Several headlines keep popping up on my Facebook feed about glyphosate and Monsanto, describing lawsuits and health threats. Of course, Facebook has studied my interests and understands that I am likely to click on such links. However, Science Daily has bested Facebook by providing a deeper potential explanation for the detrimental health effects of pesticides. One simple word may explain how the final products may out-poison the originally tested ingredients: adjuvants.
Adjuvants are accessory chemicals which do not necessarily produce the primary effect, yet in some manner augment the primary effector. In vaccines, adjuvants magnify the immune response to the microbial particle. In industry, engineers use catalysts to intensify or speed up chemical reactions. Little did I realize that pesticides utilize similar principles until I read this article.
I would need to investigate the details of regulations surrounding adjuvants further, but if these authors are correct, a huge gap exists in the approval of pesticides we use. They contend that the primary ingredients are tested for safety but that the adjuvants are not held to the same standards before being combined into the sold product. Their article expresses concerns that adjuvants are not evaluated with an acceptable daily intake limit nor monitored in “dietary assessments of pesticide residues”.
The authors focus attention on glyphosate and a class of neonicotinoid insecticides potentially related to bee colony collapse. Even when studied as individual ingredients, there remains concern that studies do not adequately predict health effects on humans (1). The adjuvants are often considered inert, but may worsen the toxic effects of the active ingredient. For glyphosate, the adjuvant poly-ethylated tallow amine increases the penetration into plant cells. These adjuvants can also protect the active ingredients from degradation. Other adjuvants may include chemicals that allow greater spreading of the agent or great sticking of the agent or chemicals that prevent its drifting away. Even diesel fuel and kerosene may be added as agent to prevent foaming in the spray tank during application (2).
These adjuvants not only increase the absorption of the primary chemical into the target, but also into the plants they are intended to protect. This has been shown for “atrazine, alachlor, and trifluralin to their commercial formulations Aatrex, Lasso, and Treflan” (3).
The article continues with more scientific facts and figures as well as comparing the science with the regulations currently in place. At times, the regulations were established with now outdated understanding of the mechanisms while science has uncovered more connections pertinent to human health.
For the most part, the authors emphasize the bigger issue. Many if not most toxicologic studies evaluate single active ingredients, but infrequently consider the final product which includes multiple adjuvants. The combined effect of several chemicals, each below their acceptable limit, has been shown over and over to have deleterious effects.
In caring for our chronically ill patients from a whole person, functional approach, we look broadly how a little of this and a little of that on top of a little of something else may add up to a toxic storm in their bodies. To restore both patients and our environment to a healthier more abundant condition, we need not only functional medicine doctors but functional environmentalists who are willing and able to think broadly.
Robin Mesnage, Michael N. Antoniou. Ignoring Adjuvant Toxicity Falsifies the Safety Profile of Commercial Pesticides. Frontiers in Public Health, 2018; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2017.00361
- European Environment Agency. Late Lessons from Early Warnings: Science, Precaution, Innovation. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union (2013). 760 p.
- Nobels I, Spanoghe P, Haesaert G, Robbens J, Blust R. Toxicity ranking and toxic mode of action evaluation of commonly used agricultural adjuvants on the basis of bacterial gene expression profiles. PLoS One (2011) 6(11):e24139. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024139
- Brand RM, Mueller C. Transdermal penetration of atrazine, alachlor, and trifluralin: effect of formulation. Toxicol Sci (2002) 68(1):18–23. doi:10.1093/toxsci/68.1.18
Thanks to Science Daily:
Frontiers. “Commercial pesticides: Not as safe as they seem.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 March 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180308120621.htm>.