Even if you’re not sure what it is, you undoubtedly know something about glyphosate. Before the world’s attention became completely fixated on COVID-19 and the global quarantine, glyphosate was in the news nearly every day. The short version of why is because this common weed killer has been linked to cancer. More specifically, to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). As CNN reported, one study from last year showed that it increases your risk of NHL by 41%.
Even with the virtual blackout on non-virus-related news, reports about the harms of glyphosate have been rolling in. Here are just a few headlines:
Glyphosate, the Weedkiller That’s Killing Us (SlowFood.com)
Groups Sue EPA Over Yet Another Approval of Glyphosate, Despite Dangers to Humans, Bees, and Butterflies (Natural Resources Defense Council)
If you’re interested in glyphosate, or afraid that your health has been compromised because you’ve been exposed to it, read on. The information below is adapted from the the e-book, The Low Down on Glyphosate, Monsanto and our Rotten Systems, by Justine Rosenshield.
The Grim Truth About Glyphosate
by Jennifer Margulis and Justine Rosenshield
What is glyphosate?
Glyphosate is a man-made chemical. It has been patented as a metal chelator, an antibiotic, an anti-parasite, and an antifungal, among other things. It’s now mostly used as a weed killer. It seems to kill weeds very effectively.
Monsanto is the multi-billion dollar chemical company that brought glyphosate to the market in 1974 under the trade name Roundup. Monsanto’s patent on it ran out in the 2000s. So instead of just being in Roundup, glyphosate is included in hundreds of other weed-killing chemical formulas made by other companies. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, there are over 750 products containing this herbicide.
Where is glyphosate?
Glyphosate is sold in approximately 125 countries around the world.
It has been banned or restricted in over 20 countries.
Glyphosate is used both commercially and privately, on and around farms, golf courses, in schools, parks, community areas, railways on pavements and pedestrian areas and domestically around homes, driveways, terraces and in gardens and allotments.
Commercially glyphosate is used to clear fields of weeds before sowing seeds. It is also used on most genetically modified (GM) crops. Glyphosate is also used as a drying agent on many non-GMO crops both in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Shortly before certain crops, like wheat and oats, are harvested, they are sometimes sprayed with glyphosate. This pre-harvest practice, called desiccation, helps these crops dry evenly and is thought to facilitate and speed up harvesting. But the fact that glyphosate spraying is done just before harvest means these foods we eat are left with significant glyphosate residue.
Research has shown that:
- 28 out of 28 popular oat bars tested positive for glyphosate
- 41 out of 69 honey samples tested positive for glyphosate
- 10 out of 10 wines tested positive for glyphosate
The only way to ensure you are avoiding glyphosate in your food is to buy organic. However, you may not be able to avoid it even if the food you eat is 100 percent organic. Unfortunately, even organic food has been found to be contaminated with glyphosate because it’s so prevalent in our water and can also travel through the air.
How does glyphosate kill weeds?
Glyphosate’s main weed-killing mechanism is said to be due to its ability to interrupt a metabolic pathway called the shikimate pathway.
This pathway, found in microorganisms and plants, is actually a sequence of seven metabolic steps. Many fungi and bacteria, archaea, algae, protozoa, and plants use the shikimate pathway to create certain aromatic amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. These amino acids include Tryptophan, Phenylalanine, and Tyrosine. Without these amino acids, the organisms die.
Mechanisms of harm for humans
Glyphosate is claimed safe for humans because it destroys the shikimate pathway, which is a pathway, we are told by industry, that humans don’t have.
But it turns out this isn’t true.
It’s not only plants that have the shikimate, our gut bacteria also have that pathway. In fact, we need the good bacteria in our gut to make shikimate for us. Shikimate is a precursor for the aromatic amino acids phenylalanine, tryptophan, and tyrosine. These amino acids are essential.
Our gut bacteria can supplement the amount we don’t eat of those essential molecules. These amino acids are critical for our neurotransmitters and our sex hormones: serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and even antioxidants. The immune system and macrophages in particular can all be hobbled by too little of these important compounds.
So it’s no wonder that glyphosate causes many different problems for humans. “Glyphosate is a profound Zonulin stimulator,” Dr. Zach Bush, M.D., explains. Another word you may not be familiar with, Zonulin is an important protein, which helps with intestinal permeability.
If your body makes too much Zonulin you end up with an ongoing leaky gut. Zonulin is produced systemically, opening up protective barrier systems all around the body. Leaky barriers can be at the root of many chronic diseases, including general inflammation and autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, allergies, and cancer.
Gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and other grains, also stimulates Zonulin production. When you combine gluten with glyphosate you create a combination that is really unhealthy for humans.
Chances are you know someone who is sensitive to gluten. Maybe that someone is you. It may be that the high levels of people with sensitivity to wheat these days is first caused by the glyphosate on our wheat, not the wheat itself.
Studies show that glyphosate targets beneficial bacteria leaving pathogenic bacteria free to flourish and dominate in our bodies. This is the opposite of what we want: We humans depend on beneficial bacteria to help us regulate our immune systems, digest our food, synthesize vitamins (including biotin, folate, vitamin K, and B12).
Beneficial bacteria also help us absorb minerals and play a role in how we store and metabolize food. They make amino acids and neurotransmitters that enhance good mood, energy, alertness, focus, and motivation. Gut motility, blood flow, and the ability to self soothe and calm down after stress are also influenced by our beneficial bacteria. In fact, we are more microbial than we are human.
Since the human genome project has been decoding the human genome, we now understand that health is less about the genes we inherit and more about how the inner and outer environment affects which genes are switched on and off. This is called epigenetics. The key players inside our bodies include our non-human genes. We are these creatures. They are us. And anything that damages them damages us.
9 more harms of glyphosate: a list you don’t want to read
Skim this if you’re feeling overwhelmed. But if you’re a science geek, take a look at the references. Consider printing out these scientific studies and reading them with a yellow highlighter in hand. It’s a depressing, but eye-opening endeavor.
Glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides have been found to:
- Disrupt the endocrine system, even at low levels.
- Induce breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors.
- Cause birth defects and fertility problems, as well as spontaneous abortion.
- Affect sperm: Sperm motility and the motility period are reduced after glyphosate exposure. Human sperm counts have more than halved in the last 40 years since Roundup was on the market. There are lots of ways modern life is impacting fertility (most of them from environmental toxins brought to us by corporations, including glyphosate.
- Cause anxiety and depressive-like-behavior.
- Disrupt the liver: A rat study showed ultra-low does exposure bringing on fatty liver disease. Liver disease is one of the leading causes of premature death in England. One in 3 Americans have it, a study from the University of California, San Diego demonstrates it is dose dependent.
- Cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress happens when the cells cannot keep up with free radical production and is implicated in most chronic diseases. Research has shown glyphosate is a culprit.
- Contribute to antibiotic resistance: Glyphosate is one of the most widely used antibiotics on the planet and is dangerously contributing to antibiotic resistance, a very serious problem public health officials are dealing with right now.
- Be implicated in generational toxicity. A study done by researchers at Washington State University study looked at what it termed “generational toxicology,” which is where the physical injury shows up in later generations. In the 3rd generation, greater than 90% of the offspring had at least one or more diseases. 30% of the pregnant females in the 2nd or 3rd generation either died or had offspring that died.
Many signs suggest that glyphosate is already devastating human, animal, and botanical health. We have no real-life idea of how much worse it might get, courtesy of this widely used and totally toxic chemical.
Glyphosate and soil microbes
Glyphosate disrupts our microbiomes and it also harms the microbes in the soil too.
Healthy soil is an alive ecosystem of organic matter, water, air, nutrients, bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and their metabolites, carbon redox molecules, along with earthworms and other insects, animals, and plants.
Each member of this ecosystem teeming with life plays a vital role in keeping soil healthy. This abundance of microbial life helps in decomposing and recycling organic matter to break it into elements various life forms can use, distributing soil nutrients, creating structures within the soil so that other life forms can breathe and flourish, and drawing carbon and water back into the soil.
Without all these life forms, soil is just dust. The nutrients and minerals wash away. Nutrients and organic matter that remain in the soil become unusable to the life forms left. With no life in it, soil loses its structure, air cannot circulate through it, and life further suffocates.
Dire implications for the planet
Out of eight studies on earthworms, six showed significant negative impact on the reproduction, movement, and activity of different species of earthworms.
According to a chilling report in The Guardian, the United Kingdom is just 30 or 40 years away from the fundamental eradication of soil fertility.
Why does healthy soil matter? Because good quality soil and well-managed lands have the ability to sequester large amounts of carbon.
Healthy soil can hold up to 20 times its weight in water, which in turn benefits microbes, plants, and animals. Mismanaging soil health causes rising temperatures and contributes to the flooding and drought patterns we’re seeing across the planet.
There are a lot of unanswered questions. But we know that greater length and frequency of glyphosate applications bring more negative effects. Scientists are concerned. We risk further polluting humans, causing crop diseases, hurting earthworms, and compromising soil ecosystems. If we destroy microbial life we destroy the planet. One of the biggest losers is mycorrhizal fungi. Glyphosate reduces their spore viability and root colonization.
Mycorrhizal fungi are the powerhouses of the soil. They play a vital role in soil structure, breathability, and communication. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only beneficial soil fungi that support plants with nutrients and access to water, particularly in times of drought, that are harmed by glyphosate.
Without beneficial soil fungi, plants can become too weak to defend themselves against pathogens.
Scientists now believe that glyphosate has also brought about the re-emergence of crop diseases and increased their severity.
Glyphosate hurts bees
I wish I were finished with the gloom and doom but I’m not. Glyphosate has also been linked to the dwindling bee populations.
In one study researchers found that glyphosate killed off the protective gut bacteria in bees, leaving them open to infection by opportunistic pathogens.
“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, Ph.D., a scientist at the University of Sydney in Australia, told The Guardian.
Francisco Sánchez-Bayo is an environmental scientist and co-author of a global scientific analysis of what is causing insect population declines. His review insists that the diminishing of insects threatens “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems,” pointing to chemical use as one of the main drivers of insect extinction.
A glyphosate-induced global crisis
Sir Robert Watson, Ph.D., is a British chemist and the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. A champion of the earth and a key force behind reversing ozone depletion in the 1980s, Watson and his team issued the 2018 report, Science and Policy for People and Nature. This report highlights that the crisis we are now facing. As remote as soil bacteria and fungi might seem to our everyday lives, we depend on them.
All of life on Earth is deeply connected and interdependent:
“Land degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment,” Watson explains.
“We cannot afford to tackle any one of these three threats in isolation–they each deserve the highest policy priority and must be addressed together.”
Land degradation. Loss of biodiversity. Climate change. Glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides play into all three of these threats.
In January 2019 a three-year study commissioned by the Lancet was published. The study, The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change, looks at the connection between poor quality soil and poor quality, nutrient-depleted foods. Poor quality foods, in large part courtesy of glyphosate, contribute to poor human health.
So what can we do about glyphosate poisoning our people and our planet?
You probably didn’t need to read this far to realize that glyphosate is poisoning people and the planet.
Even if the big chemical companies that profit from this poison say otherwise, I think we can all agree that this herbicide is bad for humans, bad for microbial life, and bad for planet Earth.
So what can we do about glyphosate?
How do we get rid of it?
We need to get glyphosate out of the food chain, water, soil, air, and oceans.
Ultimately this comes down to banning it, which means putting pressure on our governments to do that.
But industry wields power and there is profit-fueled and well-organized resistance to banning it.
We also have to make sure that, once the production of glyphosate is stopped, farmers don’t swap out glyphosate for even more toxic chemicals.
The global solution lies in regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture focuses on enriching soil and increasing biodiversity with best practices, not poisons. Regenerative agriculture leads to plants containing more nutrients and soils storing more carbon and water. But conventional farmers who are used to dousing their fields in toxic chemicals will need a lot of support to change their practices.
The healthiest food comes from farms with regenerative practices. When more consumers buy organic, more farmers adopt organic farming. If enough people switch to organic, it will become much cheaper for all.
Moms Across America is a non-profit working hard to get glyphosate out of the food supply.
The personal solution lies in us.
We may not be able to avoid all exposure to glyphosate but we can minimize glyphosate by avoiding wheat products and eating fewer grains, buying only organic food, and spacing out or even indefinitely delaying vaccines (several vaccines have been found to be contaminated with glyphosate, which may explain some of the severe vaccine side effects we are seeing in our kids.) Daily detoxification will also help.
It’s time to dramatically limit your exposure to glyphosate.
Eat real, whole, fresh foods and buy only organic.
Insist your local grocery stores make organic food affordable for everyone.
Encourage everyone you know to do the same.
This article was adapted from the e-book, The Low Down on Glyphosate, Monsanto and our Rotten Systems, by Justine Rosenshield. Justine has spent the last 20 years dividing her time working in the creative arts in costume, in films, and in the healing arts, training in Nutrition, GAPS, NMT, MTI, ITEC, Thai Massage & Kundalini Yoga. Having completed the ADAPT training at the Kresser Institute for Functional and Medicine in California, she is now focusing on research and sharing her findings, trying to understand and offer insight into the divide between the narratives we are fed in the mainstream and the realities sitting just below the surface, but still in plain sight.
Published: March 30, 2020
Last update: April 28, 2020