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Cancer-Causing Chemical Found in Crops. See if You are Exposed

Learn about glyphosate and if you’re at risk for exposure. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Millions of Americans are eating food sprayed with common weedkillers that use the active ingredient called glyphosate, which possibly contains cancer-causing chemicals and the people at the greatest risk are in the Midwest, Colorado and parts of the South, NBC reports. Glyphosate has been widely used for 50 years on various crops like cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, beans and fruits, and while The Environmental Protection Agency and Bayer, the pharmaceutical company that sells the most glyphosate, state there is no danger to humans, lawsuits have poured in over allegations that the chemical is linked to cancer. Back in 2019, a jury awarded Edwin Hardeman $75 million in punitive damages and $5 million in compensatory damages after finding years of Roundup use likely caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma, however others have lost their case due to lack of evidence. 

NBC reports, "A 2019 analysis conducted by former EPA science review board members indicated a "compelling link" to the disease. Several peer-reviewed studies have also suggested that herbicides containing glyphosate may disrupt hormones and alter the gut microbiome." Monsanto began using glyphosate in its product Roundup in 1974 and Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018. According to NBC, "Glyphosate is the most widely used chemical weedkiller in human history because of genetic engineering," said Dave Murphy, the founder of Food Democracy Now, an advocacy group that tests glyphosate in food. "It's sprayed ubiquitously and Monsanto has, for decades, just maintained that it's the safest agricultural chemical ever made."

While Bayer maintains there are no health risks to people, the company has plans to remove glyphosate in some versions of Roundup within a few months. The company said in its statement "This move is being made exclusively to manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Animals Got Tumors from Glyphosate

no mask on dogs

According to NBC, "The EPA concluded in 2020 that glyphosate posed "no risks to human health" and was not likely to cause cancer. But a federal appeals court rejected that determination in June, stating that the EPA did not adequately assess the risks to endangered species and human health. The court also pointed out inconsistencies in the agency's 2016 evaluation of potential links to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The EPA withdrew its decision in September.

An internal EPA advisory panel also found inconsistencies in that 2016 evaluation, including that some tumor responses in animals had been discounted. The panel recommended that the EPA obtain updated data in order to make a conclusion about non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk.

"Animals did get tumors and they got more tumors at high doses," said Bill Freese, the science director at the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization that was one of the groups that challenged the EPA's glyphosate review in court. "Their cancer conclusion just did not make sense," Freese said."


What to Know About Glyphosate

woman lying on a grass outdoor

Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, FACEP, FUHM, FACMT Medical Toxicologist and Co-Medical Director at the National Capital Poison Center explains, "Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide worldwide, and it's the active ingredient in Roundup and other commonly used herbicide products. Glyphosate works by blocking a key enzyme in plants. This enzyme is not present in animals, like humans, which is why glyphosate is effective in killing plants but is not typically toxic to humans after acute consumption. However, herbicides that contain glyphosate also contain inert ingredients, including surfactants, that may be poisonous to humans.

The surfactants present in glyphosate help the compound penetrate plant leaves for effective weed killing. Although glyphosate-based compounds are highly effective in killing weeds, glyphosate is also associated with potential health effects in humans and other animals. Several published studies have reported an association between glyphosate and endocrine disruption, liver and kidney disease, and cancer. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated glyphosate as being probably carcinogenic to humans. The IARC based this rating on the results of experimental animal studies and other studies that demonstrated how glyphosate may cause chromosomal damage and oxidative stress."

According to Dr. Jasmyne Brown, ND, MS "Glyphosate has a known detrimental effect on renal function, chelates metals like copper and iron needed for human life, and interferes with CYP 450 enzymes. This herbicide also has the capability to kill probiotics like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus, and Bacillus species. Our good gut bacteria also have the shikimate pathway and are affected by glyphosate. When they are damaged, there are less available amino acids and minerals for our bodily function. One mineral decreased by glyphosate is manganese. A lack of manganese is related to mitochondrial dysfunction and neurotoxicity seen in Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and Autism. It has also been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and renal tumors."


Not Eating Organically and Smoking Can Expose You to Glyphosate, According to Doctor

eat fiber foods

Dr. Stace Nelson-Hicks, DACM, L.Ac., CFMP tells us, "Glyphosate is the main reason I suggest that my patients eat organic foods as much as possible. And, as an aside, Glyphosate is used as a dessicant in tobacco, so smokers are also at an increased risk of ill health and not just from the act of smoking.

When I have a patient whose symptoms don't make sense:  Chronic Fatigue, Digestive issues, unexplained pain (including migraines) and even aplastic anemia, I routinely test for Glyphosate.  Great Plains laboratories offer a urinalysis to determine whether or not a person has been exposed and how much remains in their systems."


It's Not Just Food to Worry About


Dr. Nelson-Hicks reveals, " Please be aware that not all exposures are from the foods we eat. I have a patient who was diagnosed with idiopathic aplastic anemia, on constant iron infusions which offered limited relief, who lived on a golf course.  With just that hint, we tested her and her glyphosate load was off the charts.  I developed a protocol for her to detoxify from this poison and all of her red and white blood cells and her platelets moved towards normal ranges for the first time since she had been diagnosed."

Dr. Johnson-Arbor says, "Commercial glyphosate products contain higher amounts of glyphosate than ready-to-use products sold for individual use and have higher concentrations of surfactants than ready-to-use products. It's unlikely that humans will develop toxicity after accidental or small ingestions of glyphosate. If someone does swallow glyphosate or get it on their eyes or skin, contact poison control immediately for expert advice. There are two ways to contact Poison Control in the United States: online at or by phone at 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day."  


Be Cautious About Glyphosate

talk to doctor

Adetunji Toriola, MD, PhD, MPH, Professor of Surgery, Division of Public Health Sciences, Department of Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine says, " glyphosate is a broad spectrum herbicide. Lab studies indicate that it is genotoxic."

–"In 2015, IARC labeled it as "probably carcinogenic to human" which means that although there is evidence from experimental studies that it causes cancer, evidence from human studies is limited.

–In 2018, a large study of licensed pesticide applicators published in JNCI reported no associations of glyphosate use with lymphoid or solid tumors overall but an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia among pesticide applicators who have been consistently exposed to glyphosate for 20 years

–As a precaution – important to always wear protective clothing and eyewear when using it and to thoroughly wash skin if there is contact."

Dr. Johnson-Arbor states, "Although the IARC has classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen, there are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered about glyphosate's role in human toxicity and cancer development. Many of the studies that investigated the health impacts of glyphosate included only specific groups of people: for example, some studies only included males, Caucasians, or pesticide applicators, potentially making the study results less applicable to the general population. Also, some studies relied on individual reports of known pesticide exposure. Glyphosate and its metabolites are known to be found in food, water, and dust, which means that even people who don't work as pesticide applicators or have a known exposure to glyphosate are likely still exposed to this chemical through the environment. For now, until we have more extensive and better-designed studies, it's hard to say with certainty whether glyphosate is definitively associated with cancer or other unwanted health effects."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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