It’s in the Weeds: Herbicide Linked to Human Liver Disease

Posted on Wednesday, 15th May 2019 @ 05:53 AM by Text Size A | A | A

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By Debra Kamin

Glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s popular weed killer Roundup, has been linked to liver disease in animal models. In a new study, the first of its kind, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report an association between the herbicide and negative effects upon the human liver.

In a study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology , a team led by Paul J. Mills, PhD, professor and chief in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine, examined glyphosate excretion in the urine samples of two patient groups — those with a diagnosis of NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a type of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD), and those without. The results, they found, were significant: Regardless of age, race, body mass index (BMI), ethnicity or diabetes status, glyphosate residue was significantly higher in patients with NASH than it was in patients with a healthier liver.

The findings, coupled with prior animal studies, said Mills, suggest a link between the use of commercial glyphosate in our food supply, which has increased significantly over the past 25 years, and the prevalence of NAFLD in the United States, which too has been on the rise for two decades.

“There have been a handful of studies, all of which we cited in our paper, where animals either were or weren’t fed Roundup or glyphosate directly, and they all point to the same thing: the development of liver pathology,” said Mills. “So I naturally thought: ‘Well, could it be exposure to this same herbicide that is driving liver disease in the U.S.?’”

The study examined urine samples of 93 patients. Forty-one percent were male; 42 percent were white or Caucasian; 35 percent were Hispanic or Latino. Average BMI was 31.8. Patients were originally recruited as part of a larger study at the UC San Diego NAFLD Research Center conducted between 2012 and 2018. Liver biopsies were used to determine the presence or absence of NAFLD while classifying the subjects by cohort.

Mills plans to next put a group of patients on an all-organic diet and track them over the course of several months, examining how a herbicide-free diet might affect biomarkers of liver disease.

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the United States; it was developed and patented by agrochemical giant Monsanto in the 1970s and its sales represent approximately 50 percent of the company’s annual revenue.

“The increasing levels [of glyphosate] in people’s urine very much correlates to the consumption of Roundup treated crops into our diet,” said Mills. But while researchers say this study shows a link between herbicide exposure and liver disease in human subjects, Mills said much work remains to be done.

“There are so many synthetic chemicals we are regularly exposed to,” he said. “We measured just one.”

Co-authors on the paper include: Cyrielle Caussy, MD, PhD, and Rohit Loomba, MD, both at UC San Diego.

This research was funded, in part, by the Solomon Dutka Fund in the New York Community Trust, the Caroline McKissick Young Foundation, and the Westreich Foundation. Funding support also came from NHLBI (R01HL136407) and NCATS (5UL1TR001442). R.L. receives funding support from NIEHS (5P42ES010337), NCATS (5UL1TR001442), and NIDDK (R01DK106419).

Related Articles:

The controversy surrounding the chemical glyphosate continues as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the weed killer is not a carcinogen—a claim which contradicts recent rulings by U.S. juries and research by the World Health Organization. 

Most of us take it for granted that the food and drinks we buy from the store are not putting our health at risk.However, new research from public health groups and scientists from the past several years indicates that food and drinks are contaminated with glyphosate, the main ingredient in the weed killer Roundup. This is a potential health problem because in 2015 the World Health Organization found that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, and in 2017, the state of California agreed.

A far-reaching new scientific analysis found that the weed-killing chemical glyphosate is far more dangerous than U.S. government officials admit,  showing a 41 percent increased risk of developing cancer for people who have frequent exposure.

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