I so miss the monarch butterflies. We used to have hundreds of them in our yard at any given time during the late summer, when milkweed was at its peak. Now, sadly, monarch sightings are a rarity. Something terrible has been happening. The monarch butterfly’s habitat has slowly been shrinking because of the extensive use of glyphosate, otherwise known as Roundup, the most popular herbicide on the planet. In the past decade, with the emergence of Roundup-resistant crops, it’s use has skyrocketed. Monarch Watch estimates that 147 million acres of habitat in the US alone have been lost as a result of this practice, which destroys milkweed, the monarch’s primary food source. Glyphosate also effects milkweed pollinators and wildlife sharing the monarch’s habitat. In the midwest there has been an estimated 58% decline in the milkweed population, leading to an 81% loss of the monarch butterfly population.

Glyphosate: the Ubiquitous Roundup is a Threat to Human Health

Glyphosate deserves special attention because never before in human history has an environmental chemical been used so extensively worldwide and with such carelessness, mostly because we were assured by the industry that it was not toxic to human beings. Glyphosate is an herbicide developed by Monsanto that kills weeds in their growing phase. When combined with genetically modified crops that are resistant to its effects, it is used in a widespread fashion to kill the weeds that would otherwise compete with the crop. This chemical interferes with an enzyme called “EPSPS,” found within plants and bacteria. The blocking of this enzyme stops the synthesis of proteins and certain key players in plant and bacterial metabolism, so growth and survival are not possible.

The prevailing dogma has been that glyphosate is non-toxic to humans because we don’t have the enzyme EPSPS, and therefore not a problem when added to the human food supply. However this thinking discounts the huge impact that our microbiome (the bacteria that reside within our bodies and play a central role in maintaining our health) has on human health. It is now known that ingestion of glyphosate causes disruption of our microbiome, leading to interruption of the myriad of synergetic benefits our gut bacteria provide.

In addition, it has been shown that glyphosate interferes with the hub of our detoxification machinery, the hepatic cytochrome P450 system. As a result of this effect, glyphosate is now a primary player in the environmental toxic impact on human health. Through its insidious suppression of key detoxification pathways, glyphosate acts synergistically with the myriad of other environmental toxins we are exposed to, leading to widespread cellular inflammatory and toxic stress. Glyphosate exposure has been linked to numerous human health disorders including obesity, heart disease, infertility, neurodegenerative diseases, autism, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disorders and cancer. In March of 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer published a summary of a monograph on glyphosate and classified it as “probably” carcinogenic in humans, based on epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies.

It has been observed that one of the so-called “inert” ingredients in Roundup, polyethoxylated tallowamin, or POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than glyphosate itself. It has been found that the herbicide mixtures available in today’s market, leave residues on treated plants sufficiently toxic to cause cell damage and, in some cases, death. There is also growing evidence that glyphosate is affecting the health of farm animals around the world whose feed has been heavily treated with the chemical. When we consume these animals and their products we are further impacted by its effects.

The world’s food supply is now heavily contaminated with glyphosate and it has been found extensively in the urine of humans. Glyphosate is having a profound impact on human health and many other aspects of our natural environment. The ramifications have yet to be fully realized.

What can we do?

  1. Understand that all-is-one: what happens to any one aspect of our environment, effects us all.
  2. Eat only organically produced plants and animals as much as possible.
  3. Avoid using Roundup, as well as other pesticides and herbicides, on our farms and personal property.
  4. Support our bodies’ detoxification systems by eating a nutrient dense diet.
  5. Support our bodies’ microbiome by eating plenty of plant foods (for pre-biotic nourishment) and fermented foods.
  6. Take a daily probiotic supplement containing lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
  7. Plant milkweed in our yards and local land preserves to invite the monarchs back into our lives.

Resources:

Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases, http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416

Glyphosate Poisoning, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15862083

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/weed-whacking-herbicide-p/

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2016/monarch-butterfly-02-26-2016.html

http://monarchwatch.org/bring-back-the-monarchs/campaign/the-details/

KARYN SHANKS MD

Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the science of Functional Medicine, body-mind principles, and wisdom gleaned from the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-five-year career. Her work honors each individual and the power of their stories, their inner wisdom, and innate healing potential. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves. She is the author of Liftoff, a manual of energy recovery and healing through essential self-care practices.

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