Saturday, March 18, 2023

Roundup, the World’s Favorite Weed Killer, Linked to Liver, Metabolic Diseases in Kids


By Liza Gross
March 17, 2023

Eskenazi, who runs the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas study (known as CHAMACOS, Mexican Spanish slang for “little kids”), has tracked pairs of mothers and their children for more than 20 years. She’s collected hundreds of thousands of samples of blood, urine and saliva, along with exposure and health records. This treasure trove of data has produced unprecedented insights into the effects of environmental hazards on children living in California’s Salinas Valley, an agricultural region often called the “world’s salad bowl.” 

So when Charles Limbach, a doctor at a Salinas health clinic, saw an explosion of fatty liver disease in his young patients and found a study linking the condition in adults to the weed killer glyphosate, he contacted Eskenazi.

Eskenazi, who also heads the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley, offered to pull samples from her freezer to test Limbach’s suspicions about glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup and the most popular herbicide on the planet. The pair enlisted the help of Paul Mills, chief of U.C. San Diego’s Behavioral Medicine Division, who led the glyphosate study in adults, along with several other scientists at Eskenazi’s center.

The results of the team’s study of Eskenazi’s children, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives earlier this month, echoed what Mills had found in older patients.

”We show an association between early life exposure to glyphosate and liver inflammation and metabolic disease in young adults,” said Eskenazi, who led the study.

These conditions can be precursors for more serious diseases, including liver cancer and cardiometabolic diseases like stroke and diabetes, she said. “And these are only 18-year-olds.”


Teenagers who had metabolic syndrome and markers of liver disease at age 18 had higher urinary concentrations of AMPA and glyphosate between ages 5 and 18 years.  Metabolic syndrome in the 18-year-olds was also associated with agricultural use of glyphosate near their homes during early childhood.


AMPA is also a byproduct of compounds found in other products, including fire retardants and detergents. “But other studies have shown that the lion’s share, a much, much larger proportion of AMPA is due to glyphosate,” Eskenazi said.

The liver and metabolic conditions the researchers saw could be related to other causes, such as poor diet or excess weight. But the associations between AMPA and glyphosate remained when they controlled for those factors.

The findings are not surprising, considering the other studies showing liver toxicity and microbiome effects in animal models, said Bruce Blumberg, an expert on obesity and related metabolic disorders at the University of California, Irvine who was not involved in the new study. 


Eskenazi’s CHAMACOS study previously linked pesticides and other harmful exposures to neurodevelopmental disorders, lower IQ, preterm birth, respiratory problems and obesity, among other health problems.


Exposing honeybees to glyphosate interferes with their gut microbes, making the pollinators critical to the food supply more likely to die from infections, researchers reported in 2018. Exposing mice to glyphosate appears to disrupt gut microbes that communicate with the brain, making the rodents anxious and listless.

Scientists have just started to study glyphosate’s ability to disrupt the trillions of microorganisms in the human gut that digest food and regulate metabolism, body weight and immune function.


Monsanto assured U.S. regulators that weeds wouldn’t evolve resistance to glyphosate when it sought approval for its Roundup Ready soybeans in the early 1990s. Two years later, scientists documented glyphosate resistance in weeds.

Farmers now spray more frequently at higher rates to control the recalcitrant weeds, applying close to 300 million pounds of glyphosate on average every year. They also must increasingly resort to tilling practices to eradicate weeds, a method that releases climate-warming gases from soil.


And scientists have found the world’s favorite weed killer most everywhere they’ve looked. In house dust, particulate matter carried by the wind, soil, ditches, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, wetlands, groundwater, dairy cows’ urine and dietary staples like the corn, soy, wheat, legumes and oats used in cereals, baked goods and other processed foods.

Glyphosate is also in the urine of more than 80 percent of the U.S. population age 6 and older. 


“This chemical should be much more tightly regulated, probably not allowed for home use, and certainly under only restricted circumstances,” said Birnbaum, long the nation’s top toxicologist. If the human race is going to survive, she said, “we’ve got to stop using all these highly used chemicals, which poison us, wildlife and the whole ecosystem.”


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