FACT CHECK: Does genetically modified corn cause hypertension as Oyakhilome claims?

Chris Oyakhilome, founder of LoveWorld Incorporated better known as Christ Embassy, has claimed that genetically modified corns cause hypertension.

In a live broadcast during a church programme, Oyakhilome warned people to avoid genetically modified corn.

The clergyman claimed that most countries no longer produce “local corn” and that much of the corn sold in the markets has been genetically modified.

“I’m sure many of you who don’t have an idea of organic corn. What it is. Don’t think of the one you’ve been buying in the market, in your local market I mean. Don’t think that one is really organic.” Oyakhilome said.


“Most countries don’t have the original corn anymore. It’s one of the earliest genetically modified crops, so most of what you’ve been eating is modified a long time ago.

“That’s why you have to do something; you have to think again. The earlier you stop it, the better because no one is giving you this information. They are not telling you that the unexplained hypertension that your grandfather suffered with, that your father and granduncle suffered with, and that you’re probably suffering with have something to do with corn.

“Almost all the people I’ve known that have high blood pressure all love corn and corn products but nobody ever told them that had anything to do with their problems.”


The video has been posted on several YouTube pages. It can be found here and here.


Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants, animals, or microbes in which one or more changes have been made to the genome (DNA) through genetic engineering, in an attempt to alter its characteristics.

Genes can be introduced, enhanced, or deleted within a species, across species, or non-related species. Some examples of GM crops include Bt corn, soybeans, Bt potatoes, peanuts, Bt-sweet corn, Roundup Ready soybeans, Roundup Ready Corn, and Liberty Link corn.


Some of the objectives of developing genetically modified plants are to produce crops with enhanced characteristics which could be to improve crop protection by making them resistant to a particular disease and create higher-yield crops.


To transform a plant into a GMO plant, the gene that produces a genetic trait of interest is identified and separated from the other genetic material in a donor organism. It is then transferred into a plant cell. A donor organism may be a bacterium, fungus, or another plant. In the case of Bt corn, the donor organism is a naturally occurring soil bacterium – Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)

The maize variant has Bt genes that provide protection against some insects and help the maize plant tolerate moderate drought. Bt corn prevents crop damage by reducing the need for spraying insecticides. 


One of the methods used to transfer DNA is to coat the surface of small metal particles with the relevant DNA fragment and bombard the particles into the plant cells – using the gene gun method.

The gene gun introduces the DNA directly into plant cells containing cell walls. The gene gun is used to bombard the plant cell wall with many DNA-coated metal particles by using compressed helium as the propellant. 


The metal particles commonly used for gene gun bombardment include gold, tungsten, palladium, rhodium, platinum, and iridium. They are coated with DNA, accelerated by helium gas, and bombard the plant cells. 

The metal particles punch holes in, pass through the cell wall, and enter the plant cells, leaving the DNA cargo inside the cells.


An alternative method is through the use of a bacterium or virus. The bacterium most frequently used for genetically modified crops is the Agrobacterium Tumefaciens. The gene of interest is transferred into the bacterium and the bacterial cells then transfer the new DNA to the genome of the plant cells. The plant cells that take up the DNA are then grown to create a new plant with new characteristics.

In January, the federal government approved the commercial release and open cultivation of four Tela Maize varieties – a high-yielding maize variety, developed by the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) in partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).


The maize variety has been genetically engineered for improved insect resistance and drought tolerance —  to boost farmers’ yield and also ensure food security. GM corn is used for foods, drinks, and livestock feed.


Discussions and concerns have been raised over the effects of genetically modified crops on health. While some studies suggest that genetically modified crops may have health implications for humans, other researches argue that these crops are unharmful to human health and provide some nutrients like their conventional counterparts.

However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said GMO foods are as healthy and safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), genetically modified foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks to human health. 

The health organisation also said no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved. 

According to WHO, hypertension (also known as high blood pressure) is when the pressure in the blood vessels is higher than normal. 

The risk factors of hypertension include unhealthy diets (high salt consumption, a diet high in saturated fat and trans fats), physical inactivity, being overweight, and excess alcohol intake. Other factors include genetics/family history of hypertension and aging.

It is recommended that hypertension be diagnosed when a person’s systolic blood pressure (SBP) is greater than 140 mm Hg and/or their diastolic blood pressure (DBP) is greater than 90 mm Hg following repeated examination ((140/90 mmHg or higher). 

TheCable spoke with Jerome Mafeni, technical director at the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED), to confirm if there are studies that suggest genetically modified corn causes hypertension.

Mafeni said at the moment, there is no scientific study that says GM corn causes hypertension, but noted that there might be the likelihood of “reactions” to such food items over time.

“There is no scientific study that suggests such. Because they (TELA maize) are just coming into the country, it will take a much longer time to conduct a study to be able to prove any linkage between GMO foods and health conditions,” Mafeni said.

“That said, the fact that they are genetically modified means that there might be the possibility that people who consume GMO foods may have reactions to those foods without knowing. But that is yet to be verified.”

TheCable also reached out to Bukola Odele, a food and nutrition scientist. Odele noted that corn is made up of carbohydrates, adding that hypertension is caused by excessive salt intake.

“Before now, I don’t think we consume GM corn in Nigeria and the one we know about was approved in January as a test run. If you even check that, saying that our grandfathers died as a result of that through hypertension is false,” Odele said.

“I think they even had better blood pressure than that of our current generation and that is because they often ate more fresh meals from the farm, while in this generation, people are consuming a whole lot of processed foods. 

“Industries are flooding the market with convenience, easy-to-make foods that have very low nutritional value and adverse effects on health. A lot of these processed foods contain a lot of salt, sugar, or fat. And when you have these in excess, they always have health implications.

“About corn, naturally occurring foods contain sodium but in low quantities. These low quantities are also in healthy quantities. The moment the sodium we consume is from processed food items, that’s when it becomes an issue. If you’re thinking of what genetically modified corn would cause, the first thing you would look at is not even hypertension but diabetes. So far, I haven’t found any evidence that links GM corn to hypertension. I know that the largest cause of hypertension is high sodium intake from most of the processed food we consume.” 

Agnes Asagbra, the director-general of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), told TheCable that the approved TELA maize went through a thorough assessment before it was recommended for commercialisation. 

“We regulate the activities of modern biotechnology. In the course of our work, we ensure due diligence before any permit is granted. We have granted three permits so far for commercialisation of cowpea, BT cotton for textiles, and Tela maize,” she said.

“Before those approvals were granted, they went through a series of rigorous risk assessments. 

“We do our risk assessments, we don’t do it independently but with sister agencies like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), and other relevant agencies including the academia, NGOs, and research institutes. We bring them all together to review these permutations thoroughly.

“So far, the Tela maize that has been approved is not even in the market and has not been launched. This is the first GM corn that will be commercially released in Nigeria.

“The risk assessment that we have carried out declared the crop safe and there is no scientific evidence that links GM corn to hypertension. We have done our due diligence and it is safe, as safe as its conventional counterpart.”

Also speaking, Olusina Ajidahun, an internal medicine physician, said: “There are no studies to show that GM corn increases your risk of hypertension. This particular claim is not backed scientifically. 

“We are having an increase in the rise of genetically modified foods and we know for sure that some genetically modified foods can increase the risk of toxic effects on organs like the liver, heart, pancreas, and kidney. Studies are still trying to correlate the linkage of GM foods to cancer.

“There’s no scientific evidence that taking GM corn increases the risk of having hypertension. One thing about hypertension is that it is multifactorial, it could be a result of genetics, lifestyle, or a lot of things. Coincidentally, it might be the case where these people are hypertensive and for some reason, they just like corn.”


There’s no scientific evidence to support the claim that genetically modified corn causes hypertension as claimed by Oyakhilome. 

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