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Daily News Blog

13
Oct

Chemical Alterations in the Body from Glyphosate-Based Herbicide During Perinatal Exposure Induces Chronic Liver Injury

(Beyond Pesticides, October 13, 2022) Offspring’s exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) preceding and proceeding birth (perinatal) induces liver damage. A study published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology demonstrates the role excess iron in the body from GBH exposure plays in liver toxicity via an increased uptake of calcium and oxidative stress. The liver, the largest solid organ in the human body, is an essential part of the digestive system, responsible for blood detoxification, nutrient metabolization, and immune function regulation. The rates of chronic liver diseases are increasing, representing the second leading cause of mortality among all digestive diseases in the U.S.

Because GBHs are ubiquitous in many herbicide products, studies report that these toxic chemical compounds are detectable in infants, children, and pregnant women. Children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of pesticide exposure as their developing bodies cannot adequately combat exposure effects. Although studies show how chemical exposures affect overall human health, more research is now questioning how these toxic chemicals influence digestive health and the subsequent occurrence of diseases. Therefore, it is essential to understand how harmful chemical exposure impacts health and well-being during critical developmental periods. The study notes, “[T]he possible role played by perinatal exposure to GBH on the onset of adverse outcomes later in life show an urgent need for research to understand the impact of early life exposure to this herbicide to ensure well-being across life stages.”

The perinatal period is one of the more susceptible timeframes for adverse health effects among infants from environmental exposure. However, the consequences of perinatal exposure to GBH in children’s health outcomes lack complete understanding. To access how GBH exposure impacts offspring, researchers exposed pregnant Wistar rats to relevant doses of glyphosate in drinking water during the perinatal period, day five of gestation day until day 15 postpartum. During this period, GBH exposure increased calcium influx and iron accumulation in the offspring’s liver, resulting in oxidative stress and inflammation. The imbalance in calcium and iron depletes and alters the glutathione (GSH) enzyme responsible for the antioxidant defense against xenobiotics (e.g., external chemicals, drugs, pesticides, carcinogens) for detoxification by making these compounds more soluble. Moreover, excess iron levels present a biomarker for liver injury as excessive amounts of iron may increase reactive oxygen species (ROS), activating inflammatory enzyme pathways. 

Glyphosate is the most commonly used active ingredient worldwide, appearing in many herbicide formulations and readily contaminating soil, water, food, and other resources. Decades of extensive glyphosate herbicide use (e.g., Roundup) have put human, animal, and environmental health at riskFour out of five U.S. individuals over six years have detectable levels of glyphosate in their bodies. Exposure to glyphosate has implications for the development of various health anomalies, including cancerParkinson’s disease, developmental and birth disorders, and autism. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies glyphosate herbicides as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” stark evidence demonstrates links to various cancers, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma. EPA’s classification perpetuates adverse impacts, especially among vulnerable individuals, like pregnant women, infants, children, and the elderly. Glyphosate’s ubiquity threatens 93 percent of all U.S. endangered species, resulting in biodiversity loss and ecosystem disruption (e.g., soil erosionloss of services, and trophic cascades). Moreover, chemical use has been increasing since the inception of crops genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate. Not only do health officials warn that continuous use of glyphosate will perpetuate adverse health and ecological effects, but that use also highlights recent concerns over antibiotic resistance. This increase in resistance is evident among herbicide-tolerant GE crops, including seeds genetically engineered to be glyphosate-tolerant.

This study demonstrates the role of iron accumulation in the liver, blood, and bone marrow plays in oxidative damage and inflammation, and the association with calcium influx. Therefore, the results of this study and others like it will clarify the mechanism ultimately involved in chemical-medicated liver dysfunction and associated diseases. Regarding glyphosate, past studies find links between chemical exposure and liver impacts. A 2015 study found that chronically exposing rats to ultra-low doses of glyphosate in drinking water results in tissue and organ damage, including changes to gene expression within the liver and kidneys. And a 2017 study, which also fed minuscule doses of glyphosate weed killer to rats, found an increased likelihood that exposed animals would develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Like this study, research suggests glyphosate exposure increases proinflammatory cytokine proteins in the blood, especially TNFα. Excessive iron accumulation in the body augments ROS availability and subsequent activation of proinflammatory enzymes in response. The overexpression of these proinflammatory proteins has associations with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases. 

Therefore, the study concludes, “The GBH-induced oxidative stress in rat liver is associated with iron accumulation and may induce early epigenetic changes that could lead to adverse outcomes later in life. […] Therefore, we suggest that the neurotoxic effects of glyphosate previously reported by us may be connected to the iron accumulation demonstrated in the present study. However, whether iron accumulation and developmental neurotoxicity after GBH exposure are linked needs to be further evaluated.”

Beyond Pesticides challenges the registration of chemicals like glyphosate in court due to their impacts on soil, air, water, and our health. While legal battles press on, the agricultural system should eliminate the use of toxic synthetic herbicides to avoid the myriad of problems they cause. Chemical exposures have real, tangible impacts not only on individuals but on society as a whole. Pesticides impose unnecessary hazards on children’s health. Early life exposures during “critical windows of vulnerability” can predict the likelihood or otherwise increase the chances of an individual encountering a range of pernicious diseases. Environmental disease in children costs an estimated $76.8 billion annually. Exposures that harm learning and development also impact future economic growth in the form of lost brain power, racking up a debt to society in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Therefore, it is essential to mitigate preventable exposure to disease-inducing pesticides. For more information about pesticides’ effects on human and animal health, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database, including pages on immune system disorders (e.g., hepatitis [liver condition]), birth abnormalitiesbrain, and nervous system disorders, and more.

One way to reduce human and environmental contamination from pesticides is to buygrow, and support organic. Numerous studies show that switching to an organic diet can rapidly and drastically reduce the levels of synthetic pesticides in one’s body. A 2020 study found a one-week switch to an organic diet reduced an individual’s glyphosate body burden by 70%. Furthermore, given the wide availability of non-pesticidal alternative strategies, these methods can promote a safe and healthy environment, especially among chemically vulnerable individuals or those with health conditions. For more information on why organic is the right choice for consumers and the farmworkers that grow our food, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology

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