Glyphosate linked to microbial dysbiosis and intestinal disease
Glyphosate-based herbicides may be to blame for the rise in cases of celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Though the proponents of glyphosate have always maintained that it has no effect on human and animal cells, an ever-increasing amount of research suggests that the herbicide inhibits the healthy microbial flora, including microbes needed to properly digest gluten. These claims are compelling because there appears to be a correlation in the last few decades between the increased use of glyphosate and the increase in gluten-related disease. (1)
Though glyphosate was first synthesized in 1950, the herbicide didn’t see widespread commercial use until the 1990’s when the agrochemical company Monsanto brought “Round Up Ready” seeds to the industrial agriculture market. These seeds were genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, which allowed farmers to easily increase crop yield through weed control and pre-harvest desiccation. Due to its remarkable effectiveness, glyphosate became the most widely used herbicide in the world.(2) In Europe, in 2017, the EU granted a five year provisional approval for glyphosate that expires in December of this year. (7) Unfortunately more than half of the corn, soy, wheat, and oat crops in the US are sprayed with glyphosate. The WHO has deemed this chemical as a “probable carcinogen.” (9)
While glyphosate is not directly toxic to human and animal cells, it can disrupt the metabolism of some microbes which can, in turn, be a possible cause of gastrointestinal disease. Critical probiotic flora like Lactobacilli, Enterococci and Bifidobacteria are susceptible to this disruption, and harmful pathogens like Salmonella and Clostridia are highly resistant. Studies on bees, fish, rats, pigs, cattle, and poultry have all shown that exposure to glyphosate can cause microbiome dysbiosis as healthy gut flora is inhibited. (3,4)
The effects of this dysbiosis manifested similar conditions to the symptoms of celiac disease (CD) in humans. Diarrhea is a symptom in only one third of adults; more likely is arthritis, fatigue, anemia, bone loss, anxiety, depression and others.(8) Cases of CD have skyrocketed in recent history alongside the increased usage of glyphosate (see the chart below). While some attribute this alarming rise in CD cases to improved diagnostic screening, others find the correlation between the herbicide and the disease too compelling to ignore. Studies of CD have shown that the condition emerges from the same kind of dysbiosis observed in the animal studies, and that the condition can be improved if probiotics are allowed to flourish. Conversely, it has been proven that glyphosate suppresses healthy gut flora. Therefore, whether or not CD is directly caused by glyphosate, it is clear than the herbicide can cause serious harm to human digestion. (1)
Avoiding exposure to glyphosate is easier said than done. Switching to an organic diet can help, because the use of glyphosate is prohibited in organic agriculture. Detoxifying binders such as activated charcoal, humic acid, and the plant extract berberine have shown promise in removing residual glyphosate from human tissue. Probiotic supplements including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli may suppress the growth of harmful pathogens and improve overall digestive health, especially when supplemented with a variety healthy prebiotic fibers. (5,6)
Though much of the agricultural industry still defends glyphosate as harmless to humans, these studies that highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome should not be ignored.
By Mark PruettPerformance Studies Technician