Hey Cowboy, Is It Roundup Time?

We hope not.

Good old Fred Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Since we’re quoting people, check out Will Rogers’ aphorism, “It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble; it's what we know that ain't so.”  Truth is really not that elusive…if you know where to look.

At your age, you’ve probably heard of an herbicide called Roundup®. Entities and agencies with greater clout than we have would like you to believe that this glyphosate herbicide is as safe as can be. Yeah, that’s what Snow White thought about the apple. Eve, too. You know, Adam’s girl.

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum, non-selective systemic herbicide that is oneof the most widely used in the world. California alone uses almost five millionpounds of it a year. Monsanto brought it to market in the 1970’s, announcingits low toxicity compared to other herbicides. That’s tantamount to saying thatdiesel fumes are less noxious than carbon monoxide from your car. Well, now,there have been experiments with animals that demonstrate comparative low toxicitywith the chemical itself, but the additive ingredients, the surfactants (wettingagents that reduce the surface tension of a liquid, making it “wetter”) are anotherstory. Even the New York AG’s office disapproved of Monsanto’s advertisementthat Roundup® is environmentally friendly and biodegradable (Agrow, 1996).

It is essential to know that animals, namely murine mammals, can be bred to have body systems that mimic humans’. In this way reactions to exogenous substances, both good and bad, can be investigated.

Glyphosate is stable in the environment, binding to many soil types, which makes it immobile in the ground. It moves into groundwater when the soil particles are washed into streams and rivers. Glyphosate also inhibits soil micro-organisms by decreasing soil oxygen consumption (Abdel-Mallek, 1994). Its rate of degradation is hastened when it fails to bind to soil particles. That’s good, but most soils are highly absorbent, so that slows down degradation. Because it adheres to the soil, glyphosate is not usually taken up by a plant’s roots. The LD50 (the dose that is lethal to half the tested subjects) is greater than 4,600 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. That’s 4.6 grams per kilogram, or more than eleven ounces for a 150-pound person. That’s unlikely to happen. But glyphosate does not come to the party alone. Since it isn’t very good at staying in place on a plant’s leaves, it has a chaperone…the surfactant.

Roundup® is not a pre-emergent weed killer. It’s used largely on genetically modified plants, those that are designed to be immune to its biocidal properties, to prevent weeds from competing with the plants’ livelihood and eventual promise. Tests in rats found that the Leydig cells peculiar to the potentiation of testosterone were damaged after two days’ exposure to the chemical. Even at low doses—one part per million—Roundup® disrupted the endocrine system (Clair, 2012). What this substance does to the placenta was observed in agricultural workers using it. Within eighteen hours of exposure to Roundup®, the enzyme activity responsible for estrogen synthesis and placenta integrity was severely disrupted (Richard, 2005). But it wasn’t the glyphosate alone that did the dastardly deed. It was the formulation that included the surfactant. Scientists call it an adjuvant, one which was later seen to induce necrosis in umbilical, placental, testicular and embryonic cells (Benachour, 2009) (Clair, 2012).

Controversy abounds in the world of scientific research. Where some say glyphosate is safe, others gainsay it. MIT scientists found that CYP enzyme disruption severely compromises its ability to metabolize drugs, chemical residues and environmental toxins by interfering with the salubrious activity of the gut microflora (Samsel, 2013).

Aquatic vertebrates are not bred to mimic human physiology, but their responses to environmental insults are a barometer for the health of the biome. Neural defects and cranio-facial malformations were observed in amphibians exposed to the runoff of glyphosate-based herbicides. In this case, the chemical itself, without the surfactant accompaniment, was to blame (Paganelli, 2010). Here, a genetic change was noted.

Sooo, what is this nefarious surfactant?  Its name is polyethyloxylated tallowamine, also known as polyoxyethyleneamine—POEA. The toxicity of the “adjuvant” is greater than the toxicity of glyphosate alone. Not that anybody would drink this stuff, but ingestion will grant you a whale of a stomach ache, corrosion of the GI system, mouth and throat pain, and dysphagia, which you might know better as odynophagia or aglutition—difficulty in swallowing (Bradberry, 2004). Gotcha!  Other responses include kidney and liver impairment, respiratory distress, pulmonary edema and metabolic acidosis, but these usually appear just before death (Stella, 2004). Comforting, eh?

While the study of toxins keeps scientists occupied, the investigation of antidotes does likewise. Using mice, Turkish toxicologists found substantial abnormalities in liver function among subjects exposed to the active ingredient in Roundup®. Markers for oxidative stress were increased, and chromosomal aberrations were profound. Treatment with Ginkgo biloba was discovered to ameliorate the indices of liver and kidney toxicity, and to sequester lipid peroxidation (Cavusoglu, 2011). Of all the alternative treatments out there, what made these people pick ginkgo?  Prior knowledge and attention to the possibilities and realities of complementary medicine make us analytical thinkers. Mitochondrial failure attributed to Roundup® ingredients (but not proven) caused Swiss researchers to sit up and take notice of ginkgo’s unheralded talents, which were able to restore the electron transport system and to rescue defects in energy metabolism (Eckert, 2012). This may provide a happy ending to the story. But it also opens another story about GMO foods, whose corn might just compromise more than a few body parts (de Vendomois, 2009), with or without adjuvants.


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Anthony Samsel  and Stephanie Seneff Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases Entropy 2013, 15, 1416-1463

Stella J, Ryan M. Glyphosate herbicide formulation: a potentially lethal ingestion. Emerg Med Australas. 2004 Jun;16(3):235-9.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.