Changing your diet could quickly lower levels of glyphosate, a potentially harmful herbicide for your body
Switching from a diet of conventionally grown foods to an all-organic diet dramatically lowers glyphosate levels in your body in just six days, according to a new study by scientists from Friends of the Earth, an environmental advocacy group. The study was published in the journal Environmental Research.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, is the most widely used pesticide in the United States, according to a 2016 study. It has a variety of uses, including removing weeds in fields before planting, and is often applied to crops, Like corn and soybeans, which are genetically modified to be resistant to it: the modified plants survive, but the glyphosate kills the weeds. It is also used in consumer garden products.
In an earlier phase of the study, the researchers found that eating organic food also lowered the levels of a variety of other pesticides in one week.
According to study author and Friends of the Earth scientist Kendra Klein, Ph.D., this research demonstrates "how quickly we can get these pesticides out of our bodies."
The health effects of glyphosate
Glyphosate was first introduced in 1974, and as its use has increased, so has human exposure to it. According to a 2017 study, glyphosate could be detected in more than 70 percent of people between 2014 and 2016.
As with many pesticides, the health effects of chronic low-dose exposure to glyphosate through food are not fully understood. But existing research has found that glyphosate is linked to a risk of lymphoma, liver and kidney problems, and disturbances in the body's hormonal systems.
The amounts of glyphosate that are currently legally allowed in food are not harmful, say federal regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency. “Last year, both the EPA and Health Canada reaffirmed that glyphosate poses no public health risk and is not likely to be carcinogenic,” says Chris Novak, CEO of CropLife America, a pesticide industry trade group. . “EPA's most recent assessment is comprehensive in line with scientific conclusions reached by leading health regulators around the world for more than four decades, that glyphosate-based herbicides can be used safely as directed. In the label "
Still, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization classifies glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. And Bruce Lanphear, a public health physician and professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, who was not involved in the new study, suspects that the tolerance levels set by the EPA may be too high.
Other substances, such as lead, the insecticide DDT, industrial chemicals known as PCBs and more, were once assumed to be safe in small doses, he notes. "Years later we discovered that no, they were not safe," says Lanphear; in fact, they had a significant impact on health even at very low levels.
What the study found
For the study, the researchers recruited a racially diverse group of four families: one from Oakland, Minneapolis, Baltimore and Atlanta each, and each with two or three children ages 3 to 18.
For the first five days of the study, the families followed their typical diets, which consisted of conventionally grown foods.
In the second half of the study, which lasted six days, the researchers provided all of the organic foods for families to eat instead, replicating their food choices based on the food diaries and food shopping lists that the participants had provided. . "Everything they would normally eat, they just ate organic," says Klein. That included their typical breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, as well as beverages, like organic beer and wine, and even organic sports drinks. Klein notes that they checked to make sure that beyond conventionally raised organic foods, participants' diets didn't change; for example, they did not eat more fresh produce or less meat.
On each of the 11 days and the morning of the 12th, the study participants provided urine samples to the researchers, who analyzed the samples for the presence of glyphosate and a variety of other pesticides.
All the participants had glyphosate markers in their systems at the beginning of the study, Klein notes, an important finding because little data exists on the extent of glyphosate exposure.
At the end of the study, glyphosate levels were about 70 percent lower on average. That's similar to the findings from the previous phase of the study, in which levels fell between 60 and 95 percent for some of the other pesticides.
The study had some limitations. The number of participants was small: four families and a total of 16 people. However, by collecting urine every day, the researchers had 158 samples to evaluate. And this study remains the largest of its kind, Klein notes, in part due to the laborious nature of providing organic food for an entire week to participants.
And diet is not the only way we are exposed to pesticides. This study could not account for pesticides that people encounter in their environment, whether at work, home, school, or in public.
Still, Lanphear says, the results of this study show that by switching to organic foods, "you're more likely to reduce your exposure to a variety of pesticides, including glyphosate."
What the study results mean to you
According to Klein, while following an all-organic diet would further reduce pesticide intake, even replacing some conventionally produced foods with organic will have benefits. For example, in a study published last year in the journal Environment International, pregnant women who ate primarily, but not exclusively, organic products for 6 months had lower levels of markers for pyrethroids, a common class of pesticides, in their urine. compared to pregnant women who ate conventionally grown produce.
That's good news, as organic food can be more expensive and, in some places, harder to find than conventionally produced food. (Learn more about how to save money when buying organic food.)
And while Consumer Reports food experts recommend that consumers choose organic foods when they can, "we realize that organic foods are not an option for everyone," says Charlotte Vallaeys, CR's policy analyst for food and nutrition.
But studies like this one from Friends of the Earth confirm how important it is for the federal government to increase support for organic farmers, "to make organic food the norm rather than a more expensive alternative only available to those who can afford it." .