Our Toxic World; Is Roundup Slowly Killing Us?

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Hello and welcome. I am Dr George Lundberg and this is At Large at Medscape.

We live in a very toxic environment, and I do not mean just the nasty politics and the much too common all-American form of acute lead poisoning.

Disclosure: Randall C. Baselt, PhD, has been a friend and colleague of mine for over 40 years. I once recruited him to join the faculty at the University of California, Davis, as our academic toxicologist. Randy recently released the 10th edition of his single-author definitive encyclopedic tome, Disposition of Toxic Drugs and Chemicals in Man,[1] first published in 1978. Twenty-two hundred pages and weighing 5 pounds, the book catalogs approximately 6000 substances, described alphabetically from abacavir to zuclopenthixol. For each substance there are sections covering Occurrence and Usage, Blood Concentrations, Metabolism and Excretion, Toxicity, and Analysis. Each includes many references. Bear in mind that each day in medical practice and in your daily life, "The line between a medicine and a poison is often exceedingly narrow," as noted by W.S. Haines in 1907.[2]

In the book's 9th edition, Baselt added a vitally important prologue, titled "Guidelines for the Interpretation of Analytical Toxicology Results," by guest authors. This section has been expanded to 10 sparkling, practical pages in this 10th edition. Sections on pharmacokinetics, clinical toxicology, and postmortem toxicology provide practitioners in these three fields with vital, useful details and perspectives. This is all well and good and a great resource for analytic toxicologists of all stripes. The book deals with facts. But interpretation can be something else.

Moving on to Herbicides

Moving away from the popular toxic favorites like fentanyl, propofol, heroin, nicotine, alcohol, methamphetamine, and cannabis, let us look at glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most used herbicide in the world, the pride and joy (as well as a great cash cow) of mega-giant chemical manufacturer Monsanto. Although ubiquitous as Roundup® and generally presented for many decades as safe for humans and animals, in 2015 The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization labeled glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans."[3]

The European Union (EU) is trying to determine whether Monsanto should have its license to sell Roundup renewed this year. With that renewal in mind, in the spring of 2016, 48 members of the EU Parliament, representing 13 nations, volunteered to have their urine tested for glyphosate. All were found positive by a German lab.[4] In May 2016, a University of California, San Francisco, lab working for The Detox Project, funded by concerned individuals, reported positive urine tests for glyphosate in 93% of 131 urine samples from across the United States.[5]

Okay, but Is It Dangerous?

Is this widespread presence of glyphosate in humans incidental and harmless or are we all in danger of being poisoned by this Monsanto product? That is a very good question.

Remember the gut microbiome? We are learning a great deal about how it influences so much of human health. There is a project called Qmulus, at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and funded in part by Quanta Computers of Taiwan. Under its auspices, authors Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, in a 40-plus-page review[6] with 286 references, paint a very troubling picture of glyphosate's inhibition of cytochrome P450 enzymes. For example, one role of this enzyme is to detoxify xenobiotics. The authors propose that the consequences of this inhibition, when coupled with other synergistic disruptions, may insidiously induce many diseases associated with a Western diet, including diabetes, obesity, cancer, autism, Alzheimer's, and others.

A 2015 paper[7] by the same authors takes these and new findings and deductions even further to manganese deficiency in cows fed genetically modified Roundup Ready feed. This update is 55 pages long with 328 supporting references. Both are in open access; peruse them if you choose. [Editor's note: Links to the full text of these papers are included with the references.]

I do not know whether the implications of these findings are actually important for human health. Obviously, the considerable power of Monsanto is working hard to make this kind of talk go away.

I have stopped using Roundup. But I did that a while ago to do my small part to keep the milkweed healthy so our Monarch butterflies have something to eat on their long annual Western Hemisphere migration. It is urgent that more independent research (meaning, not funded by industry or tainted government agencies) on glyphosate continue posthaste.

That is my opinion. I am Dr George Lundberg, at large at Medscape.


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