Post written by Beth Danowsky, RD and Terri Ward, NTP
Evidence is growing about the harmful effects to our health and environment from the widespread use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup® and other herbicides. Did you know one of the unlabeled inactive ingredients in Roundup® is not inactive?
In this blog post you will be introduced to some information regarding glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, and its potential impact on human health and the environment. This chemical continues to elicit more and more conversation both in the news and in social media due to surmounting research regarding it’s harmful impact on health. If you are not familiar, Roundup® is a well-known, broad spectrum herbicide used widely in the US and Europe. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed in as non-toxic to humans despite the fact that virtually no studies were conducted to assess glyphosate levels in human blood or urine. Monsanto, the company responsible for the creation of Roundup® and glyphosate, has also declared it safe for human consumption.
A recent study done in Europe showed that glyphosate residues are prevalent in the Western diet (a.k.a. our own diet). In this study, they excluded factory workers and farmers who would have higher than normal exposure to the herbicide and still found that 44% of the urine samples came back positive for a quantifiable amount of glyphosate. That’s nearly half of the population who is running around with this chemical in their body and probably do not know it. If Monsanto and the EPA have deemed it safe, then what’s the big deal? Read on, there is more to know about this widely used herbicide.
What does glyphosate do?
Glyphosate was patented as an antimicrobial that can disrupt intestinal microflora in animals — this results in killing beneficial forms of bacteria and allowing overgrowth of pathogens like staphylococcus, salmonella, etc., which are resistant to the effects of glyphosate. Specifically, poultry, cattle and swine fed feed containing glyphosate reside have been found with altered intestinal microflora. In some of the animals studied, the damage to the intestinal lining was similar to that of an intestinal lining of a person who has been diagnosed with celiac disease! Rates of celiac disease in the US have increased in tandem with the increase of application of glyphosate to wheat. It seems the two might very well be connected.
Gluten related gut issues are on the rise and it’s not just because more cases are being diagnosed. One study tested blood from military samples all the way back from the 1950’s and found far fewer sensitivities to gluten than what we see in a similar sample of today’s population. Some experts suggest that this is no coincidence, and that the use of herbicides and pesticides (including Roundup®) are one important contributor to the rise of chronic disease and auto-immune conditions like celiac sprue, diabetes, among others.
There also seems to be a correlation between the increase in hospitalizations for acute kidney injury and the application of glyphosate, especially among young agricultural workers in the sugar cane fields of Central America. In the state of Louisiana sugar cane is a main agricultural commodity. Glyphosate has been the primary chemical used to ripen sugar cane since 1980 and in that time there has been a significant increase in kidney failure. Louisiana’s death rate for kidney failure is the highest in the US and almost double the national average. Correlation does not imply causation, but those are staggering odds which deserve some attention.
“When future historians come to write about our era they are not going to write about the tons of chemicals we did or didn’t apply. When it comes to glyphosate [the listed active ingredient in Roundup herbicide] they are going to write about our willingness to sacrifice our children and to jeopardize our very existence by risking the sustainability of our agriculture; all based upon failed promises and flawed science. The only benefit is that it affects the bottom-line of a few companies. There’s no nutritional value.” ~ Dr. Don Huber – an expert in soil-borne diseases, microbial ecology, host-parasite relationships and GE toxicity.
Clearly, glyphosate is NOT good for our health and no long term studies have been done to test it’s safety in the food supply. Glyphosate inhibits our ability to detoxify (via CYP450 for the nerds out there), causes DNA damage in human cells, damages mitochondria (the powerhouses of our cells that make energy) leading to dysfunction, and is expected to be carcinogenic. There is political tension over the use of the chemical because the industry that produces it has major influence on politicians who know very little about it’s scientific impact and receive kick-backs for endorsing it’s use.
In addition, it was found that more than 75% of air and water sample in Mississippi, USA are contaminated with glyphosate. This exceeds the acceptance of heroin, crack cocaine, tobacco use and second-hand smoke combined in our environment! Soy foods are one of the most heavily contaminated foods, hence one reason many nutritionists suggest using only organic, non-GMO soy when possible.
Glyphosate threatens biodiversity.
The use of glyphosates threaten the biodiversity of our economy and vegetation. Roundup® is primarily used on genetically-modified (GMO) crops that are designed to withstand its application. These crops now outnumber an array of other varieties, which in turn, decreases the biodiversity of our soil, water and air.
SOIL: In general, the use of herbicides can leave a lasting impact on soil conservation. Using herbicides decreases the biodiversity in the soil and can negatively affect the natural pH of the soil. Herbicides applied to the soil are later absorbed through the plants roots, creating a cycle.
Roundup®, the most widely used herbicide has glyphosate as an active ingredient and is toxic to earthworms, beneficial insects, birds and mammals. Additionally, it destroys the vegetation on which they depend for food and shelter. Tests conducted by The International Organization for Biological Control showed that Roundup® killed beneficial insects including a predatory mite, a lacewing, a ladybug, and a predatory beetle. Tests using New Zealand’s most common earthworm indicate glyphosate reduced its growth and slowed its development.
WATER: Glyphosate binds to soil making it unlikely to leach into water. However, it has the ability to contaminate surface waters because of its use pattern and by binding to soil runoff. Although it is generally excluded from regular monitoring programs, it has been regularly detected when samples are analyzed, including 36% and 69% of water samples of aquatic ecosystems in the Midwestern United States. It has been found in both ground and surface water, including seven U.S. wells and contaminated forest streams in Oregon and Washington.
Glyphosate has been found to be persistent in seawater. Recent research suggests that low concentrations of glyphosate can affect natural coastal microbial communities. The Roundup® product label indicates it is highly toxic to fish and aquatic organisms. Since the 1980s significant declines have been noted across the globe in frogs and amphibians populations and a 2005 study found that Roundup® is deadly to frogs as well as to tadpoles at lower concentrations than previously tested.
Polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA): The glyphosate in Roundup® should not take the blame alone because it is applied with a surfactant in order to enhances wettability and allows the herbicide to get inside the plants. Surfactant ingredient(s) are generally considered inert or unreactive and are thus not regulated or required to be disclosed. The surfactant, POEA, in Roundup®, the most widely used herbicide, is not inert and makes Roundup® more potent. In fact POEA is 20 to 70 times more toxic to fish than glyphosate itself.
Unfortunately, many research tests have been conducted using glyphosate alone rather than using the actual Roundup® formula, which makes it impossible for those tests to provide an accurate assessment of Roundup®.
BOTTOM LINE: As you can see, glyphosate (just one chemicals in Roundup®) is not safe for human consumption at the levels present in the environment. Avoiding the over use of GMO corn, soy, sugar, and non-organic wheat may help reduce your exposure to glyphosates and other chemicals which pose a risk to human health. The environment we live in is at risk and it’s worth spreading the word by sharing this post and telling your loved ones. If you want to see a change in farming practices, you may also consider contacting your legislative representatives at the local, state and federal levels.
If you are interested in reading more studies on glyphosate and human health please go here.
Questions or comments? Please leave them below.
In Health and Vitality,
~Beth & Terri
About the co-author: Terri Ward is a practicing Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner (NTP) in Oregon, USA. She is also a fellow student in my master’s program at the University of Western States. You can learn more about Terri on her blog and follow her on Facebook.
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