Glyphosate (sold commercially as Roundup) is a common herbicide that is now part of many ecosystems across the United States. This herbicide has been linked to a myriad of health issues from cancer to gut dysbiosis to worsening pre-existing cases of toxicity. Pets are believed to live shorter lifespans in areas affected by glyphosate toxicity. And now, there is scientific evidence proving that Glyphosate also depletes essential nutrients from food.
Glyphosate was originally patented in 1964 by Stauffer Chemical as a descaling agent–a strong mineral chelator–that was used to clean commercial boilers and pipes (United States Patent 3,160,632). It is my contention that by depleting minerals AND blocking the normal detoxification pathways of the toxin called “vitamin” A (via cytochrome P450 inhibition, a topic for another article) that is behind the vast majority of glyphosate’s mechanisms of causing disease.
Glyphosate Depletes Nutrients
Let’s look at a paper discussing the evidence.
Glyphosate, a Chelating Agent
Glyphosate, a chelating agent—relevant for ecological risk assessment?
Glyphosate is known to inhibit 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS), an enzyme of the shikimic acid pathway that leads to the biosynthesis of aromatic acids phenylalanine, tryptophan, and tyrosine and a range of other substances.
Glyphosate inhibits the body’s production of multiple amino acids. Not good.
Glyphosate is also known as a potent chelator for minerals, a property that has been observed decades ago (Toy and Uhing 1964), even before the herbicidal effect of glyphosate was discovered (Komives and Schröder 2016). If glyphosate, in fact, binds essential minerals effectively, its application could lead to an undersupply of minerals that are essential cofactors in many biological processes in treated plants and potentially also in organisms feeding on such plants.
This in turn could impact plant resistance to disease and affect human and animal health. Although the chelating properties are well known, this potential additional environmental risk was never adequately considered in the regulatory risk assessment (EFSA 2015a, 2015b).
So they knew about the chelating properties of it, they just “forgot” to include that consideration in their risk assessments. It was originally designed as a chelating agent…yet this property was ignored???
Glyphosate (C3H8NO5P; N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine, MW 169) is a polar, water-soluble organic acid (given in acid equivalents a.e.). It is a potent chelator that easily binds divalent cations (e.g., Ca, Mg, Mn, Fe) and forms stable complexes (Toy and Uhing 1964; Cakmak et al. 2009).
Let me quickly review two of the most relevant divalent cations that I find issues with in my Nutritional Restoration clients every day:
- Magnesium (Mg+2)- magnesium deficiency is at epidemic levels, this is admitted in the literature.
- Zinc (Zn+2)- zinc is critical to the production of Retinol Binding Protein (RBP), one of the most important things the body makes to protect us against the toxin called “vitamin” A.
Maybe you’ve read about others in the health field discussing the massive health implications of deficiencies of magnesium and zinc? Pretty important things, right? Glyphosate depletes these things via its chelating actions, in the soil, in the plants, and in you.
Glyphosate in Water
In hard water, the presence of polyvalent cations (e.g., Ca2+, Mg2+) can lead to the formation of insoluble metal complexes of glyphosate and thus reduce its herbicidal effect. Monsanto,5 therefore, recommends addition of ammonium sulfate, competing with glyphosate for free Ca2+, to be used with Roundup and making separate applications if foliar micronutrient sprays are used.
Note how they add ammonium sulfate to help keep the calcium in the ground, but it doesn’t state that it helps with anything else (like magnesium).
Glyphosate reaches soil via direct application, washing off from plant surfaces by rain, via air-borne drift (Davidson et al. 2001), precipitation (Battaglin et al. 2014), and via root exudation (Neumann et al. 2006; Laitinen et al. 2007), or by decomposition of treated plant material (Locke et al. 2008).
It is EVERYWHERE. You cannot avoid it, you can only take actions to minimize your exposure avenues.
But the presence of chelating agents in soil might also have deleterious effects by remobilizing toxic metals for uptake into soil organisms (Oviedo and Rodriguez 2003).
Not only does it chelate the GOOD minerals, it may also mobilize TOXIC metals and increase their absorption into the plants you eat!
Glyphosate’s Chemical Structure
Due to its three chemical groups (amine, carboxylate, and phosphonate), glyphosate can strongly bind to cations, such as Ca, Fe, Zn, Al, and Mn. Although, compared to EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetate), glyphosate has been described as a weak chelator (Duke et al. 2012), it may nevertheless bind important micronutrients (and potentially also macronutrients), thus impeding, for instance, their availability in glyphosate-treated sensitive plants (Eker et al. 2006; Tesfamariam et al. 2009; Cakmak et al. 2009).
As micronutrients are important co-factors of plant enzymes and play a role in stabilizing proteins and other physiological functions (Table 3), an undersupply with nutrients such as Mn, Fe, Cu, and Zn could impact photosynthesis and plant growth and potentially increase plant disease (Johal and Huber 2009). According to Duke et al. (2012), however, glyphosate use does not increase plant disease in GR crops.
Whether food and feed derived from glyphosate-treated plants (that may still contain glyphosate residues) could also lead to a reduced micronutrient uptake by humans and animals has not been elucidated.
EDTA mentioned above is a prescription chelator, one could only hope that something sprayed onto crops was not as powerful as that!
When these authors say “MACROnutrients”, they mean the macro-minerals that are higher in concentration, not protein/fat/carbohydrate. “MICROnutrients” are the trace minerals, lower in concentration. This will make more sense in the next quotation below.
Other studies showed that treatment with increasing glyphosate rates (five doses from 0.6 to 2.4 kg a.e./ha, applied either in a single dose or sequentially) decreased photosynthetic parameters in leaf tissues of GR first-generation soybean in a linear fashion and reduced accumulation of macronutrients (in the order Ca > Mg > N > S > K > P) and micronutrients (in the order Fe > Mn > Co > Zn > Cu > B > Mo), compared to the near-isogenic non-resistant parental line (Zobiole et al. 2010b).
Water use efficiency was reduced too (Zobiole et al. 2010c).
Glyphosate’s Impact on Micronutrients
Impacts on micronutrient accumulation were also observed in the field. RR2-GR soybean, treated at different growth stages with doses ranging from 0.8 to 2.4 kg a.e./ha (the latter one to represent the “worst-case scenario”), showed that photosynthetic rate, nodulation, macronutrient (N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S) and micronutrient (Zn, Mg, Fe, Co, B) accumulation in plant tissue decreased with higher doses and treatment at later growth stages, although concentrations were within the nutrient sufficiency ranges for soybean (Zobiole et al. 2012).
Let’s assemble the list of minerals that glyphosate has been shown to reduce/chelate in plants then:
- Ca – calcium
- Mg – magnesium
- N – nitrogen
- S – sulfur
- K – potassium
- P – phosphorus
- Fe – iron
- Mn – manganese
- Co – cobalt
- Zn – zinc
- Cu – copper
- B – boron
- Mo – molybdenum
That’s quite a list!
Note the “reduced water use efficiency” as well. This means that MORE water was needed to produce the same growth, basically. Less efficient use of water induced by glyphosate. Not a desirable thing! Ever noticed how everyone these days is always thirsty in spite of drinking tons of water all the time? Could these things be connected?
Side-note…”vitamin” A toxicity is known to increase thirst, and glyphosate increases the toxicity of “vitamin” A by inhibiting the liver’s ability to break it down. I’m not one who believes in coincidences.
In general, if a soil is depleted in a given micronutrient to a content deficient for adequate plant growth, then GBH’s [Glyphosate Based Herbicide] activity is likely to magnify the shortage. Although, under practice conditions, extreme micronutrient deficiencies in agricultural soils are usually balanced by fertilization, less obvious deficiencies may go unnoticed. For studies of GBH reactivity in soils, it would thus be important to have soil test values, but these data are usually lacking.
Glyphosate & Mineral Deficiencies
There are specific trace mineral deficiency patterns that I noticed very strongly started showing up in hair mineral analysis in 2018, that I now believe are linked to some threshold level of glyphosate toxicity being surpassed in the environment. This relates to what was stated above, that these micro-mineral deficiencies are not being noted by the farmers because they are not strong enough to warrant analysis and addressing. The most important of these in my opinion is molybdenum.
Glyphosate residues have been found in urine of humans (Acquavella et al. 2004; Curwin et al. 2007; Mills et al. 2017). In livestock and humans, lower amounts have been observed in urine of cows kept in a GMO-free region, compared to conventionally managed cows, and in urine of humans consuming predominantly organic food, compared to consumers of conventional food (Krüger et al. 2014).
As I mentioned previously, it can’t be avoided, a person’s exposure can only be minimized/reduced!
Again, it is EVERYWHERE. Eating organic has been shown to lower one’s exposure, absolutely. It’s not the whole answer though.
In case human food would be derived from glyphosate-treated plants to a considerable extent, glyphosate residues and reduced levels of micronutrients could potentially also impact human health. In the USA, where a large proportion of food is likely derived from genetically modified crops, and in particular from glyphosate-resistant crops, several authors have asked the question whether there would be any link between the widespread use of GBH and the disease load in the US population (e.g., Samsel and Seneff 2013, 2015; Swanson et al. 2014).
In closing, there are now a minimum of three research-demonstrated ways that glyphosate/Roundup is negatively affecting human health:
- Inhibits the normal liver pathways involved in the breakdown/detoxification of “vitamin” A, thus leading to toxicity more quickly at lower intake levels.
- Chelates (makes unavailable for use) critical minerals for both plant and human health and development.
- Negatively impacts water use efficiency (if this happens in plants, it likely happens in humans too).