Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay 

Glyphosate, or N-phosphomethyl-glycine, has been the most common herbicide in use around the world for decades. It works by blocking a metabolic pathway which produces the amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. Lacking these amino acids, the plant shrivels and dies. 

Given a mechanism of action like that, though, use of glyphosate was necessarily limited: it killed weeds, but it would also kill the plants you wanted to cultivate at the same time. It wasn’t until genetically modified crops entered the picture that use of glyphosate became much more widespread. Only after that could entire crops be doused in Round-Up (of which glyphosate is the active ingredient) without leading to commercial loss. 

Even some common non-GMO crops get doused in glyphosate right before harvesting, though, such as beans, wheat, and oats. This dries the plants, rendering the harvesting process faster and more efficient. 

Data indicating glyphosate’s safety at lower levels of consumption has primarily been based upon acute toxicity; however, we now know that glyphosate can persist in the environment for a long time. But is that really a problem? How concerned should we be?

In general, the theory of naturopathic medicine boils down to this: identify and remove the obstacles to cure, and give the body the building blocks it needs to heal itself. Within reason, healing should follow. Glyphosate potentially compromises both sides of that equation. 

Glyphosate as a Mineral Chelator 

Some of the necessary building blocks for health include micronutrients. Glyphosate has been shown to chelate positively charged minerals, making them unavailable for use as cofactors in enzymatic reactions. This is particularly true of manganese, zinc, and iron. 

Manganese deficiency is associated with Weight loss, dementia, and nausea and vomiting.

Zinc deficiency is associated with a host of problems, including decreased immunity, dermatitis, hair loss, depression, attention problems, loss of taste and appetite, amenorrhea, gut distress including bloating, nausea, and low pancreatic enzyme production, low sex hormone production, and poor wound healing. 

Iron deficiency is mostly associated with fatigue, shortness of breath, and anemia. 

Glyphosate and Gut Flora

Your microbiome is the collective term for all the bacteria that populate your gut—all 100 trillion of them. Even though your microbiome is not technically “you,” it’s so important to your body’s function that  it’s been characterized as another organ. It acts like an army, protecting you against foreign invaders (pathogenic bacteria, parasites, etc). It also helps to educate your immune system about the difference between friend and foe, making it very important to mitigate against and prevent allergies and autoimmunity. It also helps you break down your food.

Glyphosate has been shown to lead to dysbiosis, or disruption of the gut flora. This probably has to do with selective pressure: some microorganisms use the same pathway that the plants use, and which glyphosate targets. Those organisms not sensitive to glyphosate’s mechanism of action survive and proliferate. For the same reason, glyphosate has been implicated in increasing antibiotic resistance of pathogenic bacteria as well.

Because of the gut-brain axis, this change in dysbiosis can also lead to neurological dysfunction.

Glyphosate and Detoxification

In order to effectively remove any obstacles to cure that might be present, the liver’s detoxification process needs to be up to the task. 

The liver’s phases of detoxification consist of Phase 1, primarily involving cytochrome enzymes which act as a setup for final elimination, and Phase 2. Glyphosate has been shown to inhibit the cytochrome enzymes of Phase 1.

One of the liver’s six main pathways of detoxification, methylation, also heavily influences neurotransmitter balance, sex hormone balance, and histamine balance. It’s been shown that glyphosate may disrupt methylation. 

There’s some controversy over whether or not glyphosate, which contains glycine and degrades into glycine, may actually be inserted into proteins in place of glycine in the body. If true, this would have substantial ramifications, not least because glycine is one of three amino acids necessary to produce glutathione. Glutathione is necessary for another of the liver’s main Phase 2 pathways of elimination, and is also the body’s most powerful antioxidant. However, experimentation has shown that the body does not appear to make this error after all.

Perhaps in part due to its inhibitory activity against detoxification, the International Agency on the Research for Cancer (IARC) considers glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

What to Do About It

Because of the dramatic increase in glyphosate use, it’s nearly impossible to get away from it entirely—it’s even been found in rain water. But there are a few things you can do. 

If you can afford it, the best way to limit your exposure to glyphosate is to buy organic. Organic foods prohibit the use of glyphosate. 

Many argue that supplementation with glycine may be helpful as a competitive inhibitor against glyphosate. This would only be helpful if the body really does confuse the two during protein synthesis, which is disputed. That said, glycine supplementation would still support glutathione production as well as bile acid synthesis, and can be quite helpful for inducing deeper sleep for some people as well. 

This study showed that the herb ginkgo biloba is protective against glyphosate toxicity. 

I also often treat toxins with the homeopathic version of the toxin itself, as this seems to both encourage the body to release the toxin and also decreases any hypersensitivity that might exist to the toxin in the meantime. I therefore sometimes use homeopathic glyphosate as a gentle “chelator” if levels for glyphosate test high, in addition to other binding agents such as activated charcoal or zeolite.