Kenneth Haas, DC, with Chemical Herbicides and Pesticides Impact on the GutJun 30, 2023 09:40AM ● By Kenneth Haas, DC
Most people have heard of the body’s microbiome, but few truly understand what it is and how our habits affect this delicate system. In a nutshell, the microbiome is all the microorganisms and viruses that live in the body. Different parts of the body have different microbiomes, and in total may weigh as much as five pounds—that’s a lot of bacteria and viruses! Recently there has been a lot of attention on the microbiome of the gut, and for good reason. The microbiome in our digestive system helps digest our food, regulate our immune system, protect against other bacteria that cause disease, and produce vitamins including B vitamins B12, thiamine and riboflavin, and Vitamin K. Preserving your microbiome is incredibly important for maintaining health and promoting longevity.
It’s important to understand that your gut microbiome can be altered or even destroyed using external herbicides and pesticides. These chemicals destroy the healthy, beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms present in your gut, potentially leading to immune system disorders by way of leaky gut and other chronic health issues including certain cancers and psychiatric disorders.
One of the most potent microbiome disrupters is the herbicide glyphosate, sold commercially under the brand name Roundup. This broad-spectrum herbicide, the most widely used herbicide in the US, is used on GMO foods to inhibit weeds around crop growth that decrease crop yield. Not only are the plants sprayed with glyphosate, but the chemical stays in the soil and can be absorbed by future plants grown in that field.
How does glyphosate affect gut bacteria? A healthy microbiome is made up of diverse species that are either sensitive or resistant to the herbicide. Frequent consumption of glyphosate-laced products may lead to microbial dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria,) by encouraging the spread of resistant and fast-evolving bacteria (the “bad” bacteria) and selectively killing off sensitive, “good” bacteria.
But it isn’t just the bacteria balance that wreaks havoc with the gut. Glyphosate causes leaky gut, meaning pathogens and undigested food can pass through the gut wall and into the blood stream, causing infection and increased immune activity. Glyphosate causes leaky gut by increasing the expression of an enzyme, zonulin, which weakens the gut barrier. Coupled with other culprits of leaky gut, such as stress and poor diet, glyphosate consumption can be a quick path to chronic inflammation and disease.
Glyphosate is nearly pervasive in our environment, so how do we avoid it for the sake of our gut? Unfortunately, in the US we can’t completely avoid glyphosate, but we can minimize our exposure. Your best bet is to eat only organic foods. Since the use of GMOs is prohibited in organic products, if you are buying organic, you are also buying non-GMO. And of course, avoid using Roundup or other chemical pesticides and herbicides on your property.
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Matthew J. Bull, BSc, PhD and Nigel T. Plummer, PhD