Unfortunately, we live in a society where things that look good are considered to be superior. If you drive a nice car and live in a nice home you are thought to have a good job and earn decent money and be respected. The world’s most ‘beautiful’ people grace our magazine covers and our TV screens and are idolised by many just because of how they look. This image obsession even filters down into what we eat – our fruits and vegetables have to be farmed to perfection. No one wants to buy a bruised banana or a funny shaped carrot, our fruits and veggies need to be perfectly trimmed, just like our favourite celebrities.
It is this mentality that has forced supermarkets to stock only the most aesthetic looking fruit and veg. Not only does this push our food wastage up dramatically, with between 20-40% of fruit and veggies in Australia being rejected because they don’t meet supermarkets ‘high cosmetic standards and specifications’. It also forces farmers to use whatever methods they can to keep their yield from ugliness and pest tampering, to ensure a steady income, so they spray our fruit and veg with chemicals, specifically Glyphosate or Roundup, making the perfect-looking, yet poison riddled, a piece of fruit.
What is glyphosate?
Glyphosate is the primary active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready. It is a herbicide that is used by farmers, landowners (including councils) and homeowners alike.
Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will kill most plants. It prevents the plants from making certain proteins that are needed for plant growth. Glyphosate stops a specific enzyme pathway, the shikimate acid pathway. The shikimate acid pathway is necessary for plants and some microorganisms. (1)
In the Monsanto Global product insert on glyphosate, it states that it has been used in (1) 60 countries worldwide for the last 40 years and it has been declared by regulating bodies that ‘glyphosate, when used correctly, does not pose an unreasonable risk to human health’. (2) This same document also states that it is safe for humans, the environment, and wildlife.
However, more recently the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a component of the World Health Organisation (WHO), has declared that glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. (3)
Glyphosate impact on our health
It is suggested that glyphosate’s claimed mechanism of action, the inhibition of the shikimate pathway, which is involved in the synthesis of the essential aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan, cannot cause harm to humans because our cells do not contain this pathway, it is only found in plants, archaea and bacteria. (4)
However, because human cells don’t have this biochemical pathway we rely on these amino acids from our foods and…you guessed it, synthesis of them from our gut bacteria, and guess how our gut bacteria make them…via the shikimate pathway.
These amino acids act as direct precursors (meaning they aid in their synthesis) to neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters send chemical messengers between our brain cells (neurons) helping them to communicate. Mental illness and neuro-developmental conditions including depression, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, ADHD and Parkinson ’s disease and many more, can be linked to a disruption, and deficiency, of these neurotransmitters and/or any of their precursors. (4,5)
Crops sprayed with glyphosate also have shown to have delayed growth compared to their non-sprayed counterparts and this has been attributed to glyphosate’s role as a micro-nutrient chelator. (5) Studies conducted on plants have shown those sprayed with glyphosate have a decreased uptake of calcium and magnesium within the mitochondria of the cell (the ‘power-house’, energy producer of the cell, and yes, human cells have them too!) as well as an overall decrease of calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese in the seeds of the plant. (5) These micro-nutrient deficiencies do roll over to the food supply, thereby decreasing the levels available to humans upon consumption.
Animal studies have shown that glyphosate can lead to a disruption of the gut microbiome; it has a demonstrated toxicity to Enterococcus species, which beneficially favours pathogenic Clostridium species. Highly pathogenic Salmonella and Clostridium were found to be very resistant to glyphosate, where as more favourable and beneficial microbes in Enterococcus, Bacillus and Lactobacillus species were found to be highly susceptible. (5) Psuedomonas species was shown to be able to break down glyphosate resulting in numerous by products including formaldehyde, a known neurotoxin which can form an amyloid-like protein build up in neurons, similar to those observed in Alzheimer’s Disease.
Plant and animal studies have shown that glyphosate also has a direct inhibitory effect on CYP enzymes (5), these enzymes are powerful detoxifiers and, in humans, are found predominately within the liver where they are responsible for detoxifying hormones among other exogenous and endogenous toxins. They are also responsible for activating vitamin D, and inhibition of them can contribute to vitamin D deficiency, something that is now rife in Australia, regardless of our hot summers.
In addition, the IARC report mentioned above also documented that glyphosate has been shown to cause DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, (3) thereby having the ability to contribute to cancer development.
How to avoid glyphosate
There is no denying that glyphosate is literally everywhere, it is sprayed on our fruit, our vegetables, grains and other ingredients that fill processed foods, it’s in pharmaceuticals and medications and sprayed on council grounds.
Avoiding it is next to impossible; however, we can decrease our exposure.
The best way is, of course, to eat whole, organic foods and eat meat that has been pastured on organic, spray-free grass.
Studies have shown that eating organic food for just one week can decrease your chemical pesticide exposure by a whopping 90%. (6) That. Is. Huge.
Of course, eating organic can be more expensive and many people are put-off due to the cost. A wallet-friendly way to go is to shop at Farmer’s Markets and speak directly to the growers, ask them what they use and how they use it. Many Farmers grow ‘spray free’ these days, however, are ‘uncertified’ due to the cost involved in being certified organic.
Eat seasonally- eating seasonal organic produce keeps the cost down. This can also be achieved by shopping at Farmers Markets, however many places also do organic seasonal fruit and veg ‘surprise’ boxes available online so although you can’t choose what you get, it’s organic.
And this leads us to the ‘dirty dozen and clean fifteen’ slogan. This promotes that certain types of produce are sprayed more heavily than others, regardless of season and that those in the ‘dirty dozen’ category should always be purchased organic, or at least spray-free and if not they should be peeled and washed thoroughly before consumption.
There is no denying that as a society overall, our health is declining and a majority of this overall decline can be linked to our now highly processed, nutrient deficient diets. However, unfortunately there is so much more to our food these days than what meets the eye, from the introduction of genetically modified foods and the demand of aesthetics of our food to the increase of pressure on farmers to grow produce that the supermarkets will purchase to ensure their income and the use of extremely toxic substances to support all these factors.
We, as consumers have the power to make changes by the choices we make. Choose to purchase organic where possible, or at least spray free and support local farmers by shopping at Farmers Markets, request organic produce if supermarkets don’t stock it or, alternatively, find your inner green-thumb and grow your own.