Friday, September 27, 2013

I was prompted to write this article when I heard a 2 pack per day smoker complain about genetically modified organisms (GMO's)

(I don't think his tobacco was organically grown) Frankly I don't understand the controversy. I welcome illumination on this matter. As a scientist and student of genetics for many years, I can tell you that we have received so many benefits from genetic modification. It is not a new concept. Gregor Mendel, a monk in the 1800's, demonstrated patterns of trait inheritance (Mendelian inheritance) by crossing genes from variety of peas, bees etc . . Since then we have exploited  Mendelian concepts and improved our efficiency in "trait management".

          Tremenous advances in Medicine have been made possible by genetic modification. Not too many people know that millions of diabetics are alive because of Humulin insulin, a hormone that is produced by a DNA modified E Coli bacteria that is made to "think" it is a pancreas cell. This E Coli produces human insulin that is bottled and injected by diabetics.  Genetically modified (GM) vaccines such as HPV will eradicate cervical cancer in our lifetime. One million people die from malaria every year. Mosquitos in the Carribean, genetically modified to resist the malaria parasite, have reduced carriage by 80%. Countless drugs, developed by genetic modification, have saved lives of patients suffering from HIV, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.  And so on .....there are just so many example of medical breakthroughs that resulted from genetic RNA / DNA manipulation.

          As far as GM food is concerned; in 2010, the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation reported that "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies." ( The original concern was based on the death of Monarch butterflies in England that were believed to die from eating pollen from genetically modified plants.  This was proven to be false and accepted by those environmental groups that raised the original objection.

         There has not been one allergic reaction attributed to a genetically modified food allergen. In fact, genetic modifications can remove allergens from foods that are know to cause severe allergic reactions. Imagine having the ability to remove the protein in peanuts that cause severe reaction.

          According to the World Health Organization 6 million children die from hunger every year. There are some who believe that genetic modification can start the "second green revolution" (the original green revolution is attributed to Norman Borluag and Gregor Mendel contributions) that would save countless people from starvation. Pest-resistant plants can be produced with greater nutrient content.  This would decrease the amount of pesticides in drinking water and improve quality of life in third world countries. 

          Now for my disclaimer.....My arguments presented in this post are based on my experience as a physician and as one who has participated in the scientific process for many years.  I am no expert in agricultural science and I make no extrapolations of the implication of GM in geo-politics, economics, ethics, or religion. I shun pseudo-scientific analysis but I accept the more philosophical arguments which may be just as valid.  Facebook type comments of the horrors of GMO's are akin to scams phishing for donations the likes of  " Stop the use of puppies as fishing bait" captioned over a photoshopped picture.

          The reality is that one way or another, all living things, good and bad, are the product of genetic modification...more or less.  The issues related to how fast genetic code is modified, who controls it,  and what it means to the human species are fodder for science fiction.... and other types of discussions such as one of my favorites.... "unintended consequences".

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Way To Think About High Blood Pressure

Just imagine you are going on a long road trip with the family.  You check the oil, gas etc.  Just before putting the kids in the car, you fill the tires with air until the pressure is 20 points above its rating.  The gas station attendant warns that you may have a blowout on the highway.  You answer the car rides fine at that pressure and you would know if there is something wrong. Well, that's the logic I am confronted with every day when it comes to blood pressure control.

 Your body is rated to work best at 115-120/80.  That means that at the normal blood pressure your heart and organs will function at maximum efficiency and last the longest.  Analysis of the data from Framingham Heart study demonstrates that just  a 2-mmHg reduction in blood pressure would result in 14% reduction in the risk of stroke and transient ischemic attacks, and a 6% reduction in risk of coronary heart disease. Look at the graph below.  For every 20/10 rise in bp, your risk for cardiovascular death doubles. 

Optimizing your blood pressure will significantly reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular death.  It is important you to monitor your own bp and keep a record of your readings. Show you doctor a variety of readings at different times of day. That would give a more "real world" indication of your blood pressure.  I recommend Omron monitors using a brachial (not wrist) cuff.  If you don't want to buy one (about $50 on amazon)  most local pharmacies have one for customer use.