Glyphosate - the latest data on its harmful effects
I’ve just attended a Functional Medicine Detoxification Workshop, covering the latest science on all-things toxins, toxic chemicals, and the importance of detoxification. And no surprise, the subject of glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used pesticide, was extensively covered.
So, I thought I’d share the joys of the latest glyphosate research with you, if for no other reason but to reiterate the importance of choosing organic feeds for our horses over non-organic. Forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is power, etc etc …
* Bear in mind as you read this that it’s all based on human research as of course, equine studies are right at the bottom of the pecking order. That said, everything here can be directly related to equine health, and I mention as such as we go through.
... and let’s start with one particular statistic on glyphosate which is pretty grim – for starters, a whopping 9-billion litres of the stuff are poured onto our planet each year. Yes you read that right – 9-billion litres. I can’t even imagine what 9-billion litres looks like, other than mind-bogglingly huge.
The evidence against the use of glyphosate keeps mounting, yet it’s still legally drenching the world’s food supply. Studies have already linked glyphosate to cancer, endocrine disruption, infertility, immune dysfunction, liver and kidney damage, as well as disruption of the microbiome. We’ve also witnessed an unprecedented rise in autism, food allergies, digestive disorders, and reproductive issues, with GM foods believed to be contributory to the diabetes and obesity problems in the population, now seen at epidemic levels. And it’s not only harming mammalian health, but it’s also destroying our ecosystems.
If you look at US stats, the US represents only 4% of the world’s population yet they use 20% of the world’s supply of glyphosate, so the US is getting a lot more exposure than people elsewhere in the world. They have the highest exposure, per person, of any country in the world. One of the FM practitioners I follow, who like me focuses on only eating organic food and avoiding GMO, had his blood urine glyphosate levels checked for fun, and was horrified to record a 50th percentile positive glyphosate reading in his body.
Whether we like it or not, glyphosate is out there and there’s nothing we can do to avoid it. All of us – horses, dogs, humans - are getting sick as a consequence of it. FM practitioners consider it as the major driver behind the rise in the huge list of human diseases, from diabetes, obesity, autism, dementia, and numerous cancers. They’re all rising dramatically, exactly in step with the rise of glyphosate usage on our core food crops.
A Senior Research Scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr Seneff is beyond qualified, with a bachelor’s degree in Biology with a minor in Food and Nutrition Science; a master’s degree, an engineer’s degree, and a PhD degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Her recent focus has been on the role of toxic chemicals and micronutrient deficiencies in health and disease, with a special emphasis on glyphosate. Since 2008, she’s written over three dozen peer-reviewed journal papers on these topics, and now she’s published a new book on glyphosate titled Toxic Legacy: How the Weedkiller Glyphosate is Destroying Our Health and the Environment. As an MIT scientist, she’s no quack with whacky assumptions based on fringe thinking – what she says is based on evidence-based science.
It makes for powerful eye-opening reading as she gives us a current, in-depth look at the very real dangers of glyphosate for our health and our planet. We’re already becoming aware of how powerful the microbiome is for affecting health – you all know I bang on about it enough already 😉 - but it’s now clear that glyphosate directly damages the microbiome’s beneficial bacteria by disrupting the shikimate pathway, which is a metabolic process found in plants and bacteria - which includes the bacteria in human and animal gut microbiomes - responsible for producing certain amino acids that are important for not only gene expression but the endocrine system, which produces all the hormones that control and regulate all the major functions and processes of the body. Without them, we’re completely screwed.
Glyphosate also depletes glutathione, our body’s naturally produced master antioxidant by the liver, and an absolute cornerstone of our biology. Glutathione dramatically impacts our sulphur, methylation, and detoxification pathways that have many essential roles for our health.
To make matters worse, it actually makes other chemicals - that we consume because we need them - more toxic because we’re less able to process and eliminate them.
First up, a reminder that glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, and is the most prevalent agrochemical weed-killer used worldwide. It’s on 70% of all crops worldwide, it’s been around for over half a century, and it’s caused havoc to our health, our planet, our soil, our environment, our own microbiomes.
In the early ’60s, it was actually used - and originally patented - as a ‘metal peeler’, to clean old leaded pipes and all the gunk out of water pipes. But, as it came out the other end of those pipes, it started killing all the weeds.
Ding! Light-bulb moment. And here’s where Monsanto got involved. “What a brilliant weed killer,” they said, and patented it without checking whether it was safe to use.
It hit the American market in the mid-70’s but it wasn’t used that much until the late 1990s, which was when they figured out how to engineer crops to resist it – cue GMO - while killing all the weeds around them. This was agriculture’s Big Breakthrough, and Boom! Cue one huge increase in its use, and since then its usage growth has been phenomenal because it’s so effective - simply spray it all over the crop, the crop doesn’t die, but the surrounding weeds do. Glyphosate not only became very convenient for agriculture … it also made our food cheap.
There’s another book, Silent Spring, written by Rachel Carson, published back in 1962. An environment science book, it documented the adverse environmental effects caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Ms Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting the industry's marketing claims unquestioningly.
She also talked a lot about birth defects, and this is when people started to really talk about them.
Glyphosate is so chemically toxic that it completely destroys the microbiome of the soil – 50-years ago a carrot had 70% more magnesium than a carrot of today. And there’s a knock-on effect because when we then eat food that has been sprayed with glyphosate, the chemical residue destroys our own microbiome, which is very much at the heart of linking all the diseases we now see rising in prevalence today. The current thinking is that it seems to directly impact our microbiome by killing off our protective immunity engine in ways that prevent it from actually protecting us the way it’s supposed to from disease.
With the number of research papers on the microbiome increasing by the day, especially in the last decade, we’re now starting to learn how vital the gut microbes are, because these days they’re not functioning as they should, doing the job they’re meant to, with all these serious health syndromes tracing back to microbiome disruption, and it all starts from birth and drinking milk.
Glyphosate, unfortunately, preferentially kills the beneficial bacteria, and this is the crucial factor, as in the human body it kills off two of the essential friendly human microbes, lactobacillus* and bifidobacterial. Lactobacillus is especially important because it’s rich in digestive enzymes that specialise in breaking down casein, the milk protein. Which means, when these enzymes are missing, the newborn can’t digest milk.
So, because we now have a disrupted microbiome where the beneficial bacteria are weak and depleted, the pathogen microbes induce a leaky, inflammatory gut, which creates a leaky gut wall membrane, through which those undigested milk proteins leak into the bloodstream. Cue autoantibodies which leads to immunodeficiency, autoimmune disease, and a shedload of consequences starting with casein intolerance. Everything starts to go downhill from here.
Glyphosate is now thought to be directly responsible for increasing this widespread phenomenon of leaky gut, damaging the immune system and creating a systemic response of inflammation. And all the many typical human diseases such as cancer, liver disease, autism, heart disease, diabetes – they’re all inflammatory diseases.
It’s now even being played out in the courts – over 14,000 lawsuits have been filed against glyphosate, with billions in settlements against Monsanto, and now Bayer who bought out Monsanto; a huge agrochemical company, the same company that makes Aspirin. Bayer seem to have bought Monsanto when it was undergoing a lot of lawsuits and took on a huge risk, and yet they seem to be okay with it.
And specifically, how is the evidence mounting up around how it’s connected to these various diseases? *Top TIp - bit of a Science Alert coming up 😉
When we consume mineral nutrients in the diet, glyphosate binds to those minerals so makes them unrecognisable, hence unavailable, to the gut microbes. This is the starting block on how it begins to impact disruption of the gut function.
Now let’s introduce the Shikimate pathway – this pathway exclusively exists in plants and microorganisms, i.e. bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae et al, which are found in the human and animal gut microbiome. This pathway is the central metabolic route leading to the formation of three of our very well known, and vitally important, amino acid proteins - tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine, known as the ‘aromatic’ amino acids. These three amino acids are essential for a calm, balanced state of homeostasis, essential for our endocrine hormone-producing system because they're the precursors, as in 'converted into', many vital hormones. Us humans - and animals, so our horses and dogs - depend upon getting these from our microbe production of them.
The glyphosate connection? It disables the Shikimate pathway by hitting on a particular enzyme, called EPSP synthase, which converts simple carbohydrates into the three aromatic amino acids, and certain vitamins, including the B-complex.. A study showed 54% of the microbes would be affected with the Shikimate pathway getting disrupted, which directly affects their production.
These three proteins in their amino acid form are really critical for our hormone-balancing health:
Long and short, being exposed to glyphosate detrimentally affects the gut microbiome bacteria that prevents the body functioning the way it’s supposed to. If the amino acid production is being depleted, the hormones are getting disrupted. If the body’s deficient in B-vit production, which are also crucial for metabolism, this disrupts the cellular mitochondria which now means that the body's going to struggle to make energy.
Many published papers have shown that glyphosate also causes depletion of glutathione, the body’s own self-produced master antioxidant, and a critical molecule for regulating inflammation and detoxifying – glutathione is considered to be the centre of our biology. By causing glutathione to become oxidized, this brings on oxidative stress.
We’re now seeing so many people taking glutathione as a supplement, and/or taking N-Acetyl Cysteine which is a precursor to glutathione (I personally take NAC on a daily basis). Methionine is the core essential sulphur-containing amino acid, and a precursor to cysteine. You've guessed it - glyphosate disrupts methionine synthesis so it prevents the gut microbes from producing methionine from sulphur so this gives you, yet again, another amino acid deficiency.
Scientists are now looking hard at the data, and with the huge rise in different cancers that are going up dramatically, particularly pancreatic, thyroid, liver and kidney, the thinking is that because cancer evolves out of mitochondrial dysfunction, glyphosate is thought to be a not-to-be-ignored causative factor. Studies have shown that it enhances other chemicals’ effects that could lead to cancer, as in a secondary effect.
There are also studies that have shown that glyphosate causes cancer cells, specifically breast cancer cells, in vitro, to proliferate when they’re exposed to even extremely tiny levels, i.e. in parts per trillion. So is it all connected?
Of course it’s a much more complex picture than this, but long and short, it’s all about an extremely unusual mechanism of toxicity. Basically, if we can even be basic here, the science is showing is that glyphosate disrupts the digestive enzymes so chemicals can’t get processed down the assembly line of detoxification, so then those chemicals become much more toxic than they would otherwise be, because it disrupts the liver’s ability to detoxify them. And, of course, disrupted glutathione production is part of that problem.
All the steps taken by the liver to convert a toxin into something less toxic, get interrupted by glyphosate. The body will try to do everything in its power to compensate, but it can only compensate for so long.
In other words, glyphosate destroys mammalian health via many different routes and mechanisms. One chemical, causing all these problems.
We’re now getting second and third generation effects showing up because it’s been around since the ‘60s/70s. It’s in our soil, water and air – it’s even in our rain. A recent study in Brazil even found nanoparticles of glyphosate in the atmosphere over the Amazon rainforest.
Then there’s the subject of biofuels – it’s now thought that they may be introducing glyphosate into the air in cities where they’re being burned. There’s also ethanol/bioethanol coming from GMO Roundup-Ready corn and sugar crops sprayed with glyphosate right before the harvest, so it’s in the atmosphere.
Monsanto continue to tell us it’s dormant for just two weeks then it’s gone, but this is all part of the Big Lie. One study showed that after two years, 60% of it was still there. It also stays in our oceans if it gets deep where there’s no sunlight, because sunlight can help break it down.
It’s even involved in playing a major role in the crisis we’re seeing with carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, because it kills off a plant enzyme (rubisco) that’s essential for converting carbon dioxide into organic matter, so it’s preventing the plants from capturing the carbon dioxide in the air and putting it into the soil, which is a crucial process to avoid a carbon-release global warming effect from these greenhouse gases.
I could go on and on, but I think we all get the picture - thing is, changing our agriculture to a more regenerative system that doesn’t need all this toxic poison isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Phasing out Roundup-Ready seeds and the use of agrochemicals to improve the nutritional density of the crops? Not Likely … not while there’s huge profits to be made.
There are, however, some brave little countries who have managed to ban glyphosate completely. Bermuda has banned it since 2015 – their focus is their coral and they want to protect it. Sri Lanka and El Salvador banned it sometime ago, on and off apparently, due to kidney failure among agricultural workers that were exposed to it. And Mexico just declared last year that they’re going to phase glyphosate out by 2024, as well as GMO corn, which is huge for a country where corn is pretty much the nation’s staple food – Go Mexico!
Some European countries have been trying to ban it - Austria banned it, or at least passed the law to ban it, but the EU basically said Non, then took control so that individual European countries couldn’t make individual decisions. Someone somewhere must be buying off the Environmental Working Group because they’ve now taken a backseat saying it’s safe and not an issue. And surprise-surprise - emails have since been discovered under the Freedom of Information Act in a lawsuit, that found the Trump administration emailing Bayer saying, “Don’t worry, we’ve got your back on glyphosate.”
Clearly, glyphosate is a toxin we don’t want to mess with, and this may seem like a sour note to end on, but again forewarned is forearmed etc etc. It appears that Bayer have now come up with a new compound called LibertyLink, which is another herbicide that they (apparently) want to replace glyphosate with. Already it’s starting to be used all over America and spreading globally. Also known as Glufosinate, it’s an amino acid analogue of glutamate. And, of course, glutamate is a major player in autism, where there’s excess glutamate in the brain causing neuro-excitotoxicity. Glufosinate is not good news.
... because it’s almost impossible to find a place where it isn’t hiding. This is a huge question, especially when it comes to our horses because first up, being near fields where it’s being sprayed means we’re going to be affected because we’re all breathing glyphosate. Second, glyphosate-sprayed crops are in just about every feedbag in our feed merchants that we buy to feed our horses. And third, there's no question that it's all about the gut microbiome.
So, what can we do? Knowing that it disrupts so many of the body’s key systems, mitochondria, energy, the immune system, the microbiome, hormones, oxidative stress, the detoxification pathways – first up, what can us humans eat, what supplements can we take, what can we do to help us reduce our glyphosate levels? Unless we’ve got a home sauna, with current Covid restrictions at our health spas we can’t sweat it out. And a wheatgrass enema is possibly a step too far in my book. Made from organic spelt seeds of course ...
While we may not be able to get rid of our body’s glyphosate load completely, we can reduce our exposure by eating organic. Sunlight/vitamin D is extremely useful for improving immune function, and we can make sure we boost the glutathione pathway with milk thistle and N-Acetyl Cysteine, take methylated B-vitamins and eat lots of really healthy, certified organic foods.
Also, fermented foods and drinks such as sauerkraut and kimchi, kombucha and kefir, are thought to help metabolise glyphosate. And don't forget ACV, wonderful for both us and our horses. Take Epsom salt baths - and give our horses an Epsom salt wash - to replenish magnesium levels. We also know a whole lot more these days about how to help the body detoxify.
For our horses, I'm going to bang the 'Why what we feed has to be right' drum again, all covered in the page on this website. We simply must move away from the feedbowl brands that use wheat/wheatfeed, soya, beet, etc etc etc, in their feeds, and only feed what a horse's gut has evolved over millions of millenia to eat, as in grass forage, aka a grass forage nut, pellet, cob, call it what you will.
As for supplements, I'm not here to twist anyone's arm to use us for herbs, but we really are all about certified organic - having watched my entire herd's health collapse in front of me due to their environment and feed back in the day, feeding only organic became my absolute passion and mantra.
Our herbs are organic, our gels are organic, our new tincture range is organic, and we don't use synthetic minerals in our EquiVita range. With the best will in the world I don't know of any other company out there that uses only organic herbs for their supplements, other than a few saying organic is 'used wherever possible', when it's clearly not. We give you peace of mind proof with certification documents - can they?
Other than that, maybe let's factor in a whole big chunk of positive thinking, because if glyphosate does get banned, we can fix the soil, grow healthy food, and then be healthy ourselves and reduce healthcare costs. What’s not to love about that?
*Note that lactobacillus isn’t a friendly microbe in the equine microbiome, far from it – all covered in our Gut System section.