Standing in the produce section of the grocery store, my head is on a swivel, going back and forth between the conventional broccoli and the organic broccoli. The conventional broccoli is half the price and nearly twice as big. What’s the big deal about organic I wondered, is it worth it? Fast forward about 7 years to present present day and this case is officially closed. I remember the questions and confusion that crowded my thoughts in those early days. In order to understand how I came to the conclusion that organic food is very much, indeed, without a shadow of a doubt, worth it, let’s start by exploring what exactly is present in conventional food that is not present in organic food.
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What is Glyphosate?
Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the US. It is used in agriculture and forestry, on lawns and gardens, and for weeds in industrial areas. Glyphosate was first registered for use in the U.S. in 1974 by Monsanto, (the company that also brought us DDT and Agent Orange). Despite Monsanto’s claims that it is safe, and even biodegradable, serious concerns have been raised that link glyphosate to a widening array of chronic conditions. The US consumes 25% of the glyphosate in use.
In 1996, with the advent of GMO “Roundup Ready” crops, the use of glyphosate skyrocketed. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or genetically “engineered” (GE) foods, are live organisms whose genetic components have been artificially manipulated in a laboratory setting through creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and even viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. Now that the pesticide doesn’t kill the plant, they can spray the entire field. Over time the weeds have become resistant to the herbicide, requiring them to use even more.
In May 2013, despite huge opposition, Monsanto was awarded an increase in the permitted tolerance levels of glyphosate residue in crops. Just this week the FDA announced that it was going to begin testing for glyphosate residue in soybeans, corn, milk and eggs, among other potential foods. Prior to this, the FDA has not performed independent tests on whether higher residue levels of glyphosate were dangerous to humans or the environment, instead relying on tests and data provided by Monsanto.
What does it do to our bodies?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer called glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.” It has also been tied to development of antibiotic resistance in common disease-causing bacteria. In addition, there’s a growing body of evidence that it is responsible for hormone disruption, infertility, organ damage and birth defects.
Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior scientist at MIT who has been conducting research there for over three decades, provides a thorough overview of how glyphosate impacts the body.
There are 3 main ways Glyphosate Impacts the Body
1) Interferes with Shikimate Pathway
- The Shikimate Pathway is: metabolic route used by bacteria fungi, algae, parasites and plants for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids. This pathway is not found in humans; however, it is found with the microbes that live within our gut microbiome. The products of this pathway are the essential amino acids.
- Glyphosate harms gut bacteria in the same way that it harms the plant. Especially horrifying is the fact that it seems to primarily affect beneficial bacteria, killing them and allowing pathogens to overgrow.
- These pathogens create excess toxins. Toxins lead to inflammation. Inflammation interferes with communication among the endocrine, central nervous, digestive, and cardiovascular/respiratory systems. Researchers are linking inflammation to a widening array of chronic conditions.
- Gut bacteria out number our human cells 10:1. This makes the Shikimate Pathway pretty important.
- Responsible for disease- diabetes, heart disease, mood swings, digestive issues
- Disrupts bioavailability of folate: Gut microbes are responsible for making folate.
2) Blocks Cytochrome P450 (CYP)
- One of the roles of CYP is to metabolize chemicals and potentially toxic compounds, principally in the liver.
- Glyphosate gets into the cells in the liver and disables CYP and disrupting detox and related to sulfur deficiency
- Impairs: sex hormones, detoxification, vitamin D production, bile acid production
- Associated diseases: obesity, infertility, autism, high LDL cholesterol
3) Chelates Minerals and Promotes Deficiencies
- The human body depends on minerals for a wide variety of functions. The best way to get them is through your diet so that your body can utilize them properly. Minerals in food are more bioavailable than in supplements.
- Glyphosate chelates the minerals in your gut, meaning the gut bacteria cannot access them. This is unfortunate because our gut bacteria need minerals to work properly.
- Glyphosate disrupts the management of manganese, iron, cobalt (cobalamin) and molybdenum, and copper.
For a more in-depth understanding of how this all ties together, I strongly recommend grabbing a cup of (organic) green tea and watching this interview with Dr. Seneff.
How do we avoid Glyphosate?
It’s important to understand that the glyphosate sprayed on conventional and genetically engineered crops actually becomes systemic throughout the plant, so it cannot be washed off. It’s inside the plant.
Moms Across America, frustrated by the lack of education, testing and labeling of GMOs conducted their own national study. Their testing found glyphosate residue in water, urine and even breastmilk. The discovery of levels of glyphosate in breast milk that are much higher than any reported results for urine samples is a great concern. This data suggests that glyphosate is bio-accumulative, building up in the body over a period of time. Researchers in Argentina even found glyphosate residue in sterile gauze, cotton, and tampons.
So truly, the only way to eliminate it from your diet is to avoid conventionally grown foods and processed foods, and to eat as many organic foods as possible. Organic standards do not permit glyphosate. Do not confuse this with labels that say “natural” or “all-natural.” These are NOT regulated, and are often GMO!
This is equally, if not more, important when it comes to meat and other animal products, as factory-farmed animals are typically raised on a GMO diet, and glyphosate has been found in every organ, including the muscles.
GMO “Roundup Ready” crops (so common in processed foods)
- Canola (rapeseed)
- Sugar Beets
Crops heavily sprayed with Glyphosate prior to harvest
- Sugar Cane
- Certain types of Beans
How to detox from glyphosate
The problem is that glyphosate accumulates throughout your body and it can be difficult to get out. While charcoal has shown some effectiveness in animals, it remains unclear just how efficacious it might be for humans.
Dr. Seneff recommends routinely soaking in magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) baths as a means to detox and increase sulfur in the body. She suggests using ½ cup in really hot water and soaking for twenty minutes. This is preferred over taking a sulfur supplement (such as chondroitin sulfate) because it can be absorbed through the skin and bypass your gut mucosa.
What we know for sure- It is much harder to reverse the damage once it’s done, so avoid glyphosate from the start—especially in your child’s diet.
An interview with Jeffrey Smith, author of Genetic Roulette and Seeds of Deception: https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/interview-jeffrey-smith-gm-food-safety