Glyphosate – what’s your level of exposure?
ANH-USA staff underwent testing for glyphosate exposure, and the results were shocking! Action Alert!
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is a toxic chemical that is becoming virtually ubiquitous in the modern world. Exposure to this chemical is associated with a number of health concerns, including cancer. A number of alarming reports also suggest that the chemical accumulates in the body, which can be of concern to those whose bodies cannot detoxify properly. ANH staff took a glyphosate urine test to see what kinds of exposures are possible given various lifestyle choices.
Human exposure to glyphosate has increased by 500% since the introduction of genetically modified crops. Glyphosate is traditionally sprayed on genetically modified soy, corn, canola, sorghum, alfalfa, sugar beets, and cotton but it is also sprayed—sometimes right before harvest—on a substantial portion of wheat and oats grown in the US. Glyphosate is also sprayed on a wide variety of non-GMO crops such as almonds, rice, cherries, avocados, and apples.
Humans can be exposed to glyphosate in any number of ways, including eating foods on which it was sprayed or living near agricultural areas or golf courses where the sprayed herbicide can drift and contaminate people’s homes. There are also concerns that glyphosate is contaminating some organic crops. Our own testing found that glyphosate residues were widely distributed in a variety of breakfast foods like bagels, cereals, and eggs. It’s contaminating our air and water: in the 2007 growing season, glyphosate (or its degradation product, aminomethylphosphonic acid) was found in 75 percent of air and rain samples in the Mississippi Delta agricultural region. Other testing found glyphosate in 13 of 21 drinking water samples.
Due to the myriad health problems linked to glyphosate exposure, including cancer, and the ubiquity of this chemical, ANH staff decided to get tested using Health Research Institute Laboratories’ urine test for glyphosate. Note that reference levels for glyphosate exposure in the European Union (EU) are significantly lower than in the US, presumably because many countries in the EU have banned genetically modified crops.
We received a wide range of results:
Staff member #1 had very low levels, which made sense because, as they put it, they “avoid wheat and most grains like the plague,” drink only filtered water, and eat all organic food. Our guess is that the only way they could have been exposed is through cross-contamination of organic crops, and perhaps they are excreting slower than normal because of known single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that compromise their detoxification pathways.
Staff member #2 had glyphosate levels above the European average but just below HRI Labs’ average. They report that they eat mostly organic food, though cheat often. They are not gluten free, but have been trying to limit consumption of wheat. They also live in a highly agricultural area, meaning that glyphosate sprayed on nearby farms could be drifting to residential areas, as we know to be the case elsewhere.
Staff member #3 had high levels of glyphosate. They report eating gluten/wheat and not so many organic foods—although they are starting now!
Staff member #4 had low levels of glyphosate. They are not strictly gluten or wheat free, but don’t eat many grains. They eat mostly organic, but also eat out at restaurants fairly often and tend not to pay close attention to whether an establishment offers organic food.
Staff member #5 had high levels of glyphosate. They are mostly grain free, mostly gluten and wheat free, and dairy free. They buy organic groceries, but also order a lot of takeout from restaurants. They don’t eat any processed foods.
Staff member #6 had low levels of glyphosate. They eat a good amount of organic foods, and almost no processed foods. They eat gluten and wheat, but almost always homemade, whole foods (for instance, they bake their own bread from organic flour).
Staff member #7 had high levels of glyphosate. They are pescatarian, but do not eat organic foods very often. They are not wheat or gluten free. They suspect their high level is associated with the breakfast foods they eat—bagels, oats, cereals, etc.
It’s hard to draw strong conclusions from such a small sample size. There could be many explanations for the presence or absence of glyphosate in an individual. Someone with a great detox system might be able to regularly eat wheat without accumulating high levels of glyphosate; someone with a somewhat compromised detox system might avoid all wheat products and eat all organic, but still have detectable glyphosate levels (like Staffer #1). This testing shows that it is a good idea to get a handle on our individual SNPs and put in place detoxification support if those pathways are compromised due to our genetics or lifestyle. Detoxification is a complicated process (this article has more information). For example, there are two phases of liver detoxification, and if phase 1 is accelerated while phase 2 is still impaired, the individual can become very sick. For these reasons, it is best done under the supervision of an integrative doctor (for help finding a practitioner in your area, use our Practitioner Finder).
As we often say at ANH, it all boils down to the individual—there is no one-size-fits all prescription.
The government’s failure to properly regulate the spread of herbicides, like Roundup, further underscores the need for consumers to take matters into their own hands and get tested (we used this one). But we shouldn’t stop holding federal officials accountable. To protect our health, and the health of future generations, we must ban glyphosate.
Action Alert! Write to the EPA and tell them to ban glyphosate, and copy Congress, which oversees the EPA.