It's hard to ignore the headlines. Obesity and diabetes have risen to epidemic proportions. Autism, infertility and Celiac disease are all on the rise, as are dozens, if not hundreds, of other conditions. Interestingly enough, this spike in the rates of many conditions like these began around 1974. That is the year Roundup went on the market. Since 2000 when it went off patent, it has been used increasingly worldwide.
Roundup is a weed killer that contains glyphosate as its active ingredient. Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup, has long touted the safety of the herbicide. There are stories of salesmen drinking it to prove that point.
Researchers are now finding the safety claims about Roundup to be false. Glyphosate interferes with many enzymes in the human body. It interferes with the body’s ability to detoxify environmental toxins. It chelates (read: deplete) trace minerals in both plants and animals. It damages healthy gut bacteria. It is estrogenic and causes breast tumors in rats that have been bred to mimic human breast cell responses. It damages human DNA.
Farmers use Roundup to kill weeds, which are harmful to their crops. In the past, it couldn't be sprayed indiscriminately because it would destroy the crops as well. That's where GMOs (genetically modified organisms) came into play. Scientists began to genetically modify crop seeds to grow into plants that would be resistant to glyphosate. While the safety of GMO technology and seeds is hotly debated, this article does not address these issues. GMO seed development allowed farmers to spray their entire fields of Roundup ready or resistant crops without damage to the plants.
In theory, this approach seemed like a good idea; however, it didn't take into account that a food supply sprayed with glyphosate might be harmful. It also didn’t take into account that Mother Nature cannot be fooled. Increasingly, weeds are developing resistance to Roundup and crops now have to be saturated with the herbicide to control the resistant weeds. 90% of GMO crops are Roundup resistant. Also, Roundup does damage the resistant plants. It binds up the minerals in the plants.
To complicate matters, many Americans don’t hear about the negative effects of GMOs and glyphosate, because research into those effects has been actively suppressed in this country and abroad by the companies that create GMOs, most notably Monsanto. At every turn, Monsanto has interfered with research that explores the harmful effects of Roundup: refusing to provide seed to researchers, refusing to let farmers conduct experiments with the seed, infiltrating the government and the FDA, limiting what research is performed, blocking publication of negative research, and professional assassination of those scientists who dare to publish research that is not favorable to their business.
In spite of the opposition, there are dedicated scientists working diligently to uncover and spread the word about the dangers of glyphosate and GMOs and how they're impacting our society. Most notably are , a senior research scientist at MIT, , Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, , Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Caen in France and Judy Carmen PhD, lead researcher at Flinders University in Australia.
Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the , author of the books Seeds of Deception (2003) and Genetic Roulette (2007), and producer/director of the 2012 movie, Genetic Roulette, and many others like him are leading the charge for further research and for more sustainable, less toxic farming practices.
After a closer look at the data that these researchers and others like them have been uncovering, it’s easy to see why there is such a growing push for the elimination of Roundup and GMO foods and, minimally, clear labeling of these foods.
How widespread are GMO and glyphosate?
- Corn (88% of all corn grown in USA is GMO) fed to farm animals and used in processed foods. Also made into high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and corn oil
- Soybeans (93%) fed to farm animals and used in processed foods. Includes soy bean oil
- Cottonseed (94%) oil used in many processed foods and cotton made into clothes
- Alfalfa (not known %) fed to dairy cows
- Papaya from Hawaii (75%)
- Canola (90%) oil for cooking and salad dressings
- Sugar Beets (90%) fed to farm animals and 54% of “sugar” in processed foods
- Squash- some yellow and zucchini
- Milk (17%) dairy cows treated with Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH))
- Aspartame (100%) is a GMO
What about non-GMO foods and glyphosate?
Completely separate from the use of glyphosate on GMO treated crops is the application of this herbicide just prior to harvest of numerous conventional non- GMO crops. Monsanto explains how to do this to control certain weeds AND to enhance yields at harvest. Monsanto recommends that Roundup be sprayed several days prior to harvesting wheat, barley, oats, canola, flax, peas, lentils, soybeans, and dry beans to enhance yield and dry up the seeds or beans. “This Preharvest Staging Guide provides information on how to maximize the efficacy and benefits of Roundup WeatherMAX® and Roundup Transorb® HC herbicides in a preharvest application.”
After the publication of this manual, rice and sugar cane are also frequently sprayed preharvest to desiccate or dry out the plants and improve the harvest. The problem is that these Roundup products do not wash off if it rains. Just the opposite, other chemicals in the product, surfactants, enhance penetration of glyphosate inside the kernels or beans to be harvested. So every bite of these conventional non-GMO non organic foods or animal feeds will contain Roundup also.
What’s the problem with Roundup?
The reason there is concern about Roundup-treated crops is that glyphosate has numerous documented negative effects in the human body. Roundup is worse than glyphosate by itself since the surfactants in Roundup allow glyphosate to penetrate deeper into cells across cell membranes in plants, bacteria and animals.
First, glyphosate inhibits enzymes in the shikimate pathway in plants, which is involved in the synthesis (or production) of the aromatic amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan. Monsanto has argued that glyphosate is safe for humans because we don't have a shikimate pathway. This is true, but it is a deceptive statement because our friendly gut bacteria, which exist in our bodies, do have this pathway!
The human body depends on its gut bacteria, or gut microbiome, to supply it with these essential amino acids. They cannot be produced without them. When bacteria are disrupted by glyphosate and produce lower levels of these amino acids the impact is significant:
- Tyrosine is converted into dopamine, then into norepinephrine, and in turn into epinephrine (adrenaline), and melanin. Without a sufficient supply of tyrosine, deficiencies occur in these three neurotransmitters and pigment, and can result in fatigue, obesity, ADD, ADHD, Parkinson's disease and skin cancer.
- Tryptophan is converted into serotonin and melatonin. Without a sufficient supply of tryptophan, deficiencies occur in this neurotransmitter and hormone, and can result in food cravings, obesity, autism, Alzheimer's disease, depression, insomnia and violent behavior.
- If the bacteria have a pathway blocked by glyphosate, their biochemistry shifts into producing toxins including ammonia.
Second, Roundup (or glyphosate) is an organophosphate herbicide which inhibits other major human enzyme pathways: our CYP enzymes. This is a well-known effect of all organophosphate herbicides. The body’s CYtochrome P 450 enzymes detoxify environmental toxins (xenobiotics) and manufacture or modify sterols like vitamin D, cholesterol, cortisol, and sex hormones among other things. When these enzyme functions are compromised by glyphosate it may lead to imbalances in fertility, congenital defects, bile acid production, and detoxification of xenobiotics.
Third, minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and iron bind to glyphosate. Glyphosate functions as a chelator. Plants sprayed with glyphosate are weakened by this and provide fewer minerals to humans or other animals that consume them. Calves and pigs that were still borne or died soon after birth, whose mothers were fed GMO Roundup ready feed, showed severe deficiencies of manganese in autopsy studies. Severe manganese deficiency is not compatible with life. Others believe that glyphosate also binds up consumed minerals in the gut; i.e., the minerals in food or in a mineral supplement never get absorbed ... the glyphosate binds it first.
Fourth, glyphosate is toxic to many of the body’s friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus, E coli and Bacillus species. Pathogenic germs like Salmonella, Pseudomonas, Clostridium difficile (the germ that causes C diff diarrhea) and Clostridium botulinum (which causes botulism) are all resistant to glyphosate so they multiply and may cause illness in the gut and beyond. Glyphosate promotes yeast overgrowth also.
Fifth, Roundup has estrogenic properties. Studies in France by Dr. Seralini in 2013 demonstrated that female rats developed larger numbers of breast tumors sooner when fed GMO corn sprayed with Roundup and non-GMO corn treated with Roundup compared to those who ate conventional non-GMO corn alone. Tumors started to show up in the fourth month. Monsanto had previously studied the exact same strain of rats under similar conditions but only ran the experiment for three months.
which contained the Bt toxin and Roundup ready GMO soy had 25% larger uteruses. True, these are animal studies, but this suggests human studies need to be done and a moratorium on the use of Roundup needs to be considered.
Sixth, Roundup damages human DNA and human cells at very low concentrations. Glyphosate, by itself, damages human DNA and cells at slightly higher concentrations. The surfactants in Roundup help the glyphosate damage the cells at lower concentrations. In one of many studies, human oral mucosal cells, exposed to Roundup in concentrations of >40mg/l (parts per million: ppm), died within 20 minutes. DNA damage occurred after exposure to only 10mg/l (ppm) for 20 minutes. All of these concentrations were 450x below the recommended dilution for spraying in agriculture.
In one of many animal species tested, Roundup exposure at low doses (36 ppm, 36 mg/L) for 30 min induces oxidative stress and activates multiple stress-response pathways in rat testicles leading to Sertoli cell death in young rat testes. These are the cells that produce sperm.
Is glyphosate actually in human beings?
Researchers in Europe determined glyphosate levels in human urine city dwellers in 18 different countries. 44 percent of the urine samples contained glyphosate, and 7 percent of the samples exceeded the reference cutoff for safety. Since participants were city dwellers who had never handled Roundup or herbicides, it is presumed that diet was their primary source of exposure to glyphosate.
While these levels are lower than the toxic levels noted above, they are not trivial.
This seems like a very tiny amount ... until you compare it with estradiol levels in premenopausal women who naturally have 20-280 picograms/ml (parts per trillion) in their blood. And thyroid hormone, freeT4 is 12 picograms/ml. What would we do without these hormones? Tiny amounts count.
What symptoms and illnesses can be attributed to Roundup and glyphosate?
The effects of glyphosate accumulate over time. Most toxicity studies are 90 days long. Three months is standard. This is too short to detect damage with Roundup. Research is starting to make connections. Here are the areas where noticeable correlations have been detected:
Autism—There's no denying the glaring autism epidemic. Consider these statistics: In 1970, only 1 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism. By 2007, it was 1 in 150 children. Only two years after that, it was 1 in 100. Now, the most recent figures from 2013 show 1 in 50.
Not only is it notable that autism diagnoses are increasing along with the growing prevalence of glyphosate usage, it can also be observed that many of the biomarkers for autism—such as disrupted gut bacteria, depleted serotonin and melatonin supplies, sulfur metabolite deficiencies, and zinc and iron deficiencies—are compatible with the damage wreaked by glyphosate.
Digestive Disorders—Toxins like glyphosate can lead to an overgrowth of pathogens in the gut that release toxins. This can lead to inflammatory bowel disease, stomach ulcers, thinning of intestinal walls, Crohn’s disease, colitis, acid reflux disease, gluten and casein intolerance, Celiac disease and leaky gut.
It's no surprise, then, of the increased instances of digestive disorders in children. Over the past several years, there has been a dramatic increase in the hospitalization of children with inflammatory bowel disease. There has also been a 40 percent increase in Crohn’s disease and a 71 percent increase in ulcerative colitis.
Carman’s study in Australia, using pigs raised in the USA showed that GMO-fed female pigs were 2.2 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation; the GMO-fed male pigs were 4 times more likely to develop severe stomach inflammation.
Endocrine Disorders—The disruptions caused by glyphosates are known to lead to problems within the endocrine system. Since the 1970s, there has been a rise in diabetes that correlates closely with the rise in Roundup use. And, as discussed earlier, obesity is a common result of the amino acid depletion that occurs due to glyphosates. Obesity, of course, is a prime risk factor for diabetes.
Infertility is another problem exacerbated by GMOs and, thus, glyphosates. Fertility rates are falling rapidly around the world. While certainly cultural changes play a role in these shifts, many experts believe that glyphosates are contributing to the problem. As noted above numerous studies have shown damage to sperm production in several species. And, in fact, it is well recorded that sperm counts are dropping worldwide.
Even when fertility is achieved, glyphosates create a greater risk of birth defects. Glyphosate can up regulate retinoic acid. This issue with retinoic acid has long been linked to birth defects and anencephaly, a rare and devastating birth defect in which a baby is born without a full brain and skull.
There are counties in Washington State that have an unusually high number of pregnancies affected by anencephaly. The areas where these births are occurring are also where large amounts of Roundup have been used.
Cancer—Glyphosate's endocrine disruption can also promote breast cancer. It possesses estrogenic activity that can cause human hormone dependent breast cancer cells to proliferate.
The Outlook on Roundup
Roundup usage is growing worldwide. Along with it has been an increase in glyphosate-resistant weeds, which leads to an increase in the magnitude and frequency of Roundup applications.
This isn't sustainable. 2, 4 D, a component of Agent Orange is now being considered for better weed control in the next generation of Roundup and 2,4 D ready plants. As the rates of serious diseases and birth defects increase, and as fertility decreases, the survival of the human race is at stake. As it stands now, glyphosate and GMO producers are allowed to continually block research and publication, particularly in the United States. Unlike safety protocols for drugs, there have been no human clinical trials of Roundup.
So, what's the solution?
Ultimately, we need to find a path to sustainable agriculture so that glyphosates can be removed from the market. However, the best thing to do right now is go organic. This is especially true for women who plan to become pregnant. And when you go organic, encourage everyone you know to do the same.
Next month, we will discuss exactly how to reduce your exposure to these toxins and limit the damage from and enhance detoxification of glyphosate in the body using sauna, food and supplements.
Presentation on Harmful Effects of Glyphosate-Roundup®, Dr. Stephanie Seneff at Wellesley College; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqWwhggnbyw