When GMO Grains Raise Bad Cholesterol

We seem to be in an epidemic of high LDL or bad cholesterol. It seems that very few adults reach age 50 without being afflicted with this plague. How far away can laws be requiring beginning a statin drug before qualifying for Medicare?

There are several qualifications about cholesterol’s “plague” status that cholesterol has obtained.  Research has shown that the relationship between elevated cholesterol is very clouded after age 60, and it may have an opposite correlation at that stage of life.

Another qualification that should be appreciated in the “plague” designation is that not all LDL or bad cholesterol is risky from a heart disease perspective.

Those issues aside, there is some relationship between LDL cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.  Inappropriately elevating cholesterol can relate to several lifestyle factors, although these factors may not be what most people assume.  One factor has emerged from newer study; consuming GMO grains.

It seems that one of the ways our cells can be triggered to do or not do something is by signaling from a small molecule called microRNA, or mRNA for short.  These are small segments of genetic code the cell produces to change the behavior of an enzyme or protein.  What we have only begun to appreciate is that mRNAs from the genetic material of the plants and animals we consume have the ability to alter the behavior of an enzyme or protein in our bodies.

Since mRNAs originate from the genetic material in a cell, the mRNAs we are exposed to eating genetically modified food are “different”.  Regrettably, we have not required enough long-term testing before allowing the introduction of GMO into our diet to find out if this altered cell signaling by altered plant genetic material has any ill effects.  Now that the research is being done, the response could most appropriately be “oops”!

Researchers have found a particular mRNA called “MIR168a” in adults who consume GMO rice.  To evaluate the impact of the presence of this altered mRNA, a study looked at MIR168a blood levels in animals fed GMO rice, their levels of LDL cholesterol receptors in the liver and their LDL cholesterol levels.

The first conclusion was straight forward; all animals who consume the GMO rice have the altered mRNA MIR168a present in their blood.  The second conclusion was that the presence of MIR168a correlated with reduced LDL cholesterol receptors in the liver.  These receptors are how we remove excess, unused LDL from the blood to be broken down by the liver.  The blood LDL cholesterol level is not simply a result of its production but also the ability of the liver by the LDL receptor to remove the excess from the circulation.  LDL cholesterol receptor levels were reduced about a third in the GMO fed animals.

Since the job of the LDL receptor is to remove excess LDL and normalize blood levels, it would be expected that LDL cholesterol would go up with the GMO feeding.  The data was no surprise.

The researchers comment that while previous studies have demonstrated that genetic material from one species can transfer to another within its kingdom (plant to plant), this is the first to demonstrate that genetic material can be transferred from one kingdom to another (plant to animal) through consumption of the plant.  In addition, the effects of this genetic material transfer were not favorable, lowering the liver receptor that helps clean excess LDL from the blood and raising LDL cholesterol 48%.

Too often, we intervene in nature for a short-sighted purpose only to find out the negative effects later.  This was the case with DDT, dumping pollutants into the ocean because it was big enough to hide them, and many more.  As with most cases where man has altered nature with too little thought about outcome, the results have not been good.  20 years of evolving problems will likely convince all that GMO foods are “un-natural”.

Does it sound like a stretch that eating GMO food could raise LDL cholesterol?  Not any more!

Zhang et al.  Exogenous plant MIR168a specifically targets mammalian LDLRAP1: evidence
of cross-kingdom regulation by microRNA.  Cell research (2012) 22:107-126.