The herbicide known as Roundup is raising a lot of concern. This started with a lawsuit that ruled in favor of a man who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of exposure to RoundUp. In addition, more lawsuits are underway (1). The court stated that the company (Monsanto) failed to inform consumers of the carcinogenic effects of chemicals found in the herbicide and awarded the man a sizeable compensation.
Exposure to RoundUp is concerning the general public, especially because this herbicide is common to both farms and individual households. Los Angeles County chose to ban the use of RoundUp until the Public Health Department releases more information.
Should we worry? What can we do to protect ourselves?
What is in RoundUp?
Health problems link to the active ingredient in RoundUp, called glyphosate. Glyphosate non-selectively kills most plants by blocking an essential enzyme (EPSP synthase) that is in plants and bacteria.
Since glyphosate seems to only work on plants and bacteria, it was thought to be harmless to humans and wildlife. Some claims suggest it to be minimally toxic to humans and to be naturally degraded by bacteria in the soil. However, numerous studies are linking it to health problems including non-Hodgkins lymphoma and leaky gut.
The Growing Concern
Growing research is beginning to debunk the claim that glyphosate only affects plants and bacteria. For example, some claims state that it binds strongly to soil, which prevents too much of it from being washed into water systems. However, research has debunked this claim. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), both glyphosate and AMPA (a metabolite and product of its degradation) can runoff into water systems (2).
The chemical can find its way into both food and water being used by humans, which is concerning. According to a 2017 study, glyphosate can damage tight-junctions of the gut lining which increases its permeability- also known as leaky gut (3). Leaky gut is a condition in which both bacteria and toxins can leak through the intestinal wall into the body. As a result, it can cause inflammation and contribute to health problems.
Is It Safe?
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has stated that more research is underway to determine the herbicide’s safety (4). “We are testing the potential genetic and mechanistic toxicity, and will also examine the published scientific literature for data on the effects of glyphosate on non-cancer outcomes.” Thus, while many studies link glyphosate to health problems, other studies claim otherwise.
What Can We Do?
It seems almost impossible to get away from glyphosate. Plants absorb the chemical, which means it cannot be washed off produce. USDA Organic certified foods (grown without pesticides or fossil fertilizers) should be the focus of any meal.
In certain foods, there is now a “glyphosate residue free” label which should help ease anxiety over this chemical. In conclusion, while research regarding its safety is not definitive, it is good to limit products with potential contamination.
- “2nd US Jury Finds Roundup Weed Killer Caused Cancer.” ABC News, ABC News Network, abcnews.go.com/Health/us-jury-finds-roundup-weed-killer-caused-cancer/story?id=61809259.
- “Glyphosate and AMPA in Drinking-water.” https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/glyphosateampa290605.pdf. World Health Organization (WHO), Mon. 8 Apr. 2019.
- Gildea, John J, et al. “Protective Effects of Lignite Extract Supplement on Intestinal Barrier Function in Glyphosate-Mediated Tight Junction Injury.” Journal of Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics, vol. 03, no. 01, 2017, doi:10.4172/2472-1921.100035.
- “Glyphosate & Glyphosate Formulations.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ntp.niehs.nih.gov/results/areas/glyphosate/index.html.