Bees, RoundUp, and mushrooms might not seem to have too much in common. You might be surprised to find out that each of these is deeply interconnected when it comes to the environment and your health. What do they have in common? The trend of genetic modification in cash crops and the widely used pesticide RoundUp.
The Problem: Bees Are Dying
For a while, scientists have been aware of a major problem with no explainable solution. In fact, scientists estimate that by this point all bees have been infected by a virus that kills them. Aside from caring for and respecting an entire species of animals, the bees matter because they are massive contributors to our food supply as humans. Here’s a look at what our grocery store shelves would look like without bees.
Do you see the difference? That’s right, the shelves are nearly empty in the bee-less food supply. Bees are an essential link in the chain of our food supply, as you can tell from the vacant shelves pictured above. We need them.
However, scientists estimate that by this point, almost all bee populations have been infected with a virus that is shortening their lifespans en masse. When the worker bees start dying, the bees that work in the hive have to step up and take on the worker bee job, putting a massive strain on the hive. Within weeks, most of the bees in an infected hive die.
While bees tend to be overlooked as a species and sometimes even seen as a menace, these little guys play a crucial role in the environment to keep everybody fed and healthy. If the bees are sick and dying off, we need to know why and create a solution.
In reality, it’s not a virus that is killing off the bee population. If you’ve studied germ theory and its origins, then you already know that germs aren’t what make us ill. (Read this article to learn more.) In short, the bee population has been poisoned.
Bees engage intimately with plant life, including crops sprayed by pesticides and herbicides as well as contaminated rain and run-off water. While the industry is finally being forced to admit that RoundUp and other industrial, chemical pesticides aren’t nearly as safe as they tried to say, these products are still heavily used every day. Monsanto, the manufacturer of RoundUp, has settled more than $10 billion in lawsuits from cancer patients.
Now we know that the bees are falling victim to the use of these toxic chemicals as well, with dire consequences for all.
GMOs & RoundUp
GMO stands for “genetically modified organism”. Basically, scientists play with the DNA of major crops to engineer varieties that won’t die when pesticides are sprayed on them. Almost every major crop comes has a genetical modified version, including corn, soy, wheat, canola, sugar, cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa, and chocolate.
The idea of GMOs was originally sold to the public under the guise of being able to produce more food under less desirable circumstances at a cheaper rate to help feed the hungry. In reality, GMOs have nothing to do with eliminating world hunger and everything to do with profits.
Companies produce weed killer to sell to farmers and then sell them the seeds to crop that have been genetically modified to be resistant to the weed killer. Farmers want to use powerful weed killers to make their jobs easier, but these chemicals also kill normal crops. The crops are designed such that the weeds will die but the product won’t. Crops are cheaper and easier to grow because farmers can produce more product while losing less to bugs and weeds.
Monsanto capitalized in a big way on this concept of selling both the seeds and pesticides to farmers. They’re the reason GMOs are a big thing now. Farmers aren’t the only one who use tons of RoundUp, either. RoundUp is a product used by millions of unsuspecting Americans every day. Anyone can buy it from a hardware or garden store. You might even have a bottle of it in your own garage!
RoundUp is one of the most commonly used herbicides and has an active ingredient called glyphosate, a highly controversial chemical that has been deemed “safe” by the government although safety studies were done by groups with industry ties. Glyphosate along is extremely toxic, and as we’ll see, the effects are magnified when combined with the other ingredients in RoundUp.
Because glyphosate is the active ingredient in RoundUp, that’s what we’re going to focus on for the majority of this discussion. It’s also the most dangerous piece of the puzzle, which is why it needs special attention.
A review published in 2013 by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, titled Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases, outlines the mechanism through which glyphosate can take the blame for making the bees (and us humans) sick. It’s an excellent read if you have some extra time on your hands, but we’ll hit the major points here.
Essentially, the research presented here demonstrates that glyphosate is harmful to the environment from every front, including plants, animals, and humans. The bees are not immune to the effects of glyphosate as an environmental toxin and have huge exposure levels to it due to their natural role and interactions.
But never fear! Stay with me to the end, and I’ll share with you the man with a plan, Paul Stamets, and his beautiful strategy for helping the bees heal.
Glyphosate has been deemed safe by the FDA, although it had a bumpy start. Many studies claim that glyphosate has negligent toxicity to mammals. Some have even gone so far as to say that glyphosate is less toxic than aspirin. Because it is believed to be such a benign substance, RoundUp is usually handled carelessly and not well regulated.
A major issue I take with the safety check of GMOs and Roundup (glyphosate) is the timeline. We have been told that GMO crops are no different than normal ones and that Roundup won’t cause any damage in the short or long term. However, human consumption of these treated crops spans only part of a generation of humans. There are no true long-term studies because the product hasn’t even been around long enough to do a long-term study. Monsanto or any other company researching and producing GMO crops can’t honestly claim that their product will have no effect on a human consuming their product over the course of 50 years because that study has never been done. We as a society are the experiment.
As it turns out, the effects of Roundup, and specifically glyphosate, take time to manifest. So what can we prove?
Let’s start with the effect glyphosate has on plants since that’s where first contact happens.
Glyphosate & Plants
Plants absorb chemicals if they’re exposed, GMO or not. GMOs are only designed not to die from RoundUp exposure, but that doesn’t mean the chemicals don’t stick around on the food product in some capacity.
A study was done where glyphosate-tolerant and glyphosate-sensitive plants were treated with glyphosate. Both plants absorbed the glyphosate despite the genetic modification demonstrating that the genetic modification is only meant keep Roundup from killing the crop, but it does not make it impermeable to chemical absorption.
So when crops (read: your food) are sprayed with RoundUp (read: glyphosate), they soak it up!
Glyphosate isn’t just passed from plant to consumer, however. It has an effect on the plants themselves.
One study showed that glyphosate disrupts the shikimate pathway in plants. The shikimate pathway is involved in the synthesis of essential amino acids: phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. This means that glyphosate exposure is limiting the plant from access to primary building blocks to grow. It’s worth nothing that the shikimate pathway is not directly present in humans. However, it is present in gut bacteria, and the human gut is critical to maintaining the immune system, so anything that harms our good gut bacteria is definitely harming us.
Plants treated with glyphosate had decreased levels of tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine, according to another study. They also had a 50-65% decrease in levels of serine, glycine, and methionine. A side-branch of the tryptophan synthesis pathway is a pathway for flavonoid synthesis. A 20-fold increase in the synthesis of a rate-limiting enzyme for the flavonoid synthesis pathway was observed as a result of glyphosate exposure. Glyphosate also induced synthesis of monophenolic compounds and polyphenolic flavonoids in plants and microbes. An increase in synthesis of these two compounds uses up amino acids that are needed as supplies for other compounds.
In other words, there is a process that happens in plants and gut bacteria that makes amino acids and a few other necessary chemicals. When plants are exposed to glyphosate, the levels of these super important chemicals drop 50-65%. And a sneaky little enzyme that kills the process shows up by 20x!
Glyphosate was reported to interfere with root absorption of calcium and magnesium in soybeans and levels of calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese were lower in plant seeds produced by plants treated with glyphosate.
A study of carrots exposed to high doses of glyphosate found that the carrots produced significant levels of phenolic compounds and shikimic acid. We’ll come back to the dangers of phenolic compounds soon. Benzoic acids were also found at higher levels. If a plant is producing higher levels of phenolic compounds and benzoic acids, supplies to build other compounds needed by the plant get used up more quickly. As a result, aromatic amino acids do not get synthesized as abundantly as they are needed.
Basically, glyphosate prevents plants from absorbing minerals like calcium and magnesium from the soil as efficiently. When nutrient levels drop in plants, they become sick just like we do. When you eat a sick plant, you get less nutrition and introduce glyphosate contamination from the plant into your body.
Plants: Big Picture
You don’t have to understand all the details of the biological pathways to see the big picture. Glyphosate has been shown to be a detriment to plants that have been exposed. The nutrient levels are decreased, and the plants get sick, even if they don’t look like it on the outside. When you consume these sick, glyphosate-contaminated plants, you ingest glyphosate and don’t get as much nutritional value from your food.
Glyphosate & Animals
Bees are extremely resilient when it comes to regular levels of environmental toxicity; however, glyphosate still has a serious effect on them.
First, I want to highlight a few studies done on other animals concerning the effects of glyphosate toxicity. Bees aren’t the only animals we should be worried about. Plenty of wildlife munch on crops or drink from and bathe in run off water that is contaminated with glyphosate. Here are 5 examples of studies done on mice, frogs, rats, and cattle to demonstrate glyphosate toxicity.
Study #1: Mice with glyphosate in their drinking water showed signs of damage in liver and blood cells.
Study #2: In two weeks, a frog environment contaminated with glyphosate lost one-third of the population of frogs and 2 species of tadpoles were completely eliminated. The species variation of the frogs decreased by 70%.
Study #3: Rats were given water tainted with glyphosate at the highest level of allowed human consumption for 30 days or 90 days showed indications of oxidative stress. Pathologies occurred after 3 months; 3 months is a typical length of time for a toxicity study. Therefore, a 3 month study would not have detected changes in health.
Study #4: Rats were fed GMO maize or non-GMO maize over their lifetime. The female rats on the GMO diet developed mammary tumors. The chronically exposed rats, especially the males, also developed gastrointestinal, liver, and kidney pathologies. The male rats also developed skin and liver carcinomas.
Study #5: Cattle fed with a GMO diet had increased risk to Clostridium botulinum infection in Germany.
Animals: Big Picture
What we see from the research is that animals exposed to glyphosate experience liver damage, oxidative stress, cancer, disease and death. These animals make for a pretty good gauge of what might happen to humans as well.
Glyphosate & Humans
Glyphosate poses a danger to humans (and animals in general) on 2 fronts: impaired sulfate transport and suppression of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes. Basically,
- It stops sulfate from being transported in the body.
- It suppresses necessary superpower enzymes.
For starters, we need to identify why sulfur is important in the body. Sulfur is a component of 4 amino acids: methionine, cysteine, homocysteine, and taurine. Sulfur provides the location for methionine and cysteine to bind together to form proteins. The highest concentrations of sulfur can be found in joints, hair, nails, and skin. Insulin has high levels of sulfur-containing amino acids. Cysteine is found in the liver; taurine is a component of bile acid which aids in digestion; methionine and cysteine help metabolize homocysteine.
Here’s how glyphosate impairs sulfate transport.
Glyphosate and sulfate are both considered kosmotropes (don’t get bogged down in the vocab, just roll with me). When glyphosate is introduced to the system, the kosmotropic level increases. When kosmotropic levels increase, phenolic compounds (such as p-cresol) are required to transport sulfate. This means a larger number of phenolic compounds are needed, so aromatic amino acids are oxidized into phenolic compounds. These phenolic compounds are sulfated in the gut, and the sulfate is transported through the hepatic portal vein in the presence of glyphosate. The phenolic compounds can be reused and perform several rounds of sulfate transport, but when the phenolic compounds are eventually unsulfated, they become toxic. Phenolic compounds react destructively with phospholipids and DNA.
In other words, when glyphosate shows up, it steals sulfate’s taxi to travel around the body. To compensate, the body produces toxic compounds as extra taxis. When all the sulfate has been delivered, these toxic taxis are left empty and dangerous. They react to destroy our cell walls and DNA.
Aside from toxic compounds being left to roam the body, these are the other consequences to impaired sulfate transport.
First, to counteract the elevated levels of kosmotropes, the level of chaotropes (the opposite of kosmotropes) increases in the blood to act as a buffer. Chaotropes include ammonia, nitric oxide, nitrite, and nitrate. These compounds have been observed at elevated levels in patients with autism [Source, Source, Source]. In fact, since 1990 autism has been connected to impaired sulfur oxidation and low levels of serum sulfate. With autism, free sulfate levels in the blood are around one-third the normal level. Other serious problems can arise from impaired sulfate transport such as colitis and Crohn’s disease. Deficiencies in sulfur-containing amino acids can lead to a range of health problems including arthritis, liver stress, digestive issues, and gut dysbiosis.
In case you skimmed that, here’s the list:
- Crohn’s disease
- gut dysbiosis
Cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes are a class of enzymes present in plant, animal, and microbial biology. There are at least 18 CYP families present in humans. These enzymes participate in liver detoxification of xenobiotics, forming bile acid, synthesizing and breaking down vitamin D3 and cholesterol, steroid synthesis, catobolizing retinolic acid, regulating blood clotting, regulating hemorrhaging, and stimulating platelet aggregation.
CYP enzymes are basically evolved in everything that keeps you alive. If they’re not allowed to do their jobs, all your important functions start to crap out.
Symptoms ranging from vitamin D deficiency to liver failure can be a result of CYP enzyme. Essentially, all of those functions listed above don’t happen properly when CYP enzymes experience interference.
Glyphosate just so happens to interfere with CYP enzymes.
Here are three ways glyphosate that can interfere with CYP enzyme activity:
1. Glyphosate can inhibit aromatase, a CYP enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. One study found that glyphosate at 10 ppm disrupted the amount of aromatase activity. At 100 times less concentration than the recommended agricultural use, aromatase is disrupted in human placental cells. Adjuvants, chemicals that enhance the body’s immune response to an antigen, found in Roundup enhance its toxcitiy. In oyster larvae, Roundup was toxic at 1/20 of the amount of glyphosate needed to be toxic.
2. Glyphosate can suppress the CYP enzyme involved in catabolizing retinoic acid. This causes an increase in retinoic acid. Neural defects and cranial malfunctions have been observed in babies born where glyphosate-based herbicides are used. A study examined the effects of chick and frog embryo development while exposed to glyphosate at a 1/5000 dilution of commercial glyphosate-based herbicide. The tadpoles had cranial deformities. The chick embryos had microcephaly. These defects were due to an increase in retinoic acid as a result of CYP enzyme suppression.
3. Glyphosate can inhibit detoxifying CYP enzymes in both plants and animals. One study looked at the inhibition of a CYP enzyme that detoxifies benzene compounds in plants. At 15 microM (this means 0.000088 oz of glyphosate in 1 liter of water), CYP enzyme activity was reduced by a factor of 4. At 35 microM (or 0.00021 oz of glyphosate in 1 liter of water), CYP enzyme was completely eliminated. This happens because the nitrogen group in glyphosate binds to the CYP enzyme. When rats were fed glyphosate for 2 weeks, a decrease in the level of CYP enzymes in the liver was observed.
In summary, by messing with your CYP enzymes, glyphosate can:
- inhibit the testosterone turning into estrogen at 100x less concentration than the recommended dose for farmers to put on their crops. (And RoundUp can be 20x more toxic than glyphosate alone because of the other chemicals in RoundUp.)
- increase retinoic acid, which causes neural and cranial defects in embryos and babies.
- inhibit the detoxing CYP enzyme, even at super low concentrations. (We’re talking less than a drop in 1 liter of water is enough to completely stop the CYP detoxing enzyme in plants.)
Humans: Big Picture
It’s pretty clear that glyphosate is nasty stuff. It causes disruptions in function at many levels and the results can be severe, such as hormonal interference and nervous system damage.
We’ve discussed the nitty gritty of glyphosate’s damage to humans, but what does this look like in our society? We are living in a culture of health epidemics. Some of these have already been mentioned in detail, but here are some of the major diseases and diagnoses whose sources we can link to the problems that glyphosate causes (this list is not exhaustive).
- irritable bowel
- liver disease
This list scares me. And it should scare you, too. It should make you run far and fast from touching anything labeled GMO or sprayed with Roundup.
And in case you’re wondering how RoundUp got the all-clear from the FDA or USDA with research like this floating around. If I had to guess, money would be close to the top of the list.
CYP Enzymes, Bees, & Glyphosate
Here’s the kicker when it comes to the bees and how glyphosate effects them. It all comes down to their CYP enzymes.
Some researchers theorize that the major honeybee die-off is connected to increased glyphosate use, and the science shows us why. The bees collect pollen from plants that have been treated with glyphosate, and the glyphosate gets in their systems. Usually bees are very resistant to toxins from pesticides because of certain CYP enzymes that they have. They can actually process toxins that would kill other animals.
Glyphosate works on bees like a Trojan horse. Since glyphosate suppresses the CYP enzymes that help the bees eliminate those toxins, they become susceptible to pesticides that didn’t harm them before [Source, Source, Source]. Glyphosate wipes out their protection mechanisms so they can detox properly. Even if glyphosate didn’t kill them directly, another toxin they might usually be able to process now can.
Basically, plants are treated with glyphosate. Bees collect the pollen. Bees consume glyphosate. Glyphosate suppresses their CYP enzyme that protects them from other toxins. Then the other toxins kill the bees.
Paul Stamets & Saving The Bees
Paul Stamets is the ‘shroom guy. He’s dedicated his entire life to studying mushrooms. He’s also the guy who figured out how to save the bees. As the poisoned and dying bee population problem has come to light over the last decade or so, Stamets accidentally stumbled across a way to help.
Stamets noticed bees feeding on his mushrooms in his garden. Stamets discovered that bees will feed on mushrooms with antiviral properties, and the bees get better and survive much longer! Since then, he’s done a lot of research about mushrooms relative to bee health. Recently, Stamets’ projects have included creating mushroom feeding stations for bees called BeeMushroomed Feeders to place around the world and allow the bees to have access to these amazing healing mushrooms.
If you want to know more about his incredible research, I would recommend this presentation he did at the EcoFarm conference in January 2017. It is really astounding and exciting work.
What You Can Do
This website has extensive resources about GMOs, and any food with their label on the packaging has been cleared of being GMO. They also have an app where you can search products that have been added to their list of GMO-free products. You can even scan a barcode of a product to quickly find out if it’s on their list.
How can you avoid GMOs? Easy! Look for this label when you’re grocery shopping to make sure your food is GMO-free:
The Non-GMO Project website has extensive resources about GMOs, and any food with their label on the packaging has been cleared of being GMO. They also have an app where you can search products that have been added to their list of GMO-free products. You can even scan a barcode of a product to quickly find out if it’s on their list.
An even better step to take is to shop organic. Non-GMO products are not necessarily organically grown, but all organic products are non-GMO. You can also look for this label to make sure you food is organic:
Now it’s time for you to take action! Pay attention at the grocery store this week when you’re shopping and read the labels. Shopping GMO-free makes a big difference to both your health and the environment!
While we can’t individually control what the FDA or USDA deems safe, we can choose what we purchase. Vote with your dollar!