The Health Impact of Glyphosate and How to Detoxify
By Dr. Debby Hamilton, MD, MPH
By Dr. Debby Hamilton, MD, MPH
Over the past several decades, numerous artificial chemicals have been introduced into our environment. Many substances have not been researched for their potential long-term problems, interactions between chemicals, environmental effects, or impact on children and pregnant women. Glyphosate (N-phosphonomethylglycine), a type of organophosphate, is among these potentially dangerous chemicals.
Glyphosate is an herbicide that was introduced in the 1970s. In the 1990s, with the introduction of genetically modified crops, the usage of glyphosate significantly increased and is now the primary herbicide used in agriculture.1 The mechanism of action is the disruption of the shikimate pathway. This pathway is involved in synthesizing essential aromatic amino acids such as phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan.2 Glyphosate is considered safe because animals do not have this pathway; therefore, human health should not be adversely impacted. The problem with this thinking is that humans have a microbiome consisting of important bacteria, and these bacteria do have a shikimate pathway. Since a balanced microbiome is critical to influencing our health, a negative impact on the microbiome can lead to many untoward adverse effects.
Glyphosate as an herbicide is used to protect crops from weeds. Because of its high solubility, when this herbicide is placed on crops, it is rapidly absorbed into the ground, contaminating the soil and the groundwater. It also accumulates in the roots of the plants.3 Genetically modified plants are designed to be more resistant to herbicides, so higher amounts are sprayed on them.
Based on how glyphosate is used, our primary exposure is from food that is not organic. USDA Certified Organic foods cannot be grown with pesticides and herbicides. Unfortunately, even organic foods can become contaminated. Glyphosate residues have been found in our air, water, and soil. Our groundwater and, therefore, our drinking water also contain glyphosate. This prevalence means that we can be exposed to this toxin in many unexpected ways.
Since bacteria in our microbiome have the shikimate pathway, glyphosate can alter their function, thus altering the microbiome.4 Beneficial microbiome bacteria such as lactobacillus, bifidobacteria, and enterococcus species are decreased with glyphosate.4 This promotes an increase in clostridium and salmonella species, leading to dysbiosis.5 A balanced microbiome is vital for digestion and immune function; glyphosate, by disrupting this balance, could potentially have a negative impact on both.
Our phase 1 detoxification enzymes are cytochrome P450 enzymes. These are critical for detoxifying xenobiotic chemicals and carcinogens. Additionally, they are essential for activating vitamin D, catabolizing vitamin A, and maintaining bile acid production and sulfate supplies. Glyphosate inhibits cytochrome P450 enzymes causing multiple metabolic disruptions of the function of the enzyme.8
Several things are needed to detoxify from glyphosate. First, binders are needed to help take up the glyphosate and remove it from the body systemically and from the gastrointestinal tract. Second, nutrients are needed to provide strength to the detoxification system, particularly the liver, to help the body better process the chemical. Third, because glyphosate causes oxidative stress, antioxidants are also needed to protect the body.
Humic acid and fulvic acid are derived from humus in the soil. Through its use in agriculture, it has been found to bind glyphosate and take it out of the body.9,10 The combination of humic acid and fulvic acid may help pull toxins from tissues and the gastrointestinal tract. Humic acid can also inhibit the antibiotic effect glyphosate can have on beneficial bacteria in the microbiome.11 Another binder for toxins in the gastrointestinal tract is chlorella algae. Cilantro is often used along with chlorella to help pull toxins out of tissues so they can be bound in the gastrointestinal tract by chlorella, fulvic acid, and humic acid.*
Because glyphosate causes harm to the tissues, it is important to use herbs and other nutrients to help prevent harm and support healing and recovery. Quercetin, for example, is a flavonoid that helps support liver and kidney function. Research has shown it to protect against the development of liver damage in rats from glyphosate.12 Dandelion is also known as a liver-supporting herb.13 Additionally, it can help restore some detoxification enzymes, including the critical phase 1 cytochrome P450 enzymes.14 Another supportive nutrient for the liver is the amino acid taurine. It is involved in the production of bile salts needed to bind, digest, and eliminate fats. Taurine also provides a source of sulfur needed in detoxification pathways.*
Glyphosate, as with many environmental chemicals, causes oxidative stress, which harms tissues. Because of this, antioxidants play an important role in supporting our health. Both vitamin C and vitamin E have been shown to be effective antioxidants.15,16 The oxidative stress induced by glyphosate also causes a decrease in glutathione levels.17 Because of this glutathione reduction, it is crucial to add glutathione as an antioxidant to vitamin C and E.
Glyphosate usage has increased dramatically over the past several decades, and research suggests potential adverse effects on our microbiome, nutrient levels, and cellular health. Avoiding glyphosate as much as possible in food is helpful to decrease exposure. However, complete avoidance is probably not realistic considering its prevalence in our soil and water, and the residual amounts found even on organic food.
Those looking to support their health should speak with their doctor about putting together a comprehensive approach. Things you may want to consider include utilizing a binder to help remove toxins from the GI tract, taking nutrients that are known to support our natural detoxification pathways such as the liver and kidneys, and taking plenty of antioxidants to support against oxidative stress.*