How Pesticides and GMOs Can Impact Our Intestinal Microbiota
With the expansive growth of our food industry over the years, consumers are increasingly looking for more transparency around their foods. Where was the food grown? Were pesticides used? Is it organic? This rising interest into 'where our food comes from' and 'how it’s made' is linked to another specific food trend: awareness of genetically modified organisms and pesticides use. Not only have genetically modified foods increased in production the last few years, but these GMO foods also have not been required to be labelled as such until just recently.
The increased amount of GM foods in our food supply has left many questioning their impact. Until there are more concrete answers about the effects of GM foods on our health, more and more people are choosing to avoid these foods altogether, and looking to non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) and organic options.
While there is still a lot of gaps in our knowledge about GM foods, we are starting to understand more about their production, specifically the use of pesticides, and the role that plays on our gut health.
The Background: Better Understanding Pesticides and GMOs
Knowing the integral role that symbiotic gut bacteria play in the overall health of the human body has allowed us to start to consider the factors that may harm it, including environmental elements like GMOs and pesticides.
To date, the science around the use of pesticides and the effect of genetically modified foods on human health is still evolving. Scientists have not determined whether GMOs pose long-term risks to human health, and because of that, labelling laws around foods that have been genetically modified have only very recently been established.
While there is still some uncertainty around the effect of genetically modified crops, one element we need to consider is the use of toxic pesticides that also are involved with GM foods. Yes, research is just emerging on GMOs and health in general, but preliminary studies have shown a correlation between glyphosate (the active ingredient in the common industrial pesticide, Roundup, which is used on GM crops), and changes in the gut microbiome.
Diving Deeper: Understanding Glyphosate
Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicides in industrial agriculture. It is also found in many of our everyday garden products. It has grown in popularity thanks to it being one of the only herbicides that many widely grown genetically engineered crops are tolerant to. It is also most commonly used to ripen foods right before harvest, which makes it a useful tool for growers looking to sell perfectly ripe fruits & vegetables to our grocery stores, any time of year. Strawberries in January may seem like a treat, but it means that glyphosate residues are very present in our food supply when purchased at stores.1
While research around this pesticide is still limited, in 2017 the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate was ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ and linked it to growing tumors in mice and rats.2 Beyond cancer, we’ve also seen studies showing its ability to change the balance of the microbiome in a negative way. Because exposure is ongoing, the toxic effect and change to the gut, manifests over time, potentially creating long-term changes to the makeup of our microbiome.3
Glyphosate & Your Gut
Preliminary studies are showing the effect of glyphosate on gut bacteria. This research is still limited due to the fact that the impact of herbicides like glyphosate on gut health is chronic in nature (versus acute), with believed symptoms and changes to microbiota evolving with long-term consistent exposure. Therefore, much of the research just needs more time.
That said, researchers looking at gastrointestinal (GI) bacteria in chickens found that beneficial bacteria was more susceptible to the pesticide and harmful bacteria more resistant, when exposed to high levels.4 Additionally we’ve seen studies linking glyphosate as a causal factor in the rise of both gluten intolerance and celiac disease, both of which are intricately intertwined with the health of our gut and makeup of microbiota.1 Finally, we have studies today that show how glyphosate interferes with a specific biochemical pathway involved with synthesis of amino acids proteins and while this pathway is not found in humans, it is a pathway found in the bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Therefore when exposed, glyphosate inhibits the growth of any beneficial bacteria in the gut, resulting in dysbiosis.4
Protect Your Gut Microbiome with These 3 Tips
While it is impossible to avoid all glyphosate treated products (or general pesticides) due to their prevalence in our food supply and gardening products, there are some simple efforts we can make to protect our gut microbiome from this environmental toxin.
1. Be a Savvy Shopper
Purchase foods that are either organic or non-GMO. To be sure you’re buying and eating these foods, look for either the USDA Organic or Canada Organic seal or the Non-GMO Project stamp. Both of these ensure you’re buying food free from synthetic pesticides and genetically modified ingredients.
2. Garden Organically
If you like to plant a large garden and grow your own produce, try and be mindful of organic gardening practices, avoiding popular weed killers and fertilizers that could contain pesticides harmful to your gut. If you frequent a local farm or farmers market, have the conversation with the growers around their farming practices to learn if they are using organic products or synthetic.
3. Protect your Gut Proactively
One way to protect the health of your gut and the balance of your gut microbiome is by including a daily clinically proven probiotic. An easy way to do this is by adding a drinkable Bio-K+ to your day. We offer organic and Non-GMO Project verified flavours like Coconut and Blueberry that are a great compliment to breakfast (or any time of day) and Raspberry one designed just for kids. Every bottle of Bio-K+ contains 3 research-proven strains (that are unique to us!) that have been clinically shown to work synergistically together to support your immune system and digestive health by bolstering the growth of good bacteria.
There are a lot of environmental exposures in our everyday lives, but the more you know the more you can proactively take a stance towards protecting your health. While completely avoiding GM foods or foods grown with pesticides is not always an option, protecting your gut is.
80% of the immune system’s cells are found in the intestinal tract and our gut is the gateway into many more serious health conditions in our body. Ensuring it remains balanced is critical to your long-term health. A daily probiotic like drinkable Bio-K+ contains 50 billion CFU to support intestinal flora health and your natural defences as well as your digestive health, helping protect you against unwanted pathogens.
If you’re thinking about trying Bio-K+, head to our store locator. For more information on Bio-K+, probiotics and digestive health, contact us, find us on Facebook and Instagram or join our community.