Emerging research linking the use of the weed killer glyphosate and microbiome health is raising alarms in the environmental and scientific communities. This chemical, most commonly known as the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, is widely used around the globe. While current data suggests that glyphosate residue from soil or produce is not toxic to humans, an interesting connection to microbe species could be adding more to the story.
Glyphosate And The Microbiome
Glyphosate is an herbicide first registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1974. When chemist John Franz found that synthesized glyphosate was harmful to plants, his employer—Montsanto patented the formula as Roundup. Since then, glyphosate has become the most commonly used herbicide in the world.
While its popularity grew throughout the 1990s, concerns have been raised over the years. The impacts on non-targeted plants, residue on soil and crops, and human health effects continue to be studied. The debate about whether glyphosate contributes to serious ailments rages on, though lawsuits were brought against Roundup’s makers and millions of dollars were ordered to be paid out to users who claimed their Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was linked to the product.1
The latest studies, however, are taking a look at a possible lesser-known—yet important—side effect of glyphosate exposure. In 2018, researchers from the Department Of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas discovered an alarming correlation between glyphosate and bee microbiomes. While Roundup’s makers claim that glyphosate only targets plant enzymes—making it supposedly non-toxic to humans and animals—researchers found that enzymes in honey bees guts are being altered.2
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Honey Bees: The Canary In The Coal Mine?
In recent years, scientists and environmentalists have been worriedly noting the decline and decimation of bee colonies throughout the U.S and across the globe. While there are many theories—and likely a variety of factors involved—the University of Texas study focused on bee gut health.
The researchers examined the effects of glyphosate on the microbiome of honeybees. Bee gut bacteria consists of 8 major species of bacteria that help the insects gain weight and protect them from pathogens. If the microbiome is altered or disrupted, it could leave the bees defenseless against disease.
Glyphosate targets an enzyme known as EPSPS, located in what is called the shikimate pathway of plants. This same enzyme, however, is present in bee microbiomes. Because bees’ main source of pollen and sustenance is often large fields of Roundup-treated crops, the glyphosate could disrupt their microbiome.
To test this theory, researchers administered levels of glyphosate to bees that they would encounter and absorb in their environment. Their gut bacteria was analyzed before and after. The results showed that exposed bees’ microbiomes were affected by glyphosate, showing lower amounts of a bacteria species called S. alvi. When the bees were exposed to a common pathogen, Serratia marcescens, those with the lower amounts of S. alvi were more susceptible to the pathogen and had an increase in mortality.2
The Mammal Microbiome Connection
The University of Texas study concluded that glyphosate affects the composition of bee gut bacteria. This can cause certain bees to become more susceptible to pathogens, leaving them without protection against other environmental stressors that can lead to death. Because bees rely on their microbiomes for their overall health, this could be another factor in the decline of bee populations.2
While this study gives insight into bee health, what connection could there be to humans? More research was needed, and another 2018 study examined glyphosate’s effects on mammals.
Scientists from the Ramazzini Institute administered doses of Roundup to rats at levels deemed “safe” for humans. By examining the microbiomes of these rats and their healthy control counterparts, the study aimed to evaluate glyphosate’s effects on gut bacteria. The results showed that gut bacteria was altered in the rats given glyphosate, especially during early development and before the onset of puberty.3
How Glyphosate Affects Human Gut Bacteria
As rat studies are generally approved to scientifically relate to humans, this research is important. While mammals don’t have the shikimate pathway that glyphosate affects, fungi and certain microorganisms do. The human gut, consisting of hundreds or thousands of different microbe species, is an essential part of the body that relates to overall health and wellbeing.
Could our microbiome be hurting from glyphosate exposure?
The latest research from the University of Turku in Finland may have answered this question. To further analyze the results of bee and rat tests, scientists examined the glyphosate sensitivity of human gut bacteria species. After testing and cataloging thousands of microbe protein sequences, the results showed that about 54% of core species in the human gut are sensitive to glyphosate. This accounts for nearly 20% of total bacterial species in the human microbiome.
Because gut bacteria play an essential role in immunity and prevention of illness, a disturbed or unbalanced microbiome could have a cascade effect on other systems in the body. While more research is needed to further explore this correlation, it’s worth noting that glyphosate herbicide use is widespread. Key crops, genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, have increased the use of this herbicide (as they’ll only kill targeted weeds). Its presence in small doses may be harmless, but the bioaccumulation of glyphosate could affect the health and diversity of the microbiome.4
Protecting Your Gut
In light of this research—and because the microbiome is essential for good health—care should be taken to keep gut bacteria diverse and numerous. One way to do this is by cleansing the body of herbicides and pesticides, such as glyphosate. Natural, safe detox methods help maintain the microbiome balance and safely eliminate any built-up pesticides and other toxins from the body.
ecoNugenics GlyphoDetox helps eliminate glyphosate, pesticides and other agricultural and environmental toxins from the body and prevents them from being absorbed and stored in vulnerable organs and tissues, like the thyroid. This formula also supports microbiome and GI health.*
Another way to support the gut is to maintain a thriving, flourishing community of good gut bacteria. Adding a prebiotic and probiotic supplement can ensure a diverse population of good bacteria to outnumber pathogens and bad bacteria, contributing to overall health. Certified organic ecoProbiotic contains both pre- and probiotics, as well as 19 digestive botanicals, gives your microbiome the replenishment it needs to thrive.
The truth is, we can’t wait for solutions while researchers and lawmakers continue to debate the safety of glyphosate and other widely used agricultural chemicals. We need to be proactive and defend our health against these pervasive toxins, with innovative strategies.
ecoNugenics detox and other targeted formulas are designed to do just that, supporting optimal health and longevity in today’s modern world.
- Monnier J. What is glyphosate? Live Science. Published September 18, 2020. https://www.livescience.com/glyphosate-round-up.html
- Motta EVS, Raymann K, Moran NA. Glyphosate perturbs the gut microbiota of honey bees. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018;115(41):10305-10310.
- Mao Q, Manservisi F, Panzacchi S, Mandrioli D, Menghetti I, Vornoli A, Bua L, Falcioni L, Lesseur C, Chen J, Belpoggi F, Hu J. The Ramazzini Institute 13-week pilot study on glyphosate and Roundup administered at human-equivalent dose to Sprague Dawley rats: effects on the microbiome. Environ Health. 2018;17(1). doi:10.1186/s12940-018-0394-x
- Leino L, Tall T, Helander M, Saloniemi I, Saikkonen K, Ruuskanen S, Puigbò P. Classification of the glyphosate target enzyme (5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase) for assessing sensitivity of organisms to the herbicide. J Hazard Mater. 2020;(124556):124556.