This topic is fascinating, and something that isn’t talked about nearly enough in the world of nutrition & health!
In this article, I’m going to be going over some of the main ways in which glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used herbicide, might be harming your health!
But, before I get into – I wanted to give you a little run down on what glyphosate actually is!
Glyphosate is a synthetically produced herbicide which was patented in 1974 by the company Monsanto (who was bought out by Bayer in 2016). (1)
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in “Roundup” which is sold on store shelves as a miracle “weed killer”- claiming to be fast and effective at killing “to the root.” Glyphosate is also the active ingredient in numerous other herbicides, aside from Roundup, now that the patent is up.
In large scale conventional agriculture, glyphosate is often used in conjunction with “Roundup Ready” genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which hit the market in 1996 (1). Crops are genetically modified to be “Roundup Ready” meaning that they can withstand ample amounts of Roundup spraying without being harmed or dying (any non genetically modified plant would certainly be killed by the harmful properties of Roundup). Corn and soy, are the 2 of the most commonly modified Roundup Ready crops in the United States, with a whopping 94% of soybeans and 90% of corn genetically modified to be Roundup Ready (2). Other crops that are genetically modified to be Roundup Ready include non organic: canola, sugar beets, cotton and alfalfa.
Glyphosate is also used as a “desiccant” on certain crops that need to be uniformly dead prior to harvest. This is why glyphosate levels also show up very high in non organic wheat, rye, barley, oats, flax, chickpeas, and lentils. Non organic peanuts, and almonds are also commonly found with high levels of glyphosate (21).
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide, worldwide (18). In fact, there has been approximately 9.4 million tons of this chemical sprayed across the globe- this is enough to cover nearly every cultivated acre of land in the world with half a pound of this chemical (3)!
It’s important to know, glyphosate is a water soluble toxin (23). This means, not only does it get into the foods we eat, it gets into the air we breath, and the water we drink. Because of this, even when eating organic food, there is no way to fully escape glyphosate exposure.
In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) named glyphosate a “probable carcinogen” (4) however, since then glyphosate is still widely sprayed in the U.S. and Canada.
More recently, in June 2020 it was made known that Bayer (who bought Monsanto the company who originally patented glyphosate), faces over 125,000 filed and unfiled claims against Roundup, with people reporting that it has caused them various cancers, primarily Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. The company has agreed to pay more than $10 billion to settle these lawsuits (5) yet this chemical continues to be sprayed on the very food we eat.
Alright, so now that you all have a pretty clear idea about the destructive nature of glyphosate, we’re going to get into the details of ways in which this ever so commonly used harmful herbicide might be harming your health!
Some of the Many Ways Glyphosate Could be Harming your Health:
MENTAL & NEUROLOGICAL HEALTH:
Glyphosate has been found to have profound effects on one’s mental health, greatly contributing to anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. One of the main reasons glyphosate dramatically impacts mental health, has a lot to do with the gut-brain connection within the human body.
A 2020 Literature review of glyphosate’s effects on the microbiome states that, “exposure may also have consequences for mental health, including anxiety and depression, through alterations in the gut microbiome” (7).
Just as glyphosate kills plants & micro-organisms within the soil, it has similar effects on the human microbiome by acting like an “anti-biotic” within the body. In fact, glyphosate has been patented by Monsanto as an anti-biotic (United States Patent 7,771,736)! Acting as an antibiotic within the body, glyphosate is highly effective at killing Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, and Enterococcal species, which are all very important species within the microbiome to help carry out both mental and physical functions (24)!
This all loops back to our mental health, as a whopping 90% of serotonin, our “feel good” neurotransmitter, is produced in the gut lining with the help of numerous important bacteria. There are also all sorts of other neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation that are produced in the gut with the help of microbes and bacteria such as GABA and dopamine (25).
It’s commonly known that low levels of serotonin and GABA are associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression (6, 25), and glyphosate has been found to greatly interfere with their synthesis through microbiome disruption.
In a 2018 study done on mice, it was reported that both sub chronic & chronic (long term) exposure to glyphosate significantly increased anxiety & depression like behaviours. (8). The study also observed that “intestinal dysbiosis [caused by the glyphosate exposure] could increase the prevalence of neurobehavioral alterations.” This finding hi-lights the importance of looking at the gut-brain connection, and how a lack of diversity within ones microbiome (caused by glyphoste) can considerably increase the risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions or behaviours.
When ingested, Glyphosate stimulates the protein Zonulin (9). The function of this protein is to modulate the permeability of tight junctions within the digestive tract. With the increased production of Zonulin that glyphosate initiates, it’s been found that injury to the tight junction membrane of not only the gut occurs, but also within the brain, eventually causing a breakdown of the blood brain barrier (22). With a breakdown of the blood brain barrier, (the very important barrier that is supposed to protect the brain) a hole slew of other neurological symptoms can also occur. (9) In breaking down both the gut and the brain barriers, glyphosate has the ability to get into the blood stream, causing inflammation and illness in all parts of the body (see below for more details)!
GUT HEALTH & DIGESTION
Glyphosate has been found to effect digestive health and the microbiome in numerous ways – some of which we’ve already began to uncover when speaking about the gut-brain connection!
First off, as previously mentioned, glyphosate damages the tight junctions of the gut lining. This is problematic for the digestive system, because with damage to the tight junctions (which separate the digestive tract from the rest of the body) intestinal permeability occurs and will eventually lead to the increasingly common condition known as “leaky gut” (9).
Not only this, because glyphosate has such strong “anti-biotic properties” within the body, it depletes the diversity of the microbiome, leading to “dysbiosis.” It’s been reported that, glyphosate triggers several digestive issues related to dysbiosis, including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome (2).
A 2018 study exposed rats to levels of glyphosate considered “safe” for 13 weeks. Over those 13 weeks, it was found that the baby rats who were exposed to these “safe” levels of glyphosate had significant disruptions in the health of their microbiome (10).
Glyphosate has also been found to slow down the motility of the digestive tract (11) which can lead to conditions like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), constipation, and acid reflux (12).
In todays day, gut health is often thought to be the pinnacle of all other health, as so much goes on within this region of the body. Not only does glyphosate effect ones digestion & gut microbiome, in doing so, it can go on to alter many other areas of ones well being. For example, a disrupted gut can go on to effect ones mental health (as outlined above) and ones immunity (as 80% of immune cells are located within the gut), further worsening all sorts of health conditions.
Glyphosate has been found to be an endocrine disruptor, meeting 8 of the 10 criteria to be considered an “Endocrine Disrupting Chemical” (EDC) (13).
Research has found that even at low doses, glyphosate may have adverse effects on the female reproductive tract by altering both ovarian & uterine functions. It’s also been found that glyphosate has significant effects on reproductive outcomes for females (14).
How Else Does Glyphosate Impact Hormone Health?
It’s undeniable that glyphosate is a toxin to the body – and toxins are processed via the liver, as are excess estrogens & hormones. If the liver is over burdened by this chemical, it will not be able to do its job of flushing out excess estrogens, leading to estrogen dominance and other hormonal imbalances (16).
Here’s a list of some of the other many ways glyphosate (and pesticides in general) can effect your hormones (16):
- Decrease fertility
- Make fibroids worse
- Impair ovulation
- Worsen PMS (cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, anxiety/ depression, etc.)
- Trigger acne
- Cause irregular periods
INFLAMMATION & CANCER
There is all sorts of evidence to suggest that glyphosate is highly inflammatory to the body (9) and exposure to it dramatically increases ones risk of cancer.
In fact, a 2019 study stated that exposure to glyphosate, can increase ones risk of cancer (specifically Non Hodgkins Lymphoma) by 41 percent! (15)
Dr. Zach Bush says it best when he explains the dangers of the acute inflammatory response that glyphosate initiates on the body, as he states, “Acute inflammatory response becomes chronic inflammation as the system is overwhelmed with the outside world.” (9)
Since many doctors can agree, inflammation is the root of all illness (17, 20), it’s clear that this highly prevalent and inflammatory chemical can in fact be considered one of the main root causes of cancer, and so many other of the epidemics we are seeing today; from mental health issues, to autoimmune conditions, infertility, to autism and others. (19) Dr. Zach Bush explains, “Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.”
“These chemicals will continue to break down the cornerstone of our health – our immune system – if we let them.”
– Dr. Zach Bush
As mentioned earlier in this article, Monsanto (now Bayer) has faced (and continues to face) over 125, 000 law suits, from victims who state that glyphosate was the reason for their cancer. Bayer has agreed to settle, paying $10.9 billion dollars. Although this is great news, it’s not nearly enough – people are dying, while thinking they’re eating so called “health foods”, because of this chemical. We need glyphosate to be outright banned.
With all this being said, it’s safe to say we should all try to do everything we can to decrease our exposure to this highly toxic chemical, as we take actions to banning it (check out Non Toxic Neighbourhoods to learn more)!
We should also do everything we can to continue to stand up for those who are most at risk for glyphosate toxicity, such as the farmers who grow our food or marginalized communities who don’t have the access or means to organic (aka glyphosate free) food!
It’s time we see a revolution in our food system, and one very important part of it will be getting glyphosate (and other harmful chemicals) out of the food we eat!