Recently a patient asked whether toxins we find on urine testing really make a difference in human health. A friend was challenging her and challenging the work of the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) demonstrating the myriad effects of the industrial age chemicals contributing to chronic disease. I am accustomed to such challenges from people like her friend who mostly have good intentions, thinking they are protecting others from dubious claims about environmental toxicities. Assuming her friend has no ulterior motives nor conflicts of interest (like working for a company that produces the chemicals), today’s article offers a mechanism by which glyphosate, also known as Roundup, may affect our gut microbiome and thus human health.
Glyphosate was hailed as a safe herbicide with its introduction to the world due to the belief that it affects only plants’ metabolism and leaves humans’ alone. This modification of the amino acid glycine interferes in the shikimate pathway of plant metabolism which produces the aromatic amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine. Animals do not possess this pathway and were believed to remain unaffected.
The problem lies in that we have discovered a whole world of bacteria living in our GI tract that possess metabolic pathways different than ours and sometimes similar to plants’. These bacteria provide many services to our bodies, from digestion to detoxification. Scientists are constantly discovering new connections between these microbial neighbors and human health.
Researchers at the University of Turku report in this article that genetic testing suggests that 12 to 26 percent of our gut microbiome may be susceptible to the effects of glyphosate. They looked at 101 common strains of bacteria in the human colon and found that 54% of these contained gene sequences likely making them susceptible to this herbicide. They further looked at which bacteria were more common and in higher numbers in the GI tract to get the 12-26% estimate for any given person’s microbiome.
They noted that 4 of the 10 most common human gut bacteria were sensitive to glyphosate: Faecalibacterium prausnitzii SL3-3; Bacteroides vulgatus ATCC 8482; Bacteroides uniformis and Bacteroides sp. 9 1 42FAA. Another four were resistant: Dorea formicigenerans; Clostridium sp. SS2-1; Eubacterium hallii; Coprococcus comes. Given our understanding that typical antibiotics such as those taken for bacterial infections significantly alter our microbiomes, we can safely assume that ongoing ingestion of glyphosate on foods could alter our microbiome as well.
As researchers uncover more and more connections between gut bacteria and our health, understanding the effects of environmental chemicals on these bacteria is crucial for the health of every living human. Yes, we can adapt and have adapted to environmental changes through human history However, we can also look back in history and see that many civilizations died off due to their own self-poisoning of water supplies and other environmental situations. Eventually, our ability to adapt and our microbiome’s ability to adapt will snap, leaving us to suffer the ill effects.
Before that happens, we need to listen to scientists who are raising alarms about potential dangers of environmental toxicities. We must also keep in mind another link my patient shared with me. The Medscape article linked at the end reviewed several medical discoveries which were initially ridiculed and dismissed by the medical community before later winning out as reality. Time will prove that glyphosate may be non-toxic to human cells, yet toxic to human through these bacterial neighbors which we depend on. Helping our patients live healthier more abundant lives requires open minds and diligent research. Patients deserve the whole story.
Lyydia Leino, Tuomas Tall, Marjo Helander, Irma Saloniemi, Kari Saikkonen, Suvi Ruuskanen, Pere Puigb�. Classification of the glyphosate target enzyme (5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase) for assessing sensitivity of organisms to the herbicide. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 2020; 124556 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.124556
Thanks to Science Daily:
University of Turku. “Glyphosate may affect human gut microbiota.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201120095858.htm>.
Medical Breakthroughs That Were Initially Ridiculed or Rejected by Gabriel Miller, November 19, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2020. https://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/medical-breakthroughs
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.