Do you want more oats for breakfast with your daily dose of glyphosate?

A recent report released by the advocacy group Environmental Working Group (EWG) measures the amount of glyphosate in favorite breakfast products that contain oats. Many brands of different oat-containing products were found to have elevated levels of glyphosate. Oats are a species of cereal grain that many people consume for breakfast around the world in the form of cereal products and oatmeal. We also feed oats to our farm animals including cows and horses. Glyphosate is used as a herbicide to kill weeds while growing crops. So what are the known issues with glyphosate exposure and the results of the EWG report?

On Glyphosate

Glyphosate (Roundup) is an organophosphorus herbicide that was brought to the market by Monsanto in the 1970’s as Roundup. Glyphosate is the most used herbicide for reducing weeds when growing crops in the United States. Roundup is frequently used for commercial applications and by homeowners as well. Monsanto, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) all claim that glyphosate is 100% safe when used in moderation. In the middle 1990’s Monsanto produced ads that Roundup was “safer than table salt” and “practically nontoxic” to mammals. The attorney general of New York, Dennis C. Vacco later ordered the ads to be removed because of false advertising. Monsanto later claimed that the phrases in question were permissible under the EPA guidelines and that Roundup is safe. The foliage of plants absorbs glyphosate. Plant roots take in less of it. Therefore, it is only useful for killing grown plants and not preventing seed germination. Roundup inhibits the plant’s synthesis of the amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan in the shikimate pathway by inhibiting the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSP) causing the plants not to produce proteins that are essential for growth and survival. The shikimate pathway is also used by bacteria, fungi, algae, and some protozoan parasites to biosynthesize folates and the above listed aromatic amino acids. Glyphosate is supposed to be safe for humans because we do not rely on the shikimate pathway to synthesize amino acids, instead, like most animals, we must consume the above listed essential amino acids in our diet for survival. Some genetically engineered crops are resistant to glyphosate, and some plants are now becoming resistant to glyphosate as well as developing extra copies of the ESPSS gene, which encodes the EPSP enzyme.1 2 3 4 5

Glyphosate does interfere with some bacteria, yeast, and parasites in our microbiome (through inhibiting the shikimate pathway), both probiotic and opportunistic microbes. Since Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus make up a large part of our probiotic microbiome in our gut and are affected by glyphosate, ingesting glyphosate even in minute amounts in our drinking water or pesticide residue on our food is probably not a good idea. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus are also crucial in maintaining a proper gut barrier and help to digest the wheat we consume. In mammals, glyphosate has been shown to interfere with cytochrome P450 pathway and liver function which are essential for detoxification and digestion. People with celiac disease are known to suffer from fat metabolism and issues with liver, gallbladder, and pancreatic health. CYP enzymes are crucial in the production of bile by the liver which can reduce in people who ingest too much of the herbicide which may lead to reduced fat digestion, dysbiosis (microbial imbalances), leaky gut, and celiac disease. The enzyme CYP27A is identical to the mitochondrial vitamin D activating enzyme, which might explain why 64% of men and 71% of women with celiac disease were found to be vitamin D deficient. Glyphosate has also been linked to possibly causing cancer (mainly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) as well with repeat exposure. Finally, glyphosate may cause issues with sulfur metabolism, glutathione depletion, manganese metabolism and utilization, and molybdenum cellular depletion.6 7 8

In (Samsel and Seneff, 2013), a hypothesis was developed that glyphosate disrupts the transport of sulfate from the gut to the liver and pancreas, due to its competition as a similarly kosmotropic solute that also increases blood viscosity. (Kosmotropes are ions that induce “structure ordering” and “salting out” of suspended particles in colloids). Insufficient sulfate supply to the liver is a simple explanation for reduced bile acid production. The problem is compounded by impaired CYP enzymatic action and impaired cycling of bile acids through defective enterocytes in the upper small intestine. The catastrophic effect of loss of bile acids to the feces due to impaired reuptake compels the liver to adopt a conservative approach of significantly reduced bile acid synthesis, which, in turn, leads to gall bladder disease. While H2S is well known as a toxic gas through its inhibition of aerobic respiration, a recent paradigm shift in the research surrounding H2S has been inspired by the realization that it is an important signaling gas in the vasculature, on par with nitric oxide (Li et al., 2011). H2S can serve as an inorganic source of energy to mammalian cells (Módis et al., 2013). 3-mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferae (3MST) is expressed in the vascular endothelium, and it produces H2S from mercaptopyruvate, an intermediary in the breakdown of cysteine (Kimura, 2011). Endogenously produced H2S derived from 3-mercaptopyruvate stimulates additional mitochondrial H2S production, which then is oxidized to thiosulfate via at least three different pathways (Ingenbleek and Kimura, 2013; Hildebrandt and Grieshaber, 2008; Goubern et al., 2007), producing ATP. The inflammatory agent superoxide can act as substrate for the oxidation of H2S to sulfite and subsequently sulfate and the activated form, PAPS (Seneff et al., 2012), but will likely induce oxidative damage in the pancreas, particularly, as we will see in section 7, if molybdenum deficiency impairs sulfite-to-sulfate synthesis. Pancreatic beta cells express extraordinarily high levels of heparan sulfate, which is essential for their survival (Ziolkowski et al., 2012), since it protects them from ROS-induced cell death. Because sulfate transport via the hepatic portal vein is likely disrupted by glyphosate, H2S, whether derived from sulfur-containing amino acids or supplied via diffusion following its production by sulfur-reducing bacteria in the gut, can become an important source of sulfur for subsequent sulfate production locally in the pancreatic cells. Pancreatic elastase is a serine protease that is needed to assist in protein degradation, but an overabundance can lead to autolysis of tissues (Ito et al., 1998). Cholesterol sulfate inhibits pancreatic elastase (Ito et al., 1998), so a deficiency in cholesterol sulfate supply due to impaired sulfate supply to the liver and impaired CYP function should increase the risk of tissue digestion by pancreatic enzymes, contributing to the loss of villi in the upper small intestine observed in celiac disease.9

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide on the planet, in part because of its perceived low toxicity to humans. In this paper, we propose that glyphosate’s chelation of Mn, working together with other known effects of glyphosate such as CYP enzyme suppression and depletion of derivatives of the shikimate pathway in microorganisms, may explain the recent increase in incidence of multiple neurological diseases and other pathologies. We have shown that glyphosate’s disruption of Mn homeostasis can lead to extreme sensitivity to variations in Mn bioavailability: While Mn deficiency in the blood leads to impairment of several Mn dependent enzymes, in contrast, excess Mn readily accumulates in the liver and in the brainstem due to the liver’s impaired ability to export it in the bile acids. This pathology can lead to liver damage and PD. Mn depletion in the gut due to chelation by glyphosate selectively affects Lactobacillus, leading to increased anxiety via the gut–brain access. Both low Lactobacillus levels in the gut and anxiety syndrome are known features of autism, and Lactobacillus probiotic treatments have been shown to alleviate anxiety. Increased incidence of Salmonella poisoning can also be attributed to glyphosate, through its impairment of bile acid synthesis. Low Mn bioavailability from the blood supply to the brain leads to impaired function of glutamine synthase and a build-up of glutamate and ammonia in the brain, both of which are neurotoxic. Excess brain glutamate and ammonia are associated with many neurological diseases. At the same time, impaired function of Mn-SOD in the mitochondria results in mitochondrial damage, also a hallmark of many neurological diseases. Mn deficiency can account for poor sperm motility and therefore low fertilization rates, as well as poor bone development leading to osteoporosis and osteomalacia (softening of the bones). Sea star wasting syndrome and the collapse of coral reefs may in fact be an ecological consequence of the environmental pervasiveness of the herbicide. Many diseases and conditions are currently on the rise in step with glyphosate usage in agriculture, particularly on GM crops of corn and soy. These include autism, AD, PD, anxiety disorder, osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel disease, renal lithiasis (kidney stones), osteomalacia, cholestasis, thyroid dysfunction, and infertility. All of these conditions can be substantially explained by the dysregulation of Mn utilization in the body due to glyphosate.10

Thoughts on the EWG Report

A report released Wednesday; August 15, 2018, tested the glyphosate amounts in thirty different breakfast products. Different products tested for differing micro amounts of glyphosate (parts per billion, ppb) ranging from granola, oatmeal, cereals, and snack bars. Even some of the organic products tested positive for low amounts of glyphosate. The organic oat products (glyphosate use is uncertifiable in organic crops) might have been contaminated with the chemical from farm runoff, water contamination, or glyphosate being sprayed on nearby crops causing air exposure.11

The products that tested highest per serving for glyphosate are Quaker Old Fashioned Oats (930 ppb average), Giant Instant Oatmeal (760 ppb), Quaker Dinosaur Eggs (700 ppb average), and Cheerios (497 ppb average). The organic oat products that were tested had no more than 50 ppb of glyphosate.12

There are many different references on the allowable limit of glyphosate exposure in its relation to its adverse effects on our health. For example, the United States Environmental Protection agency states in its 1993 declaration on glyphosate that 2 mg/kg/day of exposure to glyphosate should not cause adverse effects throughout a lifetime of exposure. According to these proposed safety limits, someone that weighs 140 pounds would be able to be “safely” exposed to 127 milligrams of glyphosate daily. The EPA has not revised its position on safe glyphosate exposure since the 1993 declaration, though we have many different studies that highlight the toxicity of glyphosate since the declaration. The European Union recommends a much lower “safety” exposure dose to glyphosate of 0.5 mg/kg/day. According to the EU, a person who weighs 140 pounds would be able to be “safely” exposed to 32 milligrams of glyphosate daily which is a much lower dose.13 14

So according to the EWG study based off of the EPA safety guidelines one serving of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats would give you about .10 mg of glyphosate total, which does not come even close to the EPA or EU recommendations. So then you might be asking yourself, why should I even care about the amount of glyphosate in one serving of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats if it is such a small amount compared to the EU recommendation for “safe” daily allowance. Because most people do not only eat one bowl of oatmeal in the morning, glyphosate exposure is compounded throughout exposure daily. The differing amounts in foods that you ingest that on a daily basis from non-organic (even food labeled organic might contain glyphosate, but exposure is greatly reduced) meat, fruits, nuts, rice, corn, oat, and wheat products. Further daily glyphosate exposure from wearing cotton clothing, consuming and bathing in contaminated water supplies, and environmental exposure.15

So how much glyphosate is the average American exposed to on a daily basis? The EPA states that chronic exposure to glyphosate on average for the entire United States population on average is 1.75 mg/kg/day if you include the maximum chronic water exposure of 1.71 mg/kg/day and chronic proposed food exposure of .03 mg/kg/day. Being exposed to 1.75 mg/kg/day is slightly under the “safe” EPA recommendation of 2.0 mg/kg/day, but way above the “safe” EU recommendation of 0.5 mg/kg/day. The EPA statistics do not even include environmental exposure like living in a rural area or near a golf course in its aggregate risk assessment of daily glyphosate exposure in the United States. Also, infants and children weigh less, so less is needed to affect them. The elderly also have lower liver and kidney function to detoxify glyphosate. Therefore they should also be exposed to fewer limits if possible. Probiotic bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria are also affected negatively by glyphosate exposure and very minute amounts can affect your microbiome. Finally, the “safety” studies of glyphosate exposure that the EPA reference was done on animals, there are no current human studies the EPA references in its decision on the recommended daily “safe” exposure amounts of glyphosate.16 17

Yes, one bowl of oatmeal containing .10 milligram of glyphosate will more than likely not cause you immediate harm. That being said, should we not try to limit our compounded daily exposure to the herbicide glyphosate if all possible to improve our health? Glyphosate ingestion or exposure at the very least does not enhance human health. Therefore you should try to avoid it as much as possible if given a choice.

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