiracy theory. In fact, one item in a psychological test of belief in conspiracy theories asked people if they thought food companies would have the audacity to be dishonest about genetically modified food. The study concluded that many people were cynical and skeptical with regard to advertising tricks, as well as the tactics of organizations like banks and alcohol, drug, and tobacco companies. That doesn't sound like conspiracy theory to me; that sounds like business as usual.

We must remember there is a long legacy of scientific misconduct. Throw in a multi-billion dollar industry, and one can imagine how hard it is to get to the truth of the matter. There are social, environmental, economic, food security, and biodiversity arguments both pro and con about GMOs, but those are outside my area of expertise. I'm going to stick to food safety. And as a physician, I'm a very limited veterinarian--I only know one species (us!). So, I will skip the lab animal data and ask instead: What human data do we have about GMO safety?

One study "confirmed" that DNA from genetically modified crops can be transferred into humans who eat them, but that's not what the study found, just that plant DNA in general may be found in the human bloodstream, with no stipulations of harm (See Are GMOs Safe? The Case of Bt Corn).

Another study, however, did find a GMO crop protein in people. The "toxin" was detected in 93 percent of blood samples of pregnant women, 80 percent of umbilical cord blood samples, and 69 percent of samples from non-pregnant women. The toxin they're talking about is an insecticidal protein produced by Bt bacteria whose gene was inserted into the corn's DNA to create so-called Bt-corn, which has been incorporated into animal feed. If it's mainly in animal feed, how did it get into the bodies of women? They suggest it may be through exposure to contaminated meat.

Of course, why get GMO's second-hand when you can get them directly? The next great frontier is transgenic farm animals. A genetically modified salmon was first to vie for a spot at the dinner table. And then in 2010, transgenic cows, sheep, goats and pigs were created, genetically modified for increased muscle mass, based on the so-called mighty mouse model. Frankenfurters!

But back to children of the corn and their mothers. When they say it's a toxin, it's a toxin to corn worms, not necessarily to people. In fact I couldn't find any data linking BT toxin to human harm, which is a good thing since it's considered one of the few pesticides considered so non-toxic that it's sprayed on organic fruits and vegetables.

For more on on the public health implications of genetically modified crops, see:

I did a similar "controversial issue" video series on gluten. See:

For those interested in the genetic engineering of livestock, I published a few papers myself on the topic:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Jen Wilton / Flickr

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Dioxins in U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish

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Dioxins are highly toxic pollutants that accumulate in tissue fat. Almost all dioxins found in people who don't work in toxic waste dumps or something similarly hazardous are believed to come from food, especially meat, milk, and fish, which account for about 95% of human exposure. We tend to only hear about it in the news, though, when there's some mass poisoning.

In 1957, for example, millions of chickens began dying, blamed on toxic components in certain feed fats. Factory farming was taking off, and the industry needed cheap feed to fatten up the birds. They ended up using a toxic fleshing grease from hide stripping operations in the leather industry that were using dioxin-containing preservatives. A subsequent outbreak in 1969 resulted from a pipe mix-up at a refinery that was producing both pesticides and animal feed.

In the 1990's, a supermarket survey found the highest concentrations of dioxins in farm-raised catfish. The source of dioxins was determined to be the feed, but that's surprising, since catfish aren't fed a lot of animal fat. Turns out it was dioxin-contaminated clay added to the feed as an anti-caking agent, which may have originally come from sewage sludge. The same contaminated feed was fed to chickens, so what may have started out in sewage sludge ended up on the plates of consumers in the form of farm-raised catfish and chicken.

How widespread of a problem did it become? This affected five percent of U.S. poultry production, that's people eating hundreds of millions of contaminated chickens. And if it's in the chickens, it's in the eggs. Elevated dioxin levels were found in chicken eggs too. When the source of the feed contamination was identified, the USDA estimated that less than 1% of animal feed was contaminated, but 1% of egg production means over a million eggs a day. But the catfish were the worst. More than a third of all U.S. farm-raised catfish were found contaminated with dioxins thanks to that ball clay. So the FDA requested that ball clay not be used in animal feeds. They even asked nicely, writing "Dear producer or user of clay products in animal feeds, continued exposure to elevated dioxin levels in animal feed increases the risk of adverse health effects in those consuming animal-derived food products... we are recommending that the use of ball clay in animal feeds be discontinued...We look forward to the industry's cooperation." (You can see the original letter in my video, Dioxins in U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish).

So how cooperative did the industry end up being? Half a billion pounds of catfish continued to be churned out of U.S. fish farms every year but only recently did the government go back and check. Published in 2013, samples of catfish were collected from all over the country. Dioxins were found in 96% of samples tested. Yeah, but just because catfish are bought in the U.S. doesn't mean they came from the U.S. And indeed some of the catfish were imported from China or Taiwan, but they were found to be ten times less contaminated. And indeed, when they checked the feed fed to U.S. catfish, more than half were contaminated, and so it seems likely that mined clay products are still being used in U.S. catfish feeds. Even "just small amounts of mineral clays added to fish feeds, together with the fact that catfish can be bottom-feeders may lead to higher than acceptable dioxin residues in the final catfish products."

The Institute of Medicine suggests strategies to reduce dioxin intake exposure, such as trimming the fat from meat, poultry, and fish, and avoiding the recycling of animal fat into gravy, but if almost all dioxin intake comes from animal fat, then eating a more plant-based diet could wipe out about 98% of exposure. Thus "a vegetarian diet or even just eating more plants might have previously unsuspected health advantages along with the more commonly recognized cardiovascular benefits and decreased cancer risk."

This is a good illustration of how we can't necessarily rely on regulators to protect our families' health. More on dietary dioxins and what we can do about it in Dioxins in the Food Supply and Counteracting the Effects of Dioxins Through Diet.

Even wild fish are exposed to industrial pollutants spewed into our waterways. See, for example:

Farmed fish is the worst, though: Farmed Fish vs. Wild-Caught.

Other pollutants in our food supply and how to avoid them:

Though the best way to detox is not to tox in the first place, our bodies can eventually get rid of much of the toxin load:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Brent Moore / Flickr

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Why Would Eating Fish Increase Diabetes Risk?

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In the past two years, six separate meta-analyses have been published on the relationship between fish consumption and type 2 diabetes. The whole point of a meta-analysis is to compile the best studies done to date and see what the overall balance of evidence shows. The fact that there are six different ones published recently highlights how open the question remains. One thread of consistency, though, was that fish consumers in the United States tended to be at greater risk for diabetes.

If we include Europe, then fish eaters appeared to have a 38% increased risk of diabetes. On a per serving basis, that comes out to be about a 5% increase in risk for every serving of fish one has per week. To put that into perspective, a serving of red meat per day is associated with 19% increase in risk. Just one serving per day of fish would be equivalent to a 35% increase in risk. But why might fish be worse than red meat?

Fish intake may increase type 2 diabetes risk by increasing blood sugar levels, as a review of the evidence commissioned by the U.S. government found. The review found that blood sugars increase in diabetics given fish oil. Another possible cause is that omega 3's appear to cause oxidative stress. A recent study, highlighted in my video, Fish and Diabetes, found that the insulin producing cells in the pancreas don't appear to work as well in people who eat two or more servings of fish a week. Or it may not be related to omega 3's at all but rather the environmental contaminants that build up in fish.

It all started with Agent Orange. We sprayed 20 million gallons of the stuff on Vietnam, and some of it was contaminated with trace amounts of dioxins. Though the Red Cross estimates that a million Vietnamese were adversely affected, what about all the servicemen who were exposed spraying it across the countryside? Reports started showing up that veterans exposed to Agent Orange appeared to have higher diabetes rates than unexposed veterans, a link that's now officially recognized.

These so-called "persistent organic pollutants" are mainly man-made industrial chemicals and are among the most hazardous compounds ever synthesized. They include dioxins, PCBs, and certain chlorine-containing pesticides, all of which are highly resistant to breakdown in the environment.

Initially condemned for their deleterious effect on reproductive function and their ability to cause cancer, there is now a growing body of evidence showing that exposure to these pollutants leads to metabolic diseases such as diabetes. This is a breakthrough that "should require our greatest attention."

For more on the role industrial pollutants may play in our diabetes epidemic, see Diabetes and Dioxins and Pollutants in Salmon and Our Own Fat.

More on the changing views surrounding fish oil supplements in Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

Other foods associated with diabetes risk include processed meat and eggs. See Bacon, Eggs, and Gestational Diabetes During Pregnancy and Eggs and Diabetes, while Indian gooseberries and flaxseeds may help (Amla Versus Diabetes and Flaxseed vs. Diabetes).

Other videos on how polluted our oceans now are include:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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Reducing Arsenic in Chicken and Rice

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In 2013, Maryland became the first state to ban the feeding of an arsenic-containing drug to chickens. This arsenic-containing drug is used to control parasites and gives chicken meat an "appealing pink color." In 2011, the FDA found that the livers of chickens fed this drug had elevated levels of inorganic arsenic, a known human carcinogen. In response, the drug's manufacturer, Pfizer, voluntarily pulled the drug off the U.S. market. However, it's still sold overseas--including to places that continue to export chicken back to us--and a similar arsenic-containing drug for use in poultry is still available in the United States. The Maryland ban was still some help, though; it kept Maryland farmers from using stockpiles of the drug.

How much arsenic gets into the actual meat and not just the internal organs? We didn't know until recently. In a study highlighted in my video, How Many Cancers Caused by Arsenic-Laced Chicken?, researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health coordinated the purchase of chicken breasts off grocery store shelves in ten cities across the country. They found that 70% of the samples of chicken meat from poultry producers that didn't prohibit arsenic drugs were contaminated with the cancer-causing form of arsenic at levels that exceeded the safety thresholds originally set by the FDA (before the FDA relented and admitted that there's really no safe level of this kind of arsenic).

When the drug was first approved, scientists believed that its organic arsenic base would be excreted unchanged (organic arsenic is much less dangerous than inorganic arsenic). Guess what appears to convert the drug into the carcinogenic form? Cooking. When chicken meat is cooked, levels of the arsenic-containing drug go down and levels of carcinogenic arsenic go up, suggesting the drug may degrade into the cancer-causing inorganic arsenic form during cooking.

How much cancer are we talking about? If we estimate that about three-quarters of Americans eat chicken, then the arsenic in that chicken has potentially been causing more than 100 cases of cancer every year. The John Hopkins researchers conclude that "eliminating the use of arsenic-based drugs in [poultry and pig] production could reduce the burden of arsenic-related disease in the U.S. population."

Arsenic-containing drugs fed to chickens is one of the ways arsenic gets into rice. When we feed arsenic to chickens, the resulting arsenic-bearing poultry manure is introduced to the environment, soil, and water, and rice sucks it up from contaminated soil and can transfer it to people who don't even eat chicken. There is massive environmental contamination from the poultry industry; nearly two million pounds of arsenic has been poured into the environment every year by the U.S chicken industry alone.

We're even seeing arsenic in foods sweetened with organic brown rice syrup. It reminds me of the arsenic in apple juice story. Although the U.S. made lead and arsenic-based pesticides illegal years ago, they still persist in the soil, so even organic products are not immune.

There are other sources of arsenic (such as naturally occurring arsenic deposits), but arsenic-containing poultry drugs have been deliberately administered to animals intended for human consumption for 70 years. Consequently, exposures resulting from use of these drugs are far more controllable than are exposures from environmental sources. And the good news is that, thanks to a lawsuit from the Center for Food Safety and other consumer groups, three out of the four arsenic-containing drugs fed to poultry have been officially pulled from the market.

I've previously addressed this issue in my video Arsenic in Chicken. It's nice to see there's been some progress!

The antibiotics the poultry industry continues to feed chickens present another public health hazard. See my videos:

Cooking may also create other carcinogens from the muscle itself:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able

Image Credit: Stu Spivak / Flickr

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How Contaminated Are Our Children?

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In a study highlighted in my video, California Childen Are Contaminated, researchers analyzed the diets of California children ages two through seven to determine the cancer and non-cancer health effects from food contaminant exposures. It turns out food may be the primary route of exposure to toxic heavy metals, persistent pollutants, and pesticides. "Though food-borne toxic contaminants are a concern for all ages, they are of greatest concern for children, who are disproportionately impacted because they're still developing and have greater intake of food and fluids relative to their weight. Pediatric problems that have been linked to preventable environmental toxin exposures include cancer, asthma, lead poisoning, neurobehavioral disorders, learning and developmental disabilities, and birth defects."

The good news is that changing one's diet can change one's exposure. Quoting from the study, "A diet high in fish and animal products, for example, results in greater exposure to persistent pollutants like DDT and dioxins and heavy metals than does a plant-based diet because these compounds bioaccumulate up the food chain." Plants are at the bottom of the food chain. The sample of California kids, however, was not eating a plant-based diet. Cancer benchmark levels were exceeded by all 364 children for arsenic, the banned pesticide dieldrin, a metabolite of DDT called DDE, and dioxins.

Children exceeded safety levels by a greater margin than adults. This is especially of concern for children because all of these compounds are suspected endocrine disruptors and thus may impact normal development. Cancer risk ratios were exceeded by over a factor of 100 for both arsenic and dioxins.

Which foods were the worse? For preschoolers, the number one food source of arsenic was poultry, though for their parents, it was tuna. The number one source of lead was dairy, and for mercury it was seafood. And the number one source of the banned pesticides and dioxins was dairy. (See Preventing Parkinson's Disease With Diet.)

The researchers also recommended children should eat lower quantities of chips, cereal, crackers, and other crispy carbs to reduce acrylamide intake.

The California study didn't split up the groups by gender, but a similar study in Europe found that men had higher levels of some of these pollutants than women. For example, levels of the banned pesticide chlordane were higher in men, but women who never breastfed were right up there alongside men, with the lowest levels found in women who breastfed over 12 months. Therefore, it is likely that the lactation-related reduction in blood pollutant levels partly explains the lower body burdens among women compared with men. So cows can lower their levels by giving some to us, then we can pass it along to our children.

What non-cancer effects might some of these pollutants have? They can affect our immune system. Studies clearly demonstrate the "ability of dioxins and related compounds to have a long-lasting and deleterious impact on immune function." This manifests as increased incidences of respiratory infections, ear infections, cough, and sore throat. At first, most of the data was for during infancy, but now we have follow-up studies showing that the immunosuppressive effects of these toxins may persist into early childhood, so we should try to reduce our exposure as much as possible. Because these pollutants accumulate in animal fat, consuming a plant-based diet-decreasing meat, dairy, and fish consumption-may reduce exposure for children and adults alike.

These findings should come as no surprise to those who saw my video Pollutants in California Breast Tissue. For an overview see CDC Report on Environmental Chemical Exposure and President's Cancer Panel Report on Environmental Risk.

Pollutant exposure may affect the ability to have children in the first place (Male Fertility and Diet and Meat Hormones & Female Infertility). Such a delay, though, may allow one an opportunity to reduce one's toxic burden through dietary change (Hair Testing for Mercury Before Considering Pregnancy and How Long to Detox From Fish Before Pregnancy?).

During pregnancy, pollutants can be transferred directly (DDT in Umbilical Cord Blood), and after pregnancy through breastfeeding (The Wrong Way to Detox). Once our kids are contaminated, How Fast Can Children Detoxify from PCBs? The chemicals have implications for older children too: Protein, Puberty, and Pollutants.

Seafood is not the only source of toxic heavy metals. See:

Videos on primary food sources of other industrial pollutants include:

There are some things we can eat, though, to counteract some of the toxins:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death,More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Kevin Krejci / Flickr

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Viral Food Poisoning from Pesticides?

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Although the most serious causes of food poisoning like Salmonella come largely from animal products (for example, most foodborne-related deaths have been attributed to poultry), millions of Americans are sickened by produce every year, thanks to noroviruses. Noroviruses can spread person-to-person via the fecal-oral route or by the ingestion of aerosolized vomit, which together may explain most norovirus food outbreaks. But a substantial proportion remained unexplained. How else can fecal viruses get on our fruits and veggies?

The pesticide industry may be spraying them on (See Norovirus Food Poisoning from Pesticides).

The water that's used to spray pesticides on crops may be dredged up from ponds contaminated with fecal pathogens. When you hear of people getting infected with a stomach bug like E. coli from something like spinach, it's important to realize that the pathogen didn't originate from the spinach. Intestinal bugs come from intestines. Greens don't have guts; plants don't poop.

"The application of pesticides may therefore not only be a chemical hazard, but also a microbiological hazard for public health." What is the industry's solution? To add more chemicals! "The inclusion of antiviral substances in reconstituted pesticides," researchers assert, "may be appropriate to reduce the virological health risk posed by the application of pesticides." Or we could just choose organic.

Likewise the Salmonella in alfalfa sprout seeds (See Don't Eat Raw Alfalfa Sprouts) likely came from manure run-off or contaminated irrigation water. But this pesticide angle adds a whole new route for fecal pathogens to pollute produce. Broccoli Sprouts are safer, and organic sprouts may therefore be safer still (See Broccoli Sprouts).

Organic foods may also be healthier (see Cancer Fighting Berries) and don't carry the potential chemical hazards associated with pesticides. See my videos:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: jetsandzeppelins / Flickr

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A Low Methionine Diet May Help Starve Cancer Cells

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When designing an antibiotic, we can't create a drug that destroys DNA because that's something that both humans and bacteria share in common. It would kill bacteria, but it might kill us, too. Instead, many antibiotics work by attacking bacterial cell walls, which is something bacteria have that we don't.

Similarly, antifungals can attack the unique cell walls of fungus. Pesticides can work by attacking the special exoskeleton of insects. But fighting cancer is harder because cancer cells are our own cells. So fighting cancer comes down to trying to find and exploit differences between cancer cells and normal cells.

Forty years ago, a landmark paper was published showing for the first time that many human cancers have what's called "absolute methionine dependency," meaning that if we try to grow cells in a Petri dish without giving them the amino acid methionine, normal cells thrive, but without methionine, cancer cells die. Normal breast cells grow no matter what, with or without methionine, but cancer cells need that added methionine to grow.

What does cancer do with the methionine? Tumors use it to generate gaseous sulfur-containing compounds that, interestingly, can be detected by specially trained diagnostic dogs. There are mole-sniffing dogs that can pick out skin cancer. There are breath-sniffing dogs that can pick out people with lung cancer. Pee-sniffing dogs that can diagnose bladder cancer and--you guessed it--fart-sniffing dogs for colorectal cancer. Doctors can now bring their lab to the lab!

It gives a whole new meaning to the term pet scan :)

Methionine dependency is not just present in cancer cell lines in a Petri dish. Fresh tumors taken from patients show that many cancers appear to have a biochemical defect that makes them dependent on methionine, including some tumors of the colon, breast, ovary, prostate, and skin. Pharmaceutical companies are fighting to be the first to come out with a drug that decreases methionine levels. But since methionine is sourced mainly from food, a better strategy may be to lower methionine levels by lowering methionine intake, eliminating high methionine foods to control cancer growth as well as improve our lifespan (see Methionine Restriction as a Life-Extension Strategy).

Here's the thinking: smoking cessation, consumption of diets rich in plants, and other lifestyle measures can prevent the majority of cancers. Unfortunately, people don't do them, and as a result hundreds of thousands of Americans develop metastatic cancer each year. Chemotherapy cures only a few types of metastatic cancer. Unfortunately, the vast majority of common metastatic cancers, such as breast, prostate, colon, and lung, are lethal. We therefore desperately need novel treatment strategies for metastatic cancer, and dietary methionine restriction may be one such strategy.

So, where is methionine found? In my video, Starving Cancer with Methionine Restriction, you can see a graph of foods with their respective methionine levels. Chicken and fish have the highest levels. Milk, red meat, and eggs have less, but if we really want to stick with lower methionine foods, fruits, nuts, veggies, grains, and beans are the best. In other words, "In humans, methionine restriction may be achieved using a predominately vegan diet."

There are also compounds in animal products that may actually stimulate tumor growth. See, for example, How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies. Animal protein may also boost levels of the cancer-promoting hormone IGF-1 (The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle). Combined, this could all help explain why plants and plant-based diets have been found effective in potentially reversing some cancer processes. See Cancer Reversal Through Diet?, Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer, and Black Raspberries versus Oral Cancer.

So why isn't every oncologist prescribing a low-methionine diet? One researcher notes that "Despite many promising preclinical and clinical studies in recent years, dietary methionine restriction and other dietary approaches to cancer treatment have not yet gained wide clinical application. Most clinicians and investigators are probably unfamiliar with nutritional approaches to cancer." That's an understatement! "Many others may consider amino acid restriction as an 'old idea,' since it has been examined for several decades. However, many good ideas remain latent for decades if not centuries before they prove valuable in the clinic....With the proper development, dietary methionine restriction, either alone or in combination with other treatments, may prove to have a major impact on patients with cancer."

Why might the medical profession be so resistant to therapies proven to be effective? The Tomato Effect may be partially to blame.

In my video, Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines, researchers come to the same plant-based conclusion from a different perspective, starving cancers of their blood supply.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: PNNL - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory / Flickr

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