By definition, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides are chemicals designed to kill living things – many are known or suspected carcinogens and most have not been tested for their health effects on children. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer, is the most widely used herbicide in the United States and has been popular in the agricultural field for decades. Glyphosate is effective at killing weeds and grass. How does glyphosate kill weeds? It stops a specific enzyme pathway, the shikimate pathway, which is necessary for plants and some microorganisms. When the shikimate pathway is inhibited, the plants die. The makers of Roundup, Monsanto, have argued glyphosate is harmless to humans because our cells don’t have the shikimate pathway. However, our gut bacteria DO have this pathway, and we depend on these bacteria for good health and more.
History of Glyphosate
Glyphosate has three separate patents, each for a different use.
Patent #1 in 1964: a metal chelator used to clean or descale commercial boilers and pipes. Glyphosate binds to and removes minerals such as manganese, zinc and cobalt that are vital to human and animal health.
Patent #2 in 1974: Monsanto filed this patent as an herbicide (glyphosate) to kill plants by disrupting the shikimate pathway.
Patent #3 in 2010: Monsanto filed a third patent on glyphosate as an antibiotic, which kills beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Genetically Engineered Food Crops in the US
The introduction of genetically modified "Roundup Ready" crops allowed farmers to spray large amounts of the herbicide on their fields without killing the crops. Food crops were created to withstand its active ingredient, glyphosate. When Roundup is sprayed, the food crops lives but all other bugs die. More than 90% of all soybean, cotton, corn and sugarbeet crops in the United States are genetically modified crops, and other popular and approved genetically modified crops include alfalfa, canola, papaya and summer squash.
How Much Glyphosate Has Been Applied?
The amount of Roundup sprayed has dramatically increased. To date: approximately 2.3 million tons in the US and over 10 million tons worldwide!
The early promise was this: using glyphosate would lead to a reduction in herbicide use, but the opposite has happened. Glyphosate use has actually increased 50-fold since 1996 and helped spawn 60 million acres of “superweeds” on farmland across the country. Farmers must use more and more glyphosate on the same corn crop they normally would have used, which has increased exposure to us.
Health Impact of Glyphosate
Liver Toxicity and Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Inhibition of cytochrome P450 enzymes, which are crucial in liver detoxification processes.
Decimates the gut microbiome by disrupting the shikimate pathway, causing a decrease in the ratio of beneficial to harmful bacteria.
Disruption of sulfur metabolism, glutathione deficiency and impaired methylation pathways.
Binds to important minerals so the body can’t utilize them (iron, cobalt, manganese; remember, glyphosate was patented as a mineral chelator). Manganese deficiency leads to impaired mitochondrial function and glutamate toxicity in the brain.
It’s an endocrine disruptor in human cells (aka: xenoestrogen).
Interferes with synthesis of aromatic amino acids and methionine, which leads to shortages in critical neurotransmitters and folate.
Inhibition of pituitary release of thyroid stimulating hormone (aka: hypothyroidism).
How Does Glyphosate Exposure Occur?
By eating foods that have been sprayed with glyphosate (aka: Roundup), especially conventional fruits and vegetables.
Absorbing glyphosate through the skin (ie: spraying Roundup in your yard and on your crops).
Eating foods that contain any one of these genetically modified (GMO) foods: soybean, cotton, corn and sugar beets. Those foods have been sprayed with glyphosate.
Just because it says non-GMO doesn’t mean it’s free of glyphosate. Glyphosate is used on wheat crops, oats, and legumes. These crops are not GMO, but farmers and companies use glyphosate to quickly dry the crops days before processing it. They spray it as a pre-harvest drying agent!
Drinking wine is a common exposure to glyphosate, particularly wine from California.
Drinking water contaminated with glyphosate.
Unfortunately, glyphosate is ubiquitous and virtually everywhere in the food chain. It has shown up in farm animals because they’re often fed GMO corn and then we eat their meat (ie: cattle, hogs, turkeys, chickens), eggs, honey and infant formula.
What About Glyphosate in “Healthy” & “Natural” Foods?
Wheat is not GMO, and oats are not GMO, legumes are not GMO, yet glyphosate is still testing alarmingly high in both organic and conventional food products containing these ingredients. Why is this? It’s because companies use glyphosate as a crop desiccant. This means its used to quickly dry the crops days before processing them. They literally spray glyphosate as a pre-harvest drying agent! Insane and gross!
Example #1: General Mills removes ‘100% Natural’ label from Nature Valley granola bars after glyphosate lawsuit.
Example #2: Bob’s Red Mill faces class action lawsuit over glyphosate weedkiller contamination.
Example #3: California consumer sues Quaker Oats over glyphosate contamination. Seventeen of their products tested positive for glyphosate.
Example #4: Panera Bread faces lawsuit after glyphosate contamination in certain bread products and sandwiches is revealed.
Example #5: Monsanto’s glyphosate found in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Example #6: Glyphosate found in all 5 major orange juice brands.
The acceptable daily intake for glyphosate in Europe is 0.3 mg/kg/day. Guess what it is in the United States? 1.75 mg/kg/day. FDA has increased this minimum exposure ~20-fold over the years.
What Can We Do to Limit Exposure to Glyphosate?
Eating an organic diet will decrease immediate exposure.
Must remove the food source if exposure is long term.
Glyphosate is not easily washed off fruits/vegetables. It’s absorbed into every one of a plant’s cells.
Avoid eating GMO foods, which are directly contaminated with glyphosate.
Avoid animal products such as milk or meat in which GMO foods were used to feed the animals.
Whenever possible, buy organic fruit and vegetables. At the very least, purchase organic for any food listed on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list.
Boycott spraying Roundup and other similar products on anything around your house (ie: yard & garden).
Petition to ban Roundup weed killer in parks and on playgrounds.
There are water filters and filtration systems on the market that can remove or reduce pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosate from your drinking water. The more effective water filters are the “under the counter” models that use reverse osmosis.
How to Support Normal Detoxification Processes?
Glyphosate doesn’t leave your body very easy, so ensuring your detoxifying organs are in tip-top shape is crucial.
Eat organic, GMO-free foods.
Sweat. Use of any type of sauna for sweating out toxin. At least 20 minutes heavy sweating; 1-5 times a week.
Drink a lot of clean, filtered water.
Increase your intake of fiber.
Take a liver-supporting supplement that promotes normal detoxification. I love Uckele DIM-X, which contains so many of the important nutrients necessary for detoxification processes.
Consume probiotic foods and probiotic supplements to repopulate the microbiota which glyphosate destroys.
Consume sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower.
Because glyphosate is so pervasive it will be important to incorporate foods into your diet that help your body detoxify. This may entail making lifestyle choices that you can and are willing to do on a daily basis for the long term. There are specific kinds of foods that help your body detoxify. Here’s a list of 20 detoxifying foods you can incorporate into your diet and lifestyle. I also enjoy using organic green drink powders that contain detox and liver supporting greens.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods