3.8—Cooking high-lysine corn will not produce toxins
Cooking high-lysine corn will not produce toxins.
Analysis of Peer-Reviewed Research:
Claims that high-lysine corn will produce toxic products are based on two serious misconceptions. High-lysine corn will not be consumed routinely by consumers. Moreover, consumption of Maillard chemical products (also called Advanced Glycation Products, or AGEs for short) formed by reactions between lysine and sugars is a common occurrence in cooking that leads to brown colors called Maillard products. Brown crusts of bread are a familiar example. These chemical products are not toxic and there is no conclusive evidence that consuming them will lead to health problems; there is, however, much on-going research regarding the role of dietary Maillard products in health. Cells can form Maillard products inside the body as a result of a disease state; diabetics, for example, have much higher levels of these kinds of products in their bodies. Most experts believe that disease states are not created by eating food containing Maillard products, and that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between Maillard products in the diet and disease. Some scientists disgree but have yet to prove their case against dietary Maillard products. Accordingly, these claims have been dismissed by regulatory agencies around the world. Perhaps more important to remember is that if dietary Maillard products caused disease, high-lysine corn would contribute an insignificant amount of Maillard product to our diets since it is used only in animal feed.
1. High-lysine corn is not intended for human use. Very little high-lysine corn will be consumed by people. (See points 1 and 3 in section 3.7)
2. Maillard reaction products are chemicals coming from reactions between lysine and carbohydrates in foods and these chemicals occur in many cooked products. Many foods that are more commonly eaten than corn and that comprise a larger portion of the diet contain Maillard products. The flavor and appearance of many foods depends on Maillard chemicals. Food scientists also call this the browning reaction. The brown crust of bread and the aromas that come from fresh bread are good examples. There is no solid evidence that these Maillard products are unhealthy—quite the reverse: There is evidence, not mentioned by Smith, that they may promote better health through their anti-oxidant properties (Lindenmeier and other 2002, Somoza and others 2005). When AGEs are formed, potentially toxic oxidants are neutralized. The roles of AGEs in health are, however, an active area of research in which a few scientists are trying to make a case for harmful effects of Maillard products (also called Advanced Glycation End products, or AGEs for short). Many other foods that people do eat contain far larger amounts of Maillard chemicals than corn. If there were evidence of harm from Maillard chemicals many other foods would need to be eliminated before high-lysine corn—and remember high-lysine corn isn’t intended for human consumption. In other words, high-lysine corn is irrelevant to human dietary exposure to Maillard chemicals. Smith should be fully aware of this, assuming he has read the articles he cites (Goldberg and others 2004). (Note: Maillard products represent a wide variety of different but related chemicals).
3. Genetic Roullete propagates a biased and incomplete interpretation of the role of Maillard products in human health. Maillard reaction products can form inside the body, especially during certain disease states, and the body has methods for eliminating them (Ames 2007). Whether they cause diseases has not been proven—they may well be symptoms of disease or even consequences of the disease itself (Buetler 2007, Pischetsrieder 2007). For example, more AGEs are formed in the blood of diabetics than in normal subjects because they can have as much as 10-fold higher levels of glucose in their bloodstreams. Jeffrey Smith quotes several articles mentioning their “association with disease”, but fails to realize that association is not cause and effect. Ambulances are indeed associated with car accidents, but they do not cause the car accidents that they are associated with. So it is with symptoms and diseases.
Getting back to Maillard products in the diet, Smith presents a confused and biased account of a fascinating health issue. Among his several misunderstandings, Smith mixes up dietary Maillard products with those Maillard- related chemicals made inside the body. Maillard chemicals in food behave differently from those produced in the body and most of them are degraded by gut microbes and eliminated in feces (Ames 2007). (This is one further reason the miniscule perturbations to dietary Maillard chemicals from high- lysine corn are irrelevant to human health.) We will not detail completely the extensive medical science making the distinction between dietary Maillard products and disease, or give full documentation of the lack of evidence that these diet chemicals cause disease. AGEs are a heterogenous family of molecules that have been lumped together under one name, but research shows that dietary AGEs are poorly absorbed and those that are do not bind to or affect RAGE, the target (called a receptor) through which AGEs produced in the body work. As noted above, the Maillard reaction actually neutralizes and removes potential damaging antioxidants from the body, along with other reactive and potentially damaging molecules. So while Smith terrifies us with the dangers of dietary Maillard products, it turns out that Maillard products produced in our own bodies do damage. This misunderstanding leads to bad advice. To illustrate how bad his health advice on this topic is for people wanting to make healthy choices of food, it is perhaps sufficient to mention that Smith omits the evidence that Maillard products may promote better health (Lindenmeier and other 2002, Somoza and others 2005). At the very least, Smith has ventured out onto scientific thin ice since the experts in the field are by no means in agreement with his assertion that dietary Maillard products (AGEs) could do us harm.
For a review of the history and significance of the Maillard reaction see Warwick Medical School 2007. For a full discussion of Maillard products in the diet and health see Pischetsrieder 2007.
4. Promotion of health fallacies distracts people from making sensible decisions about their diets. This is not the only section of Genetic Roulette in which medical fallacies are carelessly and irresponsibly repeated. In section 1.20 Smith misinformed people about a dangerous dietary fad –people overdosing on tryptophan — and failed to provide accurate advice about the true causes of serious health problems. Similarly here, Smith misinforms readers about another health issue. In this case there is no health hazard from the genetically engineered product, because no high -lysine corn will be used in human food but his misinformation will unnecessarily confuse people trying to make sensible health decisions. If they were to avoid Maillard products in food they would miss out on the safety benefits of cooking, because cooking causes Maillard chemicals to form. They would also miss out on any health benefits these chemicals offer.
One last example of the bad effects of food scaremongering should be taken very seriously. There are other corn varieties (called QPM) with higher lysine content than most corn which are now widely used a staple food by many thousands of people, mainly poorer, small-scale farmers in developing counties (CIMMYT – Future Harvest 2000). They have been produced by the slow methods of conventional breeding. If Jeffrey Smith’s scare mongering about lysine in corn were to gain momentum in those communities, it would stop them taking advantage of a higher quality protein source that significantly improves their well-being. That would be a tragedy. Genetic Roulette is a health hazard for farmers who grow QPM corn. If we were to speculate, we would guess that Smith says nothing about the dangers posed by QPM because it is not a GMO.
Ames JM (2007). Evidence against dietary advanced glycation endproducts being a risk to human health. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 51(9):1085-1090)
Buetler T (2007). Interview: The health risks of dietary advanced glycation end-products. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 51(9):1071 – 1173. Explains why Maillard chemicals in the diet are not a serious worry.
CIMMYT – Future Harvest (2000). 35 years in the making, high-protein, high-yielding corn to prevent malnutrition among millions. www.cimmyt.cgiar.org/research/maize/world_food_prize_qpm/qpm_wfp.htm accessed Jan 10 2009. “The new corn—known as maize outside North America—contains nearly twice as much usable protein as other maize grown in the tropics and yields 10 percent more grain. In recognition of this work…A bumper crop of the maize—called “quality protein maize” or QPM—is expected in the coming months from more than one million hectares (2.5 million acres) currently under cultivation in 11 countries…The varieties produce 70-100 percent more of two essential amino acids—lysine and tryptophan—than the most modern varieties of tropical maize. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are needed by all cells in the body. But because most maize is deficient in lysine and tryptophan, maize-dependent diets can lead to malnutrition. “
Goldberg T, Cai W, Peppa M, Dardaine V, Baliga BS, Uribarri J and Vlassara H (2004). Advanced glycoxidation end products in commonly consumed foods. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;104:1287-1291.
Lindenmeier M, Faist V and Hofmann T (2002). Structural and functional characterization of pronyl-lysine, a novel protein modification in bread crust melanoidins showing in vitro antioxidative and phase I/II enzyme modulating activity, J. Agric. Food Chem. 50:6997 –7006. Maillard products promote healthy antioxidant ability in experimental animals.
Pischetsrieder M (Editor) (2007). Special Issue: Are Dietary AGEs/ALEs a Health Risk? Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 51(9):1066 – 1192. Full discussion of the issue of Maillard products in the diet.
Somoza V, Wenzel E, Lindenmeier M, Grothe D, Erbersdobler HF and Hofmann T (2005) Influence of feeding malt, bread crust, and a pronylated protein on the activity of chemopreventive enzymes and antioxidative defense parameters in vivo, J. Agric. Food Chem. 2005, 53:8176–8182. Eat your bread crusts kiddies. They may be good for you by fighting cancer.
Warwick Medical School (2007) Protein Damage & Systems Biology Group: Chemistry of Maillard Reaction, Historical Development. www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/med/research/csri/proteindamage/imars_chem/history/ accessed Jan 11 2009 History and significance of the Maillard reaction.
A GM corn variety is engineered to produce high levels of lysine.
- A GM corn variety is engineered to produce high levels of lysine.
- When cooked and processed, it may produce toxic compounds associated with symptoms of Alzheimer’s, diabetes, allergies, kidney disease, cancer, and aging.